5 Ways to Get Our Kids to Stop Shooting Each Other

Family Matters on 02.29.12
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As the nation struggles to understand yet another high school shooting, it is once again an opportunity to get to grips with the unhappy statistic that the US leads the world in school shootings.

But what can be done about it?

As someone who grew up in the UK where even the police do not routinely carry firearms, I admit that the role of guns and gun culture in America has always been somewhat alien to me. And as demonstrated in my post about the father who shot his daughter's laptop, that cultural divide influences my opinions about what is, and what is not, acceptable use of a lethal weapon. But as an immigrant here, I have also come to realize the central role that guns have played in American culture, and the near impossibility of simply eliminating them and instigating European-style legislation and control. As a gun-toting Buddhist friend of mine once explained to me, "Most Americans will be glad to give up their guns, so long as everyone else gives up theirs first."

gun sign

Photo: Marshall Astor/Creative Commons

I already argued in my post on permissive parenting that we all need to stop labeling those we disagree with. Given the tragic consequences of the shooting in Chardon, Ohio - I think it's particularly important that all of us, wherever we stand in the gun control debate, take a moment to put aside our differences and assess as objectively as we can how we can prevent such tragedies from happening in the first place.

Here are a few things I hope we can agree on.

Teenagers Should Never Have Unsupervised Access to Guns
Early reports from CNN suggest that the gun used by T.J. Lane in Ohio was purchased legally, and stolen from the boy's uncle. I may wish it wasn't so, but many American families will have firearms in the home. We can debate the rights and wrongs of that reality until the cows come home, but in the meantime we have to figure out how to keep them out of the hands of teenagers. Sure, in a culture where shooting for sport is normal, and gun ownership is an accepted part of adult life, it seems logical to expect that teenagers will also want to learn how to shoot. But any such shooting must be under strict adult supervision, and firearms should be stored as securely as possible so there is no opportunity for them to end up in the wrong hands. That much, I would think, should be uncontroversial.

Spotting Troubled Teenagers Can Be a Matter of Life or Death
If news reports are correct, the suspect in the shootings posted disturbing poems to Facebook that included scenes of death and vengence that, in hindsight, look clearly like a cry for help. Teenagers can be melodramatic, annoying and uncooperative (I know I was), and it can be easy to dismiss their outbursts as simply "acting out", but in a culture where high school shootings are as prevalent as they are, it becomes imperetive to set up early warning systems. We must educate parents, educators and teenagers alike to spot the warning signs of brooding homicidal (or suicidal) thoughts. PetFinder, for example, (there is a strong correlation between animal cruelty and pathology in humans) has an important guide on how to spot troubled teenagers that was posted after the Columbine massacre.


Photo: zombieite/Creative Commons

Guns Have No Place in Schools
As Blythe noted when a loaded gun accidentally went off in a kindergarten cafeteria, it is illegal to bring a gun into school (or to make guns available to minors). I'm sure there will be those who argue - as is often the case - that if someone else would have been armed in Chardon, the perpetrator may not have killed as many as he did. But the fact is that schools are a crowded environment and the idea of a shoot out to bring down the "bad guy" is almost as terrifying as the "bad guy" himself. If you do own a gun, leave it at home if you are going near a school.

We Must Stop Bullying and Support Mental Health
There are early signs that T.J. Lane was bullied in school, and that he comes from a violent family background. As always, none of these factors can be used to excuse what happened - but they can be used to understand it, and to seek ways to stop it from happening again. From preventing domestic violence to preparing kids to deal with bullying, we can work to create safer, more nurturing home environments - and to give our kids the tools to deal with conflict so it doesn't bubble over into tragic, violent outbursts.

Let's Have a Mature Conversation About Gun Laws
I've already suggested that I'd prefer it if guns were nowhere near as prevalent in America. And under different circumstances, I'd be happy to have a spirited and passionate debate in which I plead for strict gun control. But I am also realistic enough to know that there are those who would profoundly disagree with me - and who will never lay down their guns without a fight. (A fight which I suspect I would lose.)

While we continue the long-term debate about gun rights in this country we must also look to find common ground to implement short term solutions. And part of that examination must include talking about the laws that exist, and could exist, that might help control the problem. Sure, the old line that "guns don't kill, people do" will doubtless get trotted out again, but the same could be said for cars too - yet we have traffic laws that are in place to keep people as safe as we can. The gun lobby's efforts to stop doctors asking about firearms in the home, for example, seems to me like a paranoid response to a sensible health and safety concern that practitioners may have.

The fact is that the current system is not working. Gun control or not, we must find a path to a more peaceful society where teens are not driven to murder their peers. Education will no doubt play a part. Legislation too. But ultimately we need a shift in culture so that teens do not learn to view violence, and gun violence in particular, as the default option for expressing their fears or anger. Keeping adult debate and discussion rational, even about heated topics like this, may be a good starting point.

I am open to ideas, and I will try to leave my cultural biases at the door - please share your thoughts below. And in memory of those slain in Ohio, let's try to keep it constructive.

Top Photo: Shannonpatrick17/Creative Commons

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