Editorials, Opinion

The answer to gun violence isn’t to turn schools into prisons

In the last couple weeks, local schools have been testing their new weapons detectors, and area high schools plan to have them up and running for daily use come fall.

Take a moment to digest that.

Guns and extremist rhetoric have become easily accessible nationwide. Now, the scourge of school shootings that once seemed improbable — something that happened to other people in other places — has become very possible here. So possible that our schools are bracing for what now feels like an inevitability.

How did we get here?

To weapons detectors at school doors? To suggesting we decorate classrooms with bulletproof blankets, like one woman did on Fox News? To proposing schools have only one entrance in or out, like Sen. Ted Cruz did?  To insisting that teachers be armed, despite educators’ objections, as many have done?

Why is the answer to outfit schools like prisons — complete with roaming armed officers and security checkpoints — rather than to address the problem itself?

In West Virginia, you only need to be 18 to buy a gun, and anyone can carry without a permit and open carry without a license. Eighteen-year-olds can also get a provisional license for concealed carry. West Virginia has no magazine capacity or ammunition restrictions. Once you’re 21 or older, you can concealed carry virtually anywhere you like, including state parks (without a license) and private businesses — because the state does not enforce “no weapons” signs. A recent law allows people to keep loaded and uncased long guns in vehicles, in addition to the concealed carry laws that already allowed handguns in vehicles.

How is nearly unfettered access to guns not part of the problem?

The other problem is the too easy access to extremist ideology. Even though many major social media platforms have done a better job of cracking down on hate speech, there are many other smaller ones that allow hateful and violent rhetoric to flourish. In these shadowy places, extremists create an echo chamber as they scapegoat minorities for their own perceived problems and glorify bloody violence as the solution to minor grievances.

It’s not possible to police the whole internet. So instead, we need to understand what drives young people to these extreme places and make sure they have safer places to talk and seek help  instead of retreating into the dark, dangerous crevices of the web.

According to “The Violence Project,” suicidal thoughts and ideations have played a large role in mass shootings. The vast majority of shooters show increased agitation, abusive behavior and isolation before committing their crimes. In other words, mass shootings are a symptom of an internal crisis, and there are warning signs that someone has reached a breaking point. What they need is quick, easy access to (affordable) mental health services.

When analyzing the motivations of mass shooters, the authors found that the shooters struggled with domestic/relationship issues about 30% of the time (a metric that had increased since the 1970s) and interpersonal relationships about 20% of the time (which had decreased since the early 2000s). Hate and fame-seeking are swiftly rising as motivations for mass shootings.

We shouldn’t need weapons detectors in our schools. What we should have, instead, are commonsense gun restrictions and better access to mental health services in and out of schools. But perhaps what we need more than anything else are greater respect and empathy for our fellow humans.