The gun control organization, Sandy Hook Promise, has released a public service announcement with the message that school shootings are preventable. The video shows a syrupy romance that develops over a year between two teenagers who pass messages back and forth by defacing a desk in the library. They finally come face to face at the start of summer break while signing yearbooks.
And then another student at their school strolls into the gym and chambers a round in what appears to be an MP5. And the screen goes black, with a statement soon added that this other boy had been showing warning signs that the audience is believed to have missed.
As a one-time high school student, I often find discussions about warning signs to be creepy. There’s frequently a tone of too much enforced conformity involved. But I’ll get to that. First, let’s get to know Sandy Hook Promise. The group claims to exist “to honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation by providing programs and practices that protect children from gun violence.” Their web page shows pictures of smiling children and pleasant-sounding verbiage, though the FAQ answers declare that they “do support restrictions on magazine and caliber size ammunition.” Whatever that might mean.
SHP works hard to sound innocuous on their own site, but lobbying activities are, so far, a matter of public record, and the group has spent some money—modest in comparison to other organizations over the four years that they’ve been engaged in attempting to sway policy—having used, among others, the firm, Mehlman, Castagnetti, et al., lobbyists who have also worked with Everytown for Gun Safety.
While SHP asks us to look for warning signs, and I’ve said many times before that one of the failures of authorities—law enforcement, mental health professionals, school counselors, and so forth—in cases of mass shooting has been the inability to take threats seriously. For sake of clarification, though, reading a gun magazine isn’t a sign, while threatening to bring a gun to school is. SHP doesn’t seem to understand the difference.
But there’s a bigger problem going on. America is more and more becoming a nation of pill poppers. One in five of adults among us is on some form of psychiatric medication, be it anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs, or treatments for ADHD, as are between five and seven percent of children. Now mental illness is a real thing, but as the percentages of people who get diagnosed with such conditions climbs, we have to take a step back at some point and ask what we mean by mental illness. Researchers and educators, for example, have come to recognize that boys are energetic and need to use that energy, rather than having it medicated away. Similarly, children who don’t fit in with what are currently accepted as norms are in many cases expressing rational disagreement with the social order. That can tip over into violent behavior, and we have to watch out for that. As I said, if a student posts a comment about wanting to bring a gun to school or wanting to shoot a classmate, that’s a problem. However, students who say that something about the system is screwed up often have a good point. Over the course of my career, I’ve taught high school seniors in dual-enrollment classes and college students who were individualist or disgruntled misfits, and they often had the most interesting things to say in discussions and essays.
And that’s my concern with enforced conformity. Being different is not the same thing as being violent against innocents. And if instead of treating difference of any kind as illness or a sign of coming harm, we take the time to understand the people involved, we’ll be much farther along the path toward respecting individual rights at the same time as having the capability to see real risks.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.