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As I’ve written before, the upsurge in school shootings and other mass shootings in America must surely stem from multiple causes. Aspects of U.S. gun laws clearly are defective. But broader social and cultural trends are at work as well.

The student survivors of last week’s Florida school shootings who are demanding that their elders more effectively protect them and their generation – and of course all other potential victims – deserve major credit not only for the passion and eloquence with which they are pressing the case, but for recognizing that better mental health care is essential along with better ways of keeping guns from the other Nikolas Cruz’s in U.S. classrooms.

Nonetheless, there’s a gap between their clear prioritization of gun control on the policy level, evident in their anger at the National Rifle Association, and an emotion that seems much more elemental – and compelling. Moreover, it’s doubtful that any single new law or set of new laws will make a major difference on this particular front. Consider the following statements:

>From a student survivor: “We had been doing drills on this in the past month. In every single class period, my teachers had gone through safety protocols. We have safety zones, we have protocols for every single emergency….”

>From another student survivor: “If our legislators don’t take action, how can we ever feel safe?” (Same source.)

>From that same survivor: “…I will not feel safe going back to school myself until reasonable mental health care legislation and gun control legislation is passed. Because, at this point, it’s unacceptable. How many more students are going to have to die and have their blood spilt in American classrooms, trying to make the world a better place just because politicians refuse to take action?” (

>From a student at a neighboring school: “I’ve seen these shootings happen my whole life. I’ve grown up with them. I remember Sandy Hook. I remember every single one.” (Same source as the second quote.)

It’s painfully obvious, at least to me, that what we’re being told here is that these young people are literally terrified that the kid sitting next to them, or the one sitting alone at the far end of the lunchroom, or the one who was just expelled, or one of the aimless, surly slightly older kids or twenty-somethings hanging around the neighborhood or the mall, literally is a ticking time bomb capable of exploding at any times. Moreover, the adults who have raised them and teach them are alarmed by these threats, too.  And these (all too believable) fears reinforce can’t help but reenforce the contention that something terrible has happened in America in recent decades that has turned entirely too many adolescent boys in particular into actual or potential killing machines.

Columnist Peggy Noonan made this point with her characteristic common sense and eloquence in The Wall Street Journal last week. It’s definitely worth your while. (For the record, however, I’m not entirely convinced about the abortion point.) And if you think such claims are simply right-wing talking points, take a look at this 2002 piece in The Atlantic – no conservative stronghold.

As I’ve written, it’s absolutely true that school and other mass shootings don’t happen in other high-income countries where young people are exposed to the same kind of toxic pop culture that prevails in the United States (although where the breakdown or family and community haven’t been nearly so advanced?) – which strongly supports the belief that tighter gun control is the key to stopping them or dramatically reducing the numbers. But it’s also true that these tragedies were much rarer earlier in American history, when guns were much more widespread.

So again, I strongly applaud the activism of the Florida students. I hope it doesn’t fade. I hope it helps shame American leaders into taking more productive action. But I also hope the students, their peers, and other Americans start asking more persistently not only why so many young people can so easily buy or otherwise access shockingly destructive weapons, but why they want to.