I write this piece today with a heavy heart, thinking of the 17 lives that were lost on February 14th at Stoneman Douglas High School. My love and support pours out to the victims, the survivors, and their families during this most difficult of times.
It is always difficult to discuss ways in which our country is failing, especially when that failure manifests and results in lost lives, primarily the lives of children. In the aftermath of these disasters, the conversation always turns to gun control, yet no resolution is ever found. While guns played a significant role in this event and gun control needs reform, school violence is far more complex and multifaceted to pay attention solely to this detail. Too often, the public focuses on a seemingly easy fix, or how our government is failing us, when, we as a collective are the ones failing.
In a very interesting New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell, Gladwell focuses on the escalation of school shootings and the potential catalysts sparking them. Covering a wide variety of potential causes, from abuse, bullying, violent video games, violence in the news, ease of obtaining or creating weapons, to mental health, he takes these and correlates them with Mark Granovetter’s threshold theory. He compares the perpetrators of school shootings and acts of violence to rioters, citing not mob theory or even copycat theory, but the theory that a rational person has a threshold to commit irrational behavior. In more simple terms, the number of people who need to be doing some activity before another agrees to join them. In the span of school violence, those individuals who would never perform such actions feel they can, based on the examples before them (i.e. most school shooters identify with Eric Harris of the Columbine school attack).
His argument comparing school shooters to this theory is compelling, and could potentially help our understanding of these seemingly random and pointless acts of violence. His conclusion is that there is no mould or stereotypical school shooter. Some grew up with abuse, some with loving parents, some were manic depressive, some even tempered, some were autistic and others readily able to communicate with others. This lack of a mould or signs to look out for make this threat more dangerous and puts the onus on everyone. As a society we need to broaden our aperture in finding a solution. Part of the blame lies in government failure, whether it be the legislatures inability to pass gun safety laws or the FBI and local authorities being more thorough— especially in light of so many obvious signs as were present in this case. But we as citizens also need to stand up and act. It is all good and well to lament that our government is not doing enough, but we need to be more accountable for our actions. Look out for people who may have trouble communicating, talk to your children about anger control, be active in your community, be responsible parents by ensuring that our children are given a strong ethical code to follow into adulthood. Violence in schools has exponentially increased in the last 40 years, and this is caused by much more than gun control or the lack thereof.
Violence is hard to understand and when it is inflicted on innocents, impossible to justify. Ultimately, in order to stem the flood of violent acts across the country changes must be made by both parties, and by the public and the private sectors. We need to take a hard look at gun safety laws, how we support and de-stigmatize mental health in this country, and the intersection of these independent elements. We need to hold not only our law enforcement accountable for their oversights but also ourselves. Fight for reform across the board, in education, in mental health, and in gun control and gun safety. The solution needs our collaboration with all parties of varying opinions to find the common ground upon which all of us can agree.
A graduate of George Washington University of National Law Center, Thomas J. Curcio is an author, speaker, and personal injury attorney. He has been named one of DC Best Lawyers Personal Injury Litigation and co-author of “Evidence for the Trial Lawyer." His experience includes the successful representation of injured passengers of the 2009 WMATA (DC Metro) Fort Trotten train crash.