The following guest post is by a teacher at an American high school who has requested anonymity. As should be obvious, these opinions are not mine. In other words, I may agree with them. I may not. That’s not the point. I’m putting this here to add to the current discussion over school shootings.
A dark mentality lurks behind Adam Lanza eyes. Something is dead in the people who take weapons to schools to shoot staff and students and we need to develop an unyielding standard about it.
Nicholas Cruz was an earthquake-in-the-making. The burning question is why he was not stopped before that Uber ever dropped him off at Stoneman Parkland. Adults apparently did nothing about this kid except kick him out of school. At the expense of seventeen lives, Cruz was allowed to run amok while avoiding a criminal record.
We need the collective will to do something about these murderers-in-training. The argument can be made that we don’t have to wait for school shooters to kill lots of kids and teachers before removing them from our midst. It’s not a hard argument to make. The elements of an impending bloodbath are by now well-known: persistent talk of guns, shooting, and death; holding other school shooters in high esteem. There is no misunderstanding kids who pose with pics of guns and knives. To read these pics of kids dabbling with weapons as child’s play is willfully to misinterpret. There is no doubting the intentions. Followed to its conclusion is mass murder.
There’s even a template for involuntary committal: kill some animals, make some threats, and post disturbing pictures on instagram, and the balance has been tipped. When people, even kids, especially these kids, are this transparent, they forfeit the right to live among us. The consequence is proportionate to the threat.
My school has a student with Adam Lanza eyes. Disturbing pictures show up on his instagram. This student makes everyone nervous; however, as of yet, he has done nothing. So administrators do what administrators typically do: shuffle his schedule and get him special education services. He becomes untouchable. His nonsense becomes part of his disability and we are forced to tolerate it.
Sometimes the collective good trumps the individual. The individual cannot reign supreme when it comes to mass murder. When it comes to mass murder, we need to be a little less careful about the rights of one person and a little more careful of accepting the dangerously anti-social and criminally insane into our communities. Things that are at odds with a conventional lifestyle always attract attention, but they don’t necessarily warrant committal. Someone can be at odds with convention and still live among us; however, if you give yourself over to the study of mass shootings, sit in your room playing video games all day with the windows blacked out like Adam Lanza, then we are not going to tolerate you.
Toleration means the limits of what we can accept. Mass murder of children should cross that threshold of acceptance. We need to err on the side of caution because we don’t want another first grade class murdered. Adults need to grasp that kids who are focused on killing present a lethal threat. They have no claim to our toleration.
Adults need to recognize the signs of disturbing destructiveness in kids and do something about them. Sheriff Scott Israel of Broward County had said before the shooting that he would “measure his success by how many young people he kept out of jail.” His standards were weak and ultimately catastrophic. When you signal to people that you’re not going to put them in jail, they will think, “I’m good, I can do what I want.”
The argument that banning certain types of guns will stop school killings is alluring, but false. In May, 2014, Maren Sanchez was fatally stabbed, nay, butchered, by classmate Christopher Plaskon at nine in the morning at Jonathan Law High School in Milford, Connecticut because she turned him down for prom. Granted, it was not a mass killing, but surely Maren’s life mattered to her and her family and Christopher Plaskon had been reported to school administrators for threatening her. Those administrators did nothing.
We are not removing someone from our public schools because we disapprove of them; we are making the case for the rights of our school community. We reduce to insignificance the teachers-turned-martyrs and Sandy Hook first graders when we continue to allow the criminally insane in our schools. When your fellow students are afraid to the point that they go to their teachers and counselors about you, when you raise questions about yourself to your peers, you have not earned a prison sentence. But you have lost the right to move freely among us.
My mother was a registered nurse and as part of her training, she worked with the criminally insane at a psychiatric hospital. She let her guard down once, giving a patient a fork, and was almost stabbed. It was then that she realized that some people were untreatable. My mother hated that part of her training. “They [the patients] were sneaky, cunning, and untrustworthy,” she said. “They could never be let out.”
They have been let out. Society has become a mental ward. Closing the asylums was an act of insanity. Sociologist Rael Jean Isaac and journalist Virginia C. Arnett in Madness in the Streets (1990) insist that it is too simplistic to blame President Reagan for closing mental institutions in the 1980s and that deeper causes in the culture were at play. Their work calumnies lawyers who worked to eliminate involuntary commitment laws as part of the 1960s civil rights movement. These authors support the involuntary commitment of the mentally ill. The mentally ill cannot always be treated in the community.
The road since Columbine has been a bloody one: little children from Newtown, Connecticut; a young woman from Milford, Connecticut; now teenagers in Parkland, Florida; and lots of teachers. Banning the AR-15 will not get us out of this. It is impossible to remove guns from American life, but it is not impossible to stop the killings. The tale that we have been telling ourselves, that the criminally insane can be treated as outpatients, is a fairy tale. It needs to become easier to treat someone without their consent. Bring back the asylum.
—A Message from American Teacher