The history of mass school shootings in the United States began August 1, 1966, when Charles Whitman killed 17 and wounded 31 at the University of Texas. No one saw it coming, except Whitman (as his diary and notes revealed). He had sought psychiatric help, but to no avail.
Ten years later, a janitor at Cal State Fullerton, killed two and wounded seven.
January 1979, a 16-year-old girl, killed 2 adults and wounded 9 elementary school children, firing from her home across the street. Two months prior, her father refused to have her committed to a mental institution, ignoring the advice of a psychiatrist. Instead, he bought her the rifle for Christmas.
In 1984, two elementary school children were killed, 12 wounded, while coming outside for recess. Five years earlier, South L.A. police had arrested the perpetrator for making threats with a gun, from which he received a misdemeanor and probation, but no guns were confiscated.
In 1986, 74 children were injured by a bomb (Wyoming) and 1988 had two multi-casualty incidents.
January 1989, a 24-year-old murdered 5 and wounded 32 elementary children in San Diego. This event resulted in the 1989 Assault Weapons Control Act.
Eight mass casualty events, from 1900 to 1989, with mental instability being the common thread. Then things began to accelerate (see chart: School Gun Firings per Decade).
Since 1990, there have been 292 school shooting events (a gun fired at school). Thirty-five occurred at colleges or universities. There were 36 ‘major’ (at least three or more victims) events at elementary or secondary schools. My focus is on the 36, because all shooters, but one, were under age 21; average age: 16. Suicides, revenge, gang and drug related shootings were screened out. (Note: Some studies use the criteria for a major event as four dead to make the problem look smaller.)
Of the 36 major events, eleven (31 percent) were extreme (at least 10 victims).
The primary weapon(s) were hand guns (75 percent) and 61 percent of these guns were stolen from a parent or relative.
Hate for a teacher or student was the only motive with a significant correlation across all events (55 percent). All but one event was planned well in advance.
Ninety-seven percent of the perpetrators had mental issues for quite some time; but psychologists rarely considered them insane (a worthless term, except for the guilty and the defense attorneys). Finally, most were on mood/personality modifying drugs. So, the parents knew there were issues, were trying to do something about them, yet also kept guns in their homes.
In summary, there has been 292 shooting events at places of juvenile education, since 1990. That’s about 10 shootings per year (one each month school is in session). Eleven were extreme (see table); 36 were major (three or more victims). The perpetrators in the major events, were known by family, teachers and school mates to have emotional and/or mental problems. The weapons of choice were primarily hand guns that were legally owned by family members. Shooting frequency has accelerated greatly since 2010.
My objective is to help reduce the occurrence of mass school shooting, while keeping the Second Amendment intact.
So, in order of priority, here is what must be done at the local and state levels. (Another federal law is not necessary.)
- Restrict school entry access.
- Add metal detectors. Costly, but, why don’t the billionaires in our country fund this cause? They devote millions to Africa, why not help America’s children?
- Allow teachers — proficient with hand guns — to carry them concealed. This provides a second line of defense inside the school.
- Publicize that schools have armed protection at multiple levels. “Peace through strength” action will be the strongest deterrent that is easy to implement.
Longer-term actions are also essential to solve the root causes of school gun violence. These actions fall into a few categories.
Some 97 percent of the perpetrators were known to have serious emotional/mental struggles. History says we can anticipate, on average, a shooting event every month school is in session. Can we identify this small number in advance and intervene?
Create a local police hot-line. This is the ‘see something, say something’ concept. Red Flag laws, now under consideration, do nothing about the real problem – emotionally and mentally disturbed students. Also, failure to define ‘dangerous warning signs’ creates a legal quagmire. A database to cross reference mental illness with access to guns will provide focus for possible intervention.
Let doctors work with police. Allow doctors, psychiatrists and teachers to proactively contact law enforcement when they have individuals they believe present and danger to society.
The above will facilitate identification of the potential bad actor, but, do little good if there is no subsequent intervention.
Allow patient intervention. Legislatures must pass laws allowing patient intervention (grabbing the parent’s guns is not sufficient). Today, we look the other way and leave the parents with the full burden. Think about it from the parent’s perspective; many of whom asked for help and received none. Some were murdered by their own children after the state failed to respond. Just another ‘system failure’, right? Our government representatives are more worried about the rights of the very, very few than the safety of the many (but, we still re-elect them?).
The solution is very well articulated by Mary Ann Bernard, J.D. in her summary provided at Mental Health Policy Org. Bottom line: The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws “should consider creating a ‘need for treatment’ standard for juveniles only.” She adds: “Why wait until they are dangerous to diagnose and treat them?
We can agree on very sensible gun law reforms.
Raise the legal age to buy a gun to 21. This will put the onus of gun access for minors back on the parents and will not mess with the 2nd Amendment.
Hold the perpetrator’s parents criminally libel if found to have had no lockable storage for their guns.
Finally, hold enforcement accountable.
As a nation we must create serious consequences for incompetent law enforcement. Parkland is a case study in gross incompetence at all levels, with no one being held accountable.
Roy A. Johnston, Ph.D., is a retired business executive and university professor.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.