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School Shooting Epidemic Plagues the U.S.

During the last week of January, I looked down at my phone to see eerily similar CNN alerts on nearly consecutive days. Each day resulted in a school shooting or a threat at universities in the United States: Purdue University, University of Oklahoma, East Florida State College, and South Carolina State University. In addition, a shooting took place at Michigan State on February 1. Similarly on January 25, a 19-year-old opened fire at a Maryland mall and killed two people before turning the gun on himself.

crime scene school These instances are only some of the recent shootings that have taken place. Looking further into this, an article from The Wire shows that there were at least 11 school shootings in 19 days during the month of January alone. Examining last year’s statistics provides a haunting comparison. According to a report by the gun control organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns, there were 28 reported incidents of shootings resulting in death or injuries throughout 2013.

Looking back into the past two decades, most people point to the Columbine High School as the first major school shooting back in 1999, resulting in 13 dead and 24 wounded. In 2007, the shooting at Virginia Tech left 36 dead and 17 wounded.  Most recently, the shooting at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado killed 12 and injured 70. Just over a year ago, the tragic killing of twenty children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut still remains fresh in our memories.

In elementary school, I vividly remember our lockdown drills. As I huddled in a corner with my classmates, I remember thinking that these drills were silly.  I didn’t believe it was possible that someone would enter our elementary school and try to hurt us. After all, I knew my tiny town was safe and knew that my school must be too. However, this reality of school shootings is becoming all too real, and schools across the country are taking these precautions seriously.

This isn’t just an American phenomenon, as demonstrated by the shooting in Moscow on February 3 where a student killed a teacher and a police officer while taking twenty classmates hostage. However, it occurs alarmingly often in the U.S. and based on our gun possession laws, one could infer that our accessibility to guns is a potential cause.

deaths-vs-guns infographic

In Professor Ann Burgess’ course in Forensic Mental Health, guest speaker David Adams recently gave a talk about domestic abuse and people who kill their intimate partners. He revealed that the United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world with an average of 88 guns per 100 people. While the U.S. does not have the worst firearm murder rate, the prevalence of guns here is shocking. Similarly, this infographic, based on research by Mark Reid of Australia National University reveals how the United States stands out in both gun deaths and gun ownership.

In Adams’ interviews with 31 killers, he found that 11 out of 14 said that they would not have used another weapon. If they didn’t have access to a gun, they would not have killed.

While these crimes are different – different victimology, different motives, different offenders – is it so much of a stretch to reason that these statistics on guns could carry over to school shooters?

In President Obama’s recent State of the Union address, he dedicated just one paragraph to his thoughts on gun control. He stated, “Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day.  I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say ‘we are not afraid,’ and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.” Although it may appear that the legislative issue of gun control has fallen by the wayside, it is impossible to ignore the increasing trend.  Perhaps I’m too hopeful, but I expect to see major changes this year.

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