On Mass Shootings
Yesterday, we had another horrific mass shooting at a school in south Florida. Ever since, we are hearing yet again that more gun control laws would have prevented the tragedy.
I find such arguments naïve, at best. While gun control laws prevent law-abiding citizens from buying guns, the simple fact is this: someone intent on committing murder, which is against the law, is not concerned with obeying the law. Such people are going to get their hands on guns, or knives, or clubs, or whatever tools they need to commit that crime, no matter what they have to do to get them.
What far fewer people are talking about is the mental health side of this issue. The above poem was posted on Facebook by one of my friends, and it makes some valid points. The young man who committed these murders was undeniably disturbed. He had been prohibited from carrying a backpack when on school property, before being expelled altogether from the school he decimated. Every student interviewed said they were afraid of him and tried to avoid him. Yet school officials claim they had no clue he could pose a danger?
The young man's mother died three months ago, and he had been living with a family that opened their home to him, taking him in when he had nowhere else to go. His Instagram feed was filled with violent images of him dressed in communist and Antifa garb, brandishing various sorts of weapons, and even showed a photo of his arsenal laid out on his bed. And yet, nobody had a clue he could have been dangerous?
The signs were there, for anybody with their eyes open to see them. We don't want to believe that anybody is capable of such evil, so we ignore the warning signs. We tell ourselves that this sort of thing only happens to other people's children, surely not to our own. This young man should have been in an inpatient mental health facility where he could have received the counseling and care he needed. Somebody should have reached out to show him some love and care, and paid attention to what he was trying to tell them.
What has happened here, again, will be politicized and turned into a rallying point for stricter controls on guns in our society. What it should be is a wake-up call to all of us to pay attention to those in our lives. Hear what they're saying when they reach out for help. It may be the hardest thing in the world for them to ask anybody directly for help, so they may never make that request verbally. But pay attention to their actions and their non-verbal cries.
It's easy to look back in hindsight and say, "Something should have been done!" But it's not so easy to forecast the future. That's why we should all be caring for our brothers and sisters personally...not paying higher taxes to the government or donating to some charity to do it for us. The Biblical call to love others was not a call to pay others to love for us, but to personally get involved with people who need us.
I'm as guilty of it as anyone; it's far easier to donate to a cause than to get personally involved with someone else's pain. Getting personally involved requires making yourself vulnerable, getting out of your comfort zone, and making some sort of personal investment...in time, emotion, and actions.
If you see warning signs in someone's behavior, reach out to them. Have a genuine conversation with them, where you listen to hear what they're saying, not to attack them for their feelings or to plan your next response while they're talking. Ask them questions based on what they tell you. Help them reason through what's bothering them. Give them a hug. Let them know they're not alone. Follow up with them, daily, to keep tabs on how they're doing and provide ongoing support.
And when their needs go beyond your capabilities, when they need to be referred to professionals, up to and including being institutionalized, take that action. We're all busy and have a million things going on in our lives. Social media, video games, violent movies and TV shows have inundated our youth with images of brutality and desensitized them to violence. These things all conspire to separate us from each other, to insulate us from those warning signs that are cries for help.
In this latest incident, the warning signs were all there. Shame on those who didn't take the actions necessary to help this young man and protect those around him. And shame on us all for ignoring our own circles of friends and family.
Not only the families of those killed and wounded, but of every student who attended that school, every teacher and administrator there, and our society at a whole, are forever changed. We are once again traumatized by this incident. We will never be the same.
Will we make the changes in our own lives to prevent the next such incident from happening by genuinely caring for those around us, where we can actually make a difference? Or will we offer only public prayers and political rhetoric in response? The choice is yours.