By Chris Bradley
Before saying anything else, I am as sickened by unconscionable acts as anyone else. It's unfathomable that children would be targets, or anyone else for that matter. Who, in their right mind, would actually contemplate killing innocent people – especially kids – except for very disturbed, very sick, and/or very evil people?
I went to high school here in Vermont from 1972-1976. It was a different time then; for example, a number of Vermont schools had rifle teams, and several schools had shooting ranges. I remember kids coming to school with their deer hunting rifles; storing those rifles in their school lockers (with the administration's permission), going to class and then hunting on their way home after school. While there were kids that acted differently, there were bad actors and fights were not unknown, there were no school shootings back then. Our youth did not kill other youth.
That has clearly changed, and trying to understand why that is may help to explain much about what we are seeing now, and what we can and should do.
Consider that social media has become pivotal, crucial and all-encompassing for our young people. Facebook, TikTok, Twitter. These things consume them. While there is the appearance that such platforms bring people together by connecting, these connections are digital interactions, and not only does humanity get lost in a digital world, there is no break from it. It follows them everywhere they take their cellphones, which are now ubiquitous.
Kids can be cruel. In my day kids picked on other kids all the time, yet there was a break from that when the kids went home. Now there is no break, it's pervasive, and just one nasty comment on Facebook can seem to a youth to be the end of their world – made infinitely worse than it really is because it's on the internet for everyone to see.
More and more kids come from broken homes with no father figure. In the case of Texas, not only was there no father figure, we have youth with a drug-addicted mother. This youth would purposefully cut himself on his face, and due to the problems with his mother ended up living with his grandmother, whom he later shot in the face.
Girls are committing suicide at unprecedented rates. Why? What is causing them to have such horrible self-images to warrant the contemplation of taking their own lives, let alone actually attempting it?
Between 1991 and 2018, anti-depressant consumption in the U.S. increased by over 3,000%. Anti-depressant use by people, young and old, is more than just alarming – what is causing this?
To my eye, as our society embraces the digital world, more people are becoming lost, disenfranchised, left out or left behind, with the result of more and more people acting out in violent ways.
Looking at this a different way, some call for a ban on firearms to solve this problem, yet 50 years ago there were more households with firearms in them then there are now, semi-automatic firearms existed then just as they do now, but there was no such problem with mass shootings back then.
It is estimated that there are over 72 million firearm owners in the United States. It is further estimated that these citizens own over 393 million firearms of various types, with well over 20 million of those firearms being modern sporting rifles like the AR-15.
If the existence of firearms were the sole cause, why are we not seeing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of such horrible acts? We don't because the vast, vast majority of firearm owners are not sick, do not act out, and are in fact good citizens.
In 2020, there were 45,222 deaths from gun-related injuries. Fifty-four percent were suicides (24,292) while 43% (19,384) were murders. What is the cause (not the manner), of all those suicides, and why are they increasing at alarming rates?
If we assume that all of those 19,384 murders were conducted by individuals who are part of the 72 million firearms owners who owned their firearms legally – which is most assuredly not the case – then there would be 71,980,616 gun owners who did nothing wrong but who would be affected by blanket bans.
As a society, we need to take a very hard look at why so many people are losing touch with reality, and there are no simple answers.
Bradley lives in Northfield.