I know I wasn’t the only student who felt a sharp sense of alarm when I read that a school shooting had taken place at Oxford High School on Nov. 30. Nor was I the only one who felt that fear slightly dissipate once I learned it was Oxford High School in Michigan that was attacked, not Mississippi.
With the vast majority of current undergraduate students at Ole Miss attending high school in the mid-to-late 2010’s, the university’s student population has a unique lived experience in the culture around school shootings. Our generation’s high school experience, in which hearing news of a school shooting somewhere in the country was just a part of a normal lunch period, has forced students to seriously consider the question, “What if that happened at my school?” more than any generation before.
Unfortunately, it looks like students will be asking themselves this question for a long time.
For years, the only answer the government has provided for this epidemic of school violence is preparation, not prevention.
Mandated nationwide after the infamous 1999 Columbine shooting, active shooter drills on school grounds, combined with designated school police officers, have served as the primary preparatory measures against school shootings. This is despite the fact that three times as many people die in school shootings when a campus resource officer is present, and active shooter drills, while necessary, do nothing to prevent the underlying problems that cause school shootings in the first place.
It’s quite obvious that current policies are not sufficient to quell the rising tide of school gun violence. They never have been. How many years has our country endured wave after wave of brutal attacks on schoolchildren while our government fails to enact policy to address the issue? How many more lives — children’s lives — will it take for us to finally take real action to make school gun violence a thing of the past?
I’m not proposing an outright ban on firearms, but certainly there are stricter gun control measures we could put in place, such as more comprehensive background checks, legislation that the Senate recently shot down.
Gun control worked in Australia and the UK, but for the rabidly anti-gun control contingent in the readership, I’ll play ball — let’s say the school gun violence problem is a matter of mental health, as Republicans so often claim, and not a problem with the guns themselves. Ignoring the indisputable fact that the vast majority of mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, to an extent, this position is certainly correct. Mentally stable individuals don’t shoot up schools.
Additionally, no doubt due to the rapid decline in mental health and economic stability for Americans (and human beings in general, the world over) since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, overall violent crime has skyrocketed. This uptick in school gun violence, while facilitated by loose gun restrictions, is primarily driven by unhappiness and insecurity. Humans aren’t meant to live in a world constricted with social distancing and obscured faces — mental health statistics clearly show Americans today, compared to before the pandemic, are more lonely, depressed and anxious. In turn, school gun violence is higher than it has ever been. For some, it only takes so much isolation before violence becomes a viable option.
How, though, have conservatives shown any willingness to address this mental health and wellbeing crisis? If restricting guns isn’t the answer, then the answer lies upon intensive and sweeping healthcare reform to ensure quality mental health treatment for every single American. Fat chance you’ll see that on Trump’s 2024 reelection platform. Republicans have never cared about mental health — this pivot to shift the blame to the mentally ill is a disingenuous ploy with no backbone whatsoever, with the sole intention of keeping the heat off the NRA and gun manufacturers.
To dive even deeper, the primary driver of unhappiness and negative outcomes is poverty. Easing the economic austerity that millions of Americans face having lost their jobs, homes and businesses during the pandemic would significantly improve mental health and the happiness of family units across the country. Yet Republicans and many Democrats consistently pursue policy that keeps money in the hands of the military, Wall Street, energy companies and far away from anything that would legitimately benefit any American without a trust fund or super PAC at their disposal.
Frankly, I’m disgusted. Evidenced by the fact that each new year is the worst year for school gun violence, policymakers have, for decades now, utterly failed, and I’d stake my life on the prediction that they will continue to fail.
For every child who dies from school gun violence, the blood rests not solely on the hands of the shooter but on every politician that has created the conditions for that shooter to act.
Will it ever end? If we let lawmakers, more specifically Republican lawmakers, continue their policy agendas, then no, it won’t. The statistics will only climb, and innocent children will die. Until our lawmakers pursue reasonable gun control legislation and commit themselves to legitimately improving societal wellbeing through massive reallocations of wealth and funding to healthcare programs, we will bear the shame of being the only country in the world with this twisted, heart wrenching, incomprehensible crisis.
I, for one, am tired of seeing children die and nothing being done about it. I can only hope that when my generation comes into power, the generation that has lived through this epidemic of violence and the culture it has created firsthand, change may finally come. Because frankly, I believe that our current elected officials are far too inept, or heartless, to do anything worthwhile to stop this crisis.
It’s 2022 now. With the rate things are going, say hello to the new year and the new worst year for school gun violence, unless we do something about it.
Hal Fox is a sophomore majoring in Chinese and international studies from Robert, Louisiana.