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Welcome to the New Normal

    In May 2018, I pulled out my newspaper one morning for breakfast and read about a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, a story emblazoned with a full-color photo of young women holding each other and crying, and, like most violence junkies in America, I was transfixed and had to read on. According to the article, the shooter was someone who recently graduated from this school, and apparently, they decided to come back and start shooting people.
    I don’t know if they had an idea of who or why. But that kind of information gets lost very quickly — or is never found.
    It’s starting to sound more and more familiar, I thought, until that was confirmed when I read verbatim from the May 19-20 2018 Wall Street Journal. “The shooting is the deadliest school shooting since a gunman killed 17 people in February in Parkland, FL, and is the country’s ninth fatal gun shooting in 2018 on school grounds”.

    That’s three months.
    Multiple people killed, I’m talking double digits, in a school, and this is the most violent school killing, in three months.
    More importantly, in the middle of May in 2018 this was the ninth fatal gun shooting on school grounds. Nine, in 20 weeks. That averages to one fatal gun shooting on school grounds every 15.5 days.
    I want that to sink in.

    Because I went to school just south of Chicago, and I’m pretty sure that the thought of walking into Carl Sandburg High School with a gun to start killing people didn’t cross anyone’s mind. If it did, they sure as Hell didn’t do it, because no one has actually shot anyone en masse at my high school. But it could be that since I grew up in Illinois (in Cook County, with Chicago), gun restrictions are insane and kids when I went to high school didn’t think of finding guns, I don’t know. But then I think of my husband, who lived in the middle of the mountains in Pennsylvania when he grew up (wait, I think everything in Pennsylvania is pretty much in the middle of mountains), and my husband learned to shoot a gun when he was little more than a toddler — just over four.
    Wait, his dad was ex-military and was a state police officer, maybe this not-yet-in-school 4-year old shooting guns is a bad example, but it makes the point, that because these kids often hunted, some kids would go to school carrying guns, and leaving them in their lockers (I hear the guns were unloaded). It might sound a little strange to this city girl, to bring your shotgun to school and leave it in your locker, but —
    I don’t really know how to finish that sentence, instead of saying a generic B.S. line like, “but things were different then.”
    And I DON’T want to be one of those old people who talks about the old days when things were this elusive “different”. I’m not old, really, trust me, I know I’ve run this magazine for over 25 years (that’s more than half my life), but I’m not old, trust me, really. I’m also one of those people that refuses to use the dreaded “simpler”about past times too. But as much as I hate to say it, the thing is, if I look at it objectively, things were easier back in the day — before cell phones a family paid $20 to $50 for a land line, and that was all. People didn’t equip every child with individual phone to take anywhere that was also a full computer so this elusive never-before-heard-of force called Google could give you all the surface information you could ever need. (And not have to retain for all of your school exams.)
    But then again, in the “old days”(wow, that seems like the last millennia) parents weren’t afraid of their children walking home from school without being abducted (I don’t have kids, but I hear that’s a thing now), or shot (or maybe I’m just thinking of a couple-block radius south of the Loop in Chicago when I say that). Okay, maybe things are different, and maybe with this boon of technology there may potentially come a boom of violence.
    But really, I can’t imagine there is a definite link with technology in general and violence.
    But, this violence, these mass shootings we’re seeing in schools now, what could cause this change in people? What has changed in how children and teens are raised to think that going into your high school — whether you’re still attending it or have recently graduated from it — and opening fire on teachers and your fellow students? Is it a zero-tolerance policy in grade schools that suspend an 11-year old honor student at a Maryland school after he made a “gun gesture” with his hand on the bus on the way to school? (http://gunsnfreedom.com/11-year-old-honor-student-is-suspended-after-shaping-hand-like-a-gun/1129) Or suspend a 10-year old boy in a Nashville school after a teacher saw him hold his slice of pizza with a bite taken out of it that might make it look like a gun, and accused him of threatening other students with his pizza slice gun? (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2077777/Dough-Boy-10-punished-brandishing-gun-shaped-slice-pizza.html) Or suspend a 10-year old boy in an Ohio school after a teacher saw him hold his hand in the shape of a gun and say “boom”? (https://www.cnn.com/2014/03/04/us/ohio-boy-suspended-finger-gun/index.html) Or suspend a 6-year old boy in Colorado after a teacher saw him hold his hand in the shape of a gun and say “you’re dead”? (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/06/6-year-old-fingers-shape-of-gun-suspended_n_6813864.html) And what the hey, let’s not even make this all about boys, because maybe you heard when they suspended a 5-year old girl in a North Carolina school for picking up a piece of wood bent that looked like a gun, and while they played at their “kingdom”, she was the guard, protecting the king and queen with her stick gun? (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/03/30/5-year-old-girl-suspended-from-school-for-playing-with-stick-gun-at-recess/?noredirect= on&utm_term=.fcbc0846d39c). Yes, these are real stories, and this zero-tolerance policy nation-wide may make kids grow up uncomfortable acting out things in a childhood non-harming manner, that might make them turn to any violence that they were shielded from when while they were learning about what these things really mean. It’s just a theory...
