Monday’s post on the Parkland, Florida high school shooting generated some vigorous debate both in RealityChek‘s comments section and on other social media platforms on which it was posted. And since for the foreseeable future, we’ll all rightly be discussing this tragedy and how to prevent or cut the number of repeats, here are some further thoughts, in no particular order.
First, I have no credentials as a moral or any other kind of philosopher, but it strikes me that President Trump’s characterization of the shooting as an “evil massacre” misses the point, and in fact clashes with his focus on dealing with the gun violence issue largely through improving the nation’s mental health system. For nothing could be more obvious to me, anyway, than that Nikolas Cruz is an example of a deeply disturbed, and probably broken, individual, not a villain. Of course, that’s not to excuse his actions, but can anyone seriously doubt that he fits the description made – and pretty compelling so, in my opinion – in the President’s initial post-Parkland remarks of children “who feel lost, alone, confused or even scared,” and who need to know that “You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you”?
Second, despite the clear mental health dimension of the school shootings problem, no one should assume that even massive action on this front will solve or even ease it any time soon. After all, therapy is an imperfect science at best. When it succeeds, it tends to work slowly. It’s especially difficult with youth who don’t fully buy in – which young people in need almost by definition tend to resist, at least at first. (The same of course applies to adults.) Requiring suspects to submit to treatment necessarily entails curbs on their individual rights, and therefore a society that prizes such rights naturally sets relatively high bars. Incidentally, these rights considerations apparently greatly slowed the process of transferring Cruz from a regular public school to a special school for kids with serious psychological issues.
I have no doubt that expanding the treatment system will solve some of these problems, and that it’s possible to somewhat ease the barriers to mandatory treatment, and to improve the communications among schools, law enforcement, and social service agencies tasked with identifying “red flag” situations. But I’m also impressed by the conclusion of this California mental health professional that “Even if all potential mass shooters did get psychiatric care, there is no reliable cure for angry young men who harbor violent fantasies.” (I disagree with her claim that “mental illness is rarely the cause” of mass shootings due to my aforementioned belief that committing violence on this scale, especially against the innocent victims of these attacks, is prima facie evidence of mental illness.)
Third, I strongly disagree with calls responding to the school shooting outbreak by arming teachers or school administrators. Even if these educators were experienced with firearms, the vast majority surely would have no experience conducting what could well wind up being protracted gunfights. Moreover, in order to succeed, schools would have to be harboring lots of guns. Even if virtually all were securely stored virtually all the time, the inevitability of exceptions creates the possibility of discharges, accidental or not, by students, along with serious injuries or fatalities.
There’s obviously a real school problem with school security, but it overwhelmingly entails overly easy access to campus by outsiders, and by enrolled students carrying guns. So the best response would seem to be ending the practice of open campuses, and monitoring and restricting access via limited numbers of entrances and exits and professional armed security guards who would be authorized to search any students or visitors. In principal, students could still be exposed to shooters during outdoor recess periods, but other armed guards could be regularly patrolling schools’ perimeters.
For those concerned that the nation’s private security services couldn’t be trusted to handle these responsibilities because their own profit motives would bring onto school grounds too many guards with threadbare training or dicey backgrounds, the National Guard could be made available. Alternatively, taxes could be raised to enable local police forces to get the job done adequately.
None of these insights or measures would address the social and cultural problems I emphasized Monday. But they do hold the promise of saving lives, and at an eminently reasonable cost – i.e., of making sure that the perfect isn’t made the enemy of the good.