To what extent are we to blame for school shootings?
By “we” I mean it in the collective sense of the word. Our culture, so to speak. Do we with our drug-guzzling, FPS-video-game playing, violent movie-going, mainstream-media watching habits bear some responsibility for school shootings?
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich certainly thinks so. After the shooting at Freeman High School in Washington last week that left one student dead and three others injured, Knezovich shared his thoughts on the matter.
“I carried a gun all my life,” Knezovich said during a press conference. “I hunted. I shot. My friends and I — it’s hunting season back home. When I was in high school, every one of those rigs in the high school parking lot had a gun in the gun rack. Why? We went hunting on the way home.”
“None of those guns ever walked into a school,” he added. “None of those guns ever shot anybody. What’s the difference? Did the gun change? Or did you as a society change?”
“Now, I’ll give you odds that it was you as a society, because you started glorifying cultures of violence,” the sheriff continued. “You’ve glorified the gang culture, you’ve glorified games that actually give you points for raping and killing people. Gun didn’t change. We changed.”
In another interview, Knezovich was quick to point to the media as being culpable for the bloodshed.
“This young gentleman got sucked into a counter-culture of violence, a culture that is enamored with school shooting,” he explained. “And media, you are to blame for that, cause you keep giving these people headlines.”
“In using their names, you have made them heroes to some people. If I had my way, none of these peoples’ names would ever be remembered,” he continued. “Until we start treating these people for what they are, killers, not heroes, they’re going to continue this violence.”
Have we really changed as a culture? Is the media fomenting violence with its non-stop coverage of these events?
While this particular event in Washington is not a mass shooting, the underlying suggestion is that high-profile shootings are on the rise. Are they? No. As I noted in my article, “Mass Shootings on the Rise? A Definitive Inquiry.” there are about 21 mass murders per year involving firearms. That trend has been constant for almost two decades.
It is true that back in the ’70s and ’80s mass public shootings (which are a subset of mass murders, differentiated because they happen in public places, e.g. churches, schools, workplaces, as opposed to a home or residence), were less frequent than they are today but that’s because there were fewer people. When population growth is considered in the analysis, the apparent uptick from decade to decade disappears.
It’s also important to note that, generally speaking, crime is down. Violent crime, property crime, and the homicide rate per 100,000 people have all been dropping in recent years. This, despite the fact (or because of the fact), that we are more armed than ever before.
What does this all mean? That although things may appear to be worse than they once were, the opposite is probably true. Society is safer today than it was back then or, depending on the decade, as safe as it was yesteryear.
With that being said, regardless of the era, there have been and will always be crazies out there wanting to shoot up schools, churches, and office buildings. The only real way to prevent yourself from being a victim is to be armed and vigilant. Even then, there are no guarantees. But like you and Sheriff Knezovich, I’d much rather take my chances and face a threat with a gun in my hand than without one.