A friend of mine asked me yesterday whether I worried about Lindsey being safe in her high school. I said, “no”. Truth be told, I am much more worried about her safety driving to and from school where several hundred hormone-impaired teens drive weapons of mass destruction. They also listen to some really shitty music. Loudly.
Not that a lot of our music was much better. I’m a big fan of Jimi Hendrix, but if you listen to his music through some good headphones (I have a pair of Bose), you’ll note that he flubs a pretty high percentage of his lyrics, mostly because he was high AF when he recorded them.
But back to teen safety.
Yesterday – Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day – occurred another mass shooting at a public school. By all accounts the shooter, a 19 year old male who had been expelled from the school, was a troubled young man. Both of his adopted parents were deceased. He had a history of violence against animals and people. In retrospect, acquaintances say they aren’t surprised he perpetrated this heinous act.
The post-shooting cacophony of partisan rhetoric was as predictable as it was loud. Progressives clamored for more gun control. Conservatives became very religious and offered thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families. Little was said about mental healthcare reform. If anything.
Let’s put this in perspective. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, the leading cause of teen death is motor vehicle collision, which accounts for more than 1/3 of all teen deaths. The next leading causes of death, however, are homicide (13%) and suicide (11%). Buried in the homicide statistics are startling racial disparities. Black teens are FIFTEEN TIMES as likely to be murdered than white teens; Hispanic teens more than six times. Factors such as gang violence and easy access to hand guns likely play a role in these statistics, but that’s not the main issue at hand.
To be clear, mass school shootings are a crazy small percentage of teen death. One is too many, but if we’re talking about resources to save lives then we should go where the bodies are: automobiles and, yes, guns, and finally mental healthcare.
Any kid can get a driver’s license and the required competence to gain it is quite minimal. All of our girls took a private driving course and the younger two an advanced defensive driving course. Half of new drivers will be involved in a collision within their first two years behind the wheel. Half. Graduates of the defensive driving course at Driving MBA in Scottsdale, AZ see that drop to 10%. Want to save lives? Strengthen the required competence to get a license to drive.
It’s indisputable that we have a problem with gun violence and the national convulsions we experience every time there’s a mass shooting merely reinforces that the run-of-the-mill shootings are so commonplace as to barely merit a mention on the six o’clock news.
Banning so-called assault style weapons is a start. So is limiting the number of rounds a gun can accommodate. As to whether such actions will help in any meaningful way, I remain skeptical, but I would be perfectly happy to see them implemented. They certainly won’t make matters worse.
The mental health piece, is probably the place where we can have the most impact. As someone who admins a 15,000 member mental health and support group, I can tell you that access to mental health treatment in the USA is limited at best and non-existent at worst. The level of care is variable and the type of care required for a given situation is non-obvious to most lay people.
How about we arm teachers, not with guns, but with mental health training so they can better distinguish between normal teen angst and real depression or mental illness. They need not all be PhDs or have the ability to make a diagnosis, in fact that would be quite inadvisable, but teachers shouldn’t feel overwhelmed and unprepared when their students exhibit signs consistent with depression or mental illness.
Could any of the above have prevented the Florida tragedy? We will never know. But common sense suggests they might prevent some tragedies, or even only one. And that would make these changes well worthwhile.