[Opinion] Society fails to prevent school shootings in the years following the MSD tragedy


Julia Landy

Society has not done enough to prevent more school shootings in the years following the shooting at MSD.

Waking up on the morning of Feb. 14, 2018, 17 families in Parkland, Florida went about their day like any other, unaware that in less than 24 hours, their lives would be irreparably changed. Once again, the everyday mundaneness of school was shattered by the sound of gunfire and the fearful shouts of students as a gunman destroyed their world.

Following the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the phrase “Never Again” was adopted by many individuals. They promised that never again would students have to hide under their desks to avoid an active shooter. Never again would children have to see their classmates be murdered in front of them. Never again would there be a school shooting.

Just over three months later on May 18, the next mass school shooting occurred at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, resulting in the death of 10 students. In the time between the MSD and Santa Fe shootings, 14 other school shootings occurred in the U.S., causing a total of six deaths.

School shootings are a uniquely American epidemic. Before the MSD and Santa Fe High School shootings, there were various others: Columbine High School, Virginia Tech University, Sandy Hook Elementary School; 20 years later, these horrible massacres continue to happen.

According to research conducted by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun violence organization, there have been 102 school shootings since 2018.

This alarming number has raised the question: why do school shootings continue to happen? The reasons aren’t surprising.

One of the main reasons is that everyone refuses to compromise. In the aftermath of each school shooting, polarizing debates surrounding gun rights and school safety reignite. Campaigns for more extensive gun control emerge, while some people claim that no new law could have prevented the heinous act.

The real causes of school shootings—untreated mental illness and relaxed gun laws—get lost in a haze of these debates, so nothing changes. Politicians need to wake up. Gun violence is not a partisan issue; it is life or death.

Offering “thoughts and prayers” cannot stop future school shootings. Thoughts and prayers are inadequate when children have to hide from bullets. Thoughts and prayers are inadequate when students have trauma and PTSD for the rest of their lives.

This phrase achieves nothing but a moment of comfort, until the next shooting occurs. The horrific cycle of school shootings continues to repeat itself; the school is different, the names and faces of the victims change, but the trauma remains the same.

We do not get the chance to fully comprehend what is happening before the next shooting occurs. We become numb to the violence to the point where it is no longer shocking to hear about tragic events on the news. It becomes a part of our daily lives.

There are numerous actions schools can take to prevent shootings including labeling hard corners in each classroom, implementing doors that automatically lock, and checking identification badges each morning. However, it is not the responsibility of the school to prevent a shooting; it is their responsibility to teach a future generation of students.

School shooting prevention should not be solely placed on schools; rather it should be placed on society. The minor changes schools can make to prevent a shooting totally glosses over the bigger issue: how the shooter obtained the gun in the first place and what unresolved mental illness has urged them to do so.

For example, if a student came to class with a gun with the intention of hurting their classmates, no hard corner, locked door, or ID badge would be able to save lives; only legislative change can do that.

On a federal scale, there are many issues that need to be addressed in regards to school shooting prevention, mainly lax gun laws and untreated mental illness.

First is the issue of gun control. There is no other country in the world where gun control is as controversial as it is in the U.S., where murders — including mass murders — committed with guns are extremely common; the U.S.  has by far the highest homicide-by-firearm rate among developed countries. The difference between the U.S. and other countries is easy access to guns.

Following mass shootings, numerous other countries have successfully enacted common sense gun reform. After a 1996 mass shooting at Dunblane Elementary School in Scotland left 16 students and one teacher dead, U.K. Parliament was able to ban the private ownership of most handguns including a semi-automatic weapons ban and mandatory registration for shotgun owners by the end of 1997. Due to these strict gun laws, there has not been another school shooting in the U.K. since 1996, and Britain has one of the lowest levels of gun violence in the world.

Yet, in the U.S. where we have had hundreds of mass shootings and nothing has been done in regards to stricter gun laws.

“[In the U.S.] we have this broken record cycle of what responses to mass shootings or school shootings look like. … Everybody demands action, and then absolutely nothing gets done. Whereas in Great Britain, they actually were able to get stuff done,” mass shooting expert at the State University of New York Jaclyn Schildkraut said in a March 2021 article published in the Smithsonian Magazine.

A majority of Americans believe we need more security around buying guns. According to a Quinnipiac poll, 67% of Americans support an assault weapons ban, 83% agree with mandatory waiting periods when buying a gun, and 97% of gun owners support universal background checks before a gun purchase.

Despite many Americans agreeing that we need common sense gun reform, our politicians have done nothing.

Raising the legal age to purchase a gun to 21 and conducting background checks are two crucial laws that can help firearms avoid falling into the wrong hands; they would prevent school-age or unstable shooters from easily obtaining firearms.

Gun shows also promote the unregulated sale of weapons, creating a loophole in these laws. This is extremely harmful because it can result in dangerous firearms ending up in the hands of mentally ill individuals who have the intent to cause harm.

Another important issue that has failed to be addressed following previous mass shootings is untreated mental illness, which can be a major factor in one’s likelihood to become a school shooter. During a study conducted in 2019 from Stanford University’s School of Medicine, it was discovered that out of 35 mass shootings, 28 of the shooters had untreated mental illnesses.

Society has created a negative stigma around these mental health disorders, burdening people who struggle with these issues. Despite the progress in recent years of bringing to light the importance of mental health care, many people are afraid of being stigmatized if they admit they need help. It is vital that the stigma associated with these illnesses is broken so more people will be inclined to receive proper help.

Additionally, access to mental health professionals is another key factor that prevents people from receiving the help they need. It can be challenging for an individual to access help from mental health professionals; this is especially true in rural areas which are often medically underserved.

Paying for treatment can be an issue as well. Although most insurers cover mental health to some degree now, not everyone has insurance. Young adults, who are less likely to have insurance, are also at higher risk for addiction and other mental health issues.

There isn’t just one solution to this traumatic problem; it’s going to take a united effort. Until our political leaders can work together and have a serious discussion about gun control in our country, we will continue to watch grieving parents bury their children, and we will have nothing to offer them but thoughts and prayers.

This story was originally published in the March 2022 Eagle Eye print edition.