When viewed in light of the four school shootings, in Pearl, Miss., Norwalk, Calif., West Paducah, Ky. and Stamps, Ark., of the previous six months, the Jonesboro shooting (that took place on March 24 outside of the Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark.) does not seem particularly shocking. The only strikingly unique aspect of the case is the fact that the perpetrators were especially young, the older boy being 13 and the younger a mere 11 years of age.
What happened at Westside Middle School is no aberration; it is part of an epidemic of school shootingsbeing carried out by younger and younger boys with guns who often direct their violence toward females.
The nature of this epidemic is one which raises serious questions concerning the sort of social climate in which these children are being raised. How does this climate foster the expression of alienation and anger through murder?
How does it generate levels of anger and alienation sufficient enough to impel kids to pull fire alarms for the purpose of assassinating their fellow students?
And what sorts of changes need to be made in order to combat this sort of epidemic?
One obvious first step would be to modify the insanely lax laws in this country concerning the availability of handguns to children. Such a step, however, is only a first step in that it renders violently inclined boys potentially less dangerous than they might otherwise be, while completely ignoring the climate that would produce such violent personalities in the first place. Ideally, the availability of guns should pose no social threat whatsoever (which allegedly was the situation when the parents of the kids were growing up).
But now, for whatever reasons, this is no longer the case. Changes need to be made and ultimately any long-lasting changes must involve parents as well as schools and the local, state and federal governments who have the responsibility of combating the epidemic at its origins and protecting innocent citizens.
In all five cases of school shootings this year, it is evident that the kids who committed the atrocities were not receiving the sort of attention that they required. Mitchell Johnson, for instance, the 13-year-old who seems to have largely planned out the Jonesboro shooting, was incessantly importuning those around him for attention in such ways as repeatedly threatening to beat up those he did not like, claiming to be a member of the “Bloods,” an inner-city gang and, the day before the shooting, threatening to kill the girlfriend who had recently jilted him.
Moreover, Johnson had been exhibiting troubled behavior as early as last year, when he was charged with molesting a female toddler in Minnesota, an eminently clear sign of emotional problems, especially in light of the fact that Johnson had been the victim of repeated sexual assault at the daycare center he used to attend. Andrew Golden, his 11-year-old accomplice, had also been exhibiting bullying behavior.
Although not as ostensibly troubled as Johnson, he must nevertheless have been in radical need of parental guidance.
These boys lived in a community in which hunting is an important social function and had consequently been trained in the use of guns.
That plus their constant exposure to the consistent glorification of violence that pervades the media created the sort of environment in which these youngsters were led to translate their emotional turmoil into bloodshed.
But ultimately, neither the hunting culture nor the national media can be held responsible for their crime.
Rather, it is a culture of indifference originating at the level of parents and permeating society from the school to the local community all the way up to the federal government that nourishes the sort of alienation that steadily drives such boys towards the conviction that violence is the only way to cope and then allows them ample access to a devastating means of acting upon this conviction.
We cannot afford to contribute to this culture of indifference, unless we are willing to nonchalantly glance over such events in the news media, perhaps experience some mild shock if we are still capable of it, and then behave in this manner again upon hearing of the next school shooting. It is possible that we may be perfectly content with being fashionably aloof when it comes to school shootings, but then we must not make pretenses to solicitude. We should then be willing to view reports of children shooting their schoolmates as entertaining shocks much like those gratuitous acts of violence we so often enjoy watching on television and in the movies.