Regarding the latest massacre of high-school students by other high-school students, a few thoughts:
The immediate response will be that we must outlaw guns. For the anti-gun lobby the rash of shootings in school constitutes manna from heaven, which they will use vigorously. But for those inclined to toward thought, things are not nearly so clear.
Guns are not the cause of shootings, but the means used to carry them out. Certainly it is more convenient to shoot people than, say, to stab them or hit them with a baseball bat. But the arresting question is not what weapon was used, but why the perpetrators chose to kill their classmates. Guns are not new. The multiple killings are. Lunatic murderousness has only recently become part of middle-class adolescence.
When I was a kid in rural Virginia, guns were everywhere to be had. I owned a nice Marlin lever-action .22, and my father had a .45 semi-automatic pistol which I could easily have gotten from his closet. Most of the country boys hunted deer and consequently had shotguns. A kid of fourteen could buy .22 long rifles at the country store, no questions asked. If we wanted to shoot beer cans out in the woods, we simply got our rifles and went. Nobody, certainly including cops, thought twice about it.
No one shot anyone else. Moreover, no one thought about doing it, or threatened to do it. The school, King George High School, was wide open, without metal detectors, which would have been thought an insane idea. KG was after all a school, not a prison.
No one ever brought a gun to school.
What has changed? If guns disappeared from the earth tomorrow, we would still have today’s killers. They just wouldn’t be as conveniently armed.
King George was a mix of children of naval officers and civilian scientists, from Dahlgren Naval Weapons Laboratory, and tough country kids. The latter were physically robust — cutting a cord of wood every day before school will do that — and self-reliant. They drove like madmen, got drunk, and sometimes fought. A few were mean. Others were reckless.
But they weren’t crazy. They didn’t use weapons in fights. When you come down to it, there weren’t that many fights. We were rambunctious. We weren’t unbalanced. In fact, boys and girls both enjoyed a rude mental health that leaves me looking in wonder at the endless psychological difficulties of today’s kids. We just didn’t have drugs, or anorexia or bulimia, or anything like the angsts and miseries that afflict kids today.
What has happened?
I’d like to know what drugs, if any, the recent shooter was using. In earlier massacres in schools, the subject hasn’t been examined carefully, but some of the killers have been on prescription psychotropics. As anyone knows who came through the Sixties, prolonged used of Ritalin makes you crazy. Drug use in high school is very high, which parents seem disposed to avoid knowing. Shiny white suburban kids in Arlington often use, to my certain knowledge, more and more serious drugs than the hippies of 1969 usually did.
It’s not a symptom of happiness.
In fact, school kids today are visibly less content than my generation were. A lot of it, I think, comes from universal divorce. From feminists and suchlike we have heard for years of the benefits of divorce for women. Maybe. But ask the kids. An inch below the surface they hate it. Or they are left to raise themselves because both parents work. Their parents, if they have more than one, may have no choice, but the condition remains.
The lack of discipline is quietly devastating. Kids want boundaries, though they fight against them; want to be told “no,” want a sense that someone cares enough to make rules. Today they are barely supervised, pharmaceutically enabled, sexually active with what appears to be society’s approval, often able to walk over parents who seem to have no firm principles of any kind, and usually don’t have families. And so neither do they really have childhoods.
Guns don’t cause these shootings any more than French causes novels or food causes bulimia. We just aren’t raising our children well. They’re unhappy and uncertain, and the unhappiness turns into anger at they-don’t-quite-know-what. It’s ugly.
The country kids I knew didn’t have Nintendo or designer jeans. While none were hungry, many worked like dogs — pulling crab pots on the Potomac for two hours before school, for example. But they belonged somewhere. Our children don’t quite.
It’s not guns. It’s not the kids. It’s us.