    So I keep reading the newspapers, hoping for an answer, and not finding one. After the Texas shooting, reports would say that the surviving students must have prayed to God to save them. Everyone mourns, and everyone say they’ll do something about it, and nothing is ever done. High schoolers after 17 students were killed in a Lakeland, FL shooting protested that more laws should be in place to stop these shootings from happening. They’re too young to vote, but they rally for politicians to change their world for the better — and do these massacres actually genuinely change minds? As callous as this may sound, a lot of people in the United States like having the right to bear arms, and they — like most Americans — use guns responsibly. And as far as the “massacres” go, they may change minds locally, and in the long run, only temporarily. But quoting a gun control article in The Economist May 26th, 2018, “They have already won a tiny victory in Texas. The governor, Greg Abbott, had offered a free shotgun in a prize draw for people singing up to his re-election campaign. He is now offering a $250 gift certificate.”
    But how local, and how temporary, can changes be, and will these minor things ever make a difference? They key may be in understanding the shooters themselves...
    In Santa Fe, the shooter’s father on May 22nd cited bullying in the boy’s rampage.
    Bullying.
    God, how much was I picked on, knocked over, bullied, for being smart.
    I bet those brats that I still loathe for their terrible actions to me back then are glad I didn’t come into school with a loaded gun and shoot them all down. That would show them, and teach everyone else a lesson.
    Or would it? Because apparently people aren’t learning any lessons, or there wouldn’t be a mass shooting like this every few weeks.
    We can study the stats and postulate that on average these shooters “are typically male, teenage, white, from a rural or suburban setting, attended the school they attacked and got their guns from home or family members.” (The Wall Street Journal, 6/4/18) But “explanations like bullying are insufficient, experts say, since few bullied children pick up a gun in retaliation.” (So, I guess that means I’m in the majority, lucky me, I love being in the majority...)
    So can I understand what’s in the mind of a shooter like this, one who isn’t killed themselves during their shootings? Okay... I will not give the names of any shooters in this article (they don’t need more recognition for what they’ve done), but one school shooter now serving a life sentence at Valley State Prison in California said in a recent interview, “All I know is that I was hurting and that I wanted to hurt people.” The morning of his shooting spree, after his father left for work, the Wall Street Journal 6/4/18 reported that he “got his father’s key to his gun cabinet, loaded a revolver with eight .22-caliber bullets, jamming extra bullets into his pockets.” He said “he wanted make enough noise to attract the attention of the police, and hoped to be shot and killed.”
    Now, I don’t have that much testimony from school shooters (since most seem to die before apprehension) but those words don’t sound like a tough-guy to me, or an action hero on a shooting spree, but like someone who doesn’t have anything to live for.
    Now, I can’t speak for everyone when I was younger, but when I was young I thought things sucked in high school (I cannot count how many times I cried alone in my bedroom, just hoping the pain would stop)... But I remembered thinking that I had a lot of potential — and high school is only four years long. I could make a new start when I went away for college. (And I did.) And I can’t imagine that others in my school, no matter how angry they got at times, ever genuinely thought that killing others — because they themselves were in such pain — and then hoping to be killed at the end of their rampage, was ever an option. So if we managed to not kill people en masse as we grew up, is there a change on how kids are raised now that may stifle them until they burst?

    Now, I’ve just shared comments from one shooter, who could get into his father’s gun cabinet (and this shooter did nothing wrong in the past, there was never a reason to not trust their son), but I’m sure this isn’t the story for every student, or every person who decides to get a gun and kill people. And even if they do not know someone with a gun, even if they may have a previous felony charge or a mental health issue (two reasons the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, cite for not allowing gun sales), flaws in background checks are often because states are only suggested to send this data to the NICS, but thousands go unreported annually, and mental-health cases are also incomplete due to the cry for privacy rules of sharing health information. And