What is causing teen school violence?
By Rick Manning
The world seems to be an upside down place.
The latest example is the former Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggesting that no one goes to school in some kind of perverse strike until Congress “does something” about school violence. Of course, “doing something” is not defined in any other way than to ban guns. And since the underaged criminal in the Santa Fe shooting used a shotgun and handgun that he stole from his home, and neither of the guns were the demonized black AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, the rhetorical narrative of the left didn’t neatly fit the situation.
But that won’t stop them.
As an alternative, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott believes that aggressive social media screenings would help identify potentially troubled children before they became shooters, along with mental health screenings and metal detectors all of which are doable first steps in securing our schools. But for those who wish to blame the gun, these common sense approaches are seen as nothing more than eyewash.
The fact is that those who wish to use this horrific shooting to significantly curb access to firearms would create far more death and misery in the long-haul than they would ever solve. A Center for Disease Control study confounds those who simplistically wish to blame private gun ownership for times when firearms are criminally misused in that it states, “defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million (Kleck, 2001a.)”
Rather than continue the silly merry-go-round of the modern debate about violence, it seems obvious that breaking outside those chains by asking a simple question, “What is different today from previous decades when these types of shootings were relatively rare?”
Teenagers today are bombarded with a dramatic increase in inputs into their brains over previous generations. Rather than passive entertainment like television, the current generation of boys and girls have millions of interactive mental inputs through video games, and their personal digital assistants allow them to listen to music or view other streaming media while making a phone call are prevalent.
A 2016 National Public Radio story titled, “Heavy Screen Time Rewires Young Brains, For Better And Worse” reports about conflicts in the scientific community about the impact of video games on young brains.
“The debate centered on a study of young mice exposed to six hours daily of a sound and light show reminiscent of a video game. The mice showed “dramatic changes everywhere in the brain,” said Jan-Marino Ramirez, director of the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“Many of those changes suggest that you have a brain that is wired up at a much more baseline excited level,” Ramirez reported. “You need much more sensory stimulation to get [the brain’s] attention.”
While there seems to be evidence to support the logical conclusion that how young people spend their time impacts how their brains are wired, what is unknown is whether this rewiring is somehow connected to the seeming spate of shootings.
Another factor that is different than the past is that the family structure, and particularly the absence of fathers in many homes when kids are growing up is something that today’s young men have to deal with at an unprecedented level. The lack of discipline or perhaps even just instability due to the disintegration of the nuclear family might play a role in the disaffection that these teen shooters act upon.
Does the on-going war on males with the increased emphasis on so-called gender fluidity cause, for some developing males, an increased sense of being an outcast creating the formula for this new generation of teen shooters? What role does bullying play?
And do the common use of psychotropic drugs on kids, particularly boys, at earlier and earlier ages have unforeseen impacts where the side effects are worse than the cure?
The truth is that none of us know the answers to these questions. And until we come to grips with these questions and begin to honestly try to find the answers, the circle of pain will continue. And recriminations will flow without any real answers to the underlying question, “what is wrong with these kids?”
Instead of engaging in knee-jerk screaming matches, our youth deserve that our nation have an adult conversation about the causes of these violent outbursts. And until we dig deeper than sloganeering for public policy solutions, we will be counting tragedies, asking why and wondering why no one is doing anything that seemingly works.
If America is to do something, it needs to be the right thing. And to do the right thing, we need a lot more information on what triggers these young men. Failing to nail down the root causes of violence will leave authorities grabbing at air as they seek public policy solutions.
Our kids and our nation are too important to engage in emotion-based decisions which will fail as the underlying causes of violence are ignored. We need solutions that address the actual problems rather than creating feel good, doomed to fail reactions.
In the meantime, it makes sense to secure our schools as Governor Abbott suggests as a first step as we grapple with the tough questions which might reveal a much larger challenge than anyone ever dreamed.
Rick Manning is the President of Americans for Limited Government.