Changing society part of growing violence

The killing of 17 students and faculty in Florida last week was yet another incomprehensible act that is becoming all too common in our nation. The real tragedy is that these young people have been deprived of their futures and now parents must bury their children.

The young man who perpetrated this crime had serious mental problems and displayed evidence of anti-social behavior both on the internet and at school leading to his expulsion. These and other issues were reported to an FBI “tip” line in early January but were ignored or misplaced by that agency. A commentator on television recently said that had the shooter been reported for receiving an email from Russian President Vladimir Putin the full investigative power of the FBI would have been turned on him immediately. This begs a question of what the FBI’s priorities are.

As I write this it is not clear how he acquired his guns but he should not have had a gun based on his history. While I am a supporter of gun rights and the Second Amendment there has to be a means to keep guns out of the hands of persons like the perpetrator of this crime. However, we need to remind ourselves that if he had not had a gun it could have been a bomb of some sort, a speeding car or truck driven into a crowd or some other weapon. Individuals who are driven to lash out at society will use whatever weapon is available.

Why have school shootings and violence escalated in the last 25 years? It isn’t guns. I think that to determine the cause we have to look beyond the weapon in order to determine what drives the real weapon in these tragedies, the perpetrator.

In the last 50 years we have seen the breakdown of the family with the rise of the single-parent family with dad usually the missing piece. Because of this many boys are forced to go through life without a male role model and reach their teens lacking any understanding of what it means to be a good father, husband or citizen.

In years past boys could fall back on their church, organizations like the scouts or some portion of the community. Many churches and organizations, such as the scouts, have fallen on hard times with falling memberships or by going out of existence and can no longer provide the fellowship and moral guidance they once did. The community, which is made up of single parent families or families where both parents work, also is no longer able to provide that guidance as it has in the past.

In today’s efforts to ensure equality and open up more opportunities to girls and women, boys have often been left behind. The high school dropout rate for boys is higher than that of girls and the number going on to higher education has fallen below that of girls.

More boys than girls have Ritalin and other amphetamine-like drugs prescribed for attention deficit disorder. In the short term the drug can lead to “desirable” effects like increased alertness and engagement. However long-term effects can include less desirable ones like disorientation and apathy, manic depressive symptoms, profound mood changes, thoughts of suicide, withdrawal from family and friends, and impaired judgement and changes in priorities. Don’t some of these long-term effects sound like descriptions of the Florida shooter in the news?

Today our children are exposed to graphic violence in movies, on TV and video games in what seems like ever increasing amounts. When I was a boy we had no video games and when someone was shot in the movies or TV there were no shots through a forehead or blood and gore flying through the air. Sadly, today’s young people are being desensitized to violence and death by the graphic violence they are exposed to in the media.

Until the 1970s when the issue of patient rights came to the fore, persons who were an extreme danger to themselves and others could be admitted to a mental hospital for treatment without their approval. Under the current system, where the patient must in effect admit themselves, are we really doing these individuals any good by keeping them from needed treatment? I don’t think so.

I see no easy answer to stopping those who commit school violence. I believe, however, that it is essential that we commit ourselves to reinforcing the family unit, providing counseling for at risk individuals, and rethinking our use of mood altering medications for adolescents. We must also take a hard look at current policy on mental health treatment and access to guns for persons with serious mental health issues. Unless we face up to the reality of the root causes of school violence we will continue to suffer violence in our schools even if we confiscate every gun in our nation.

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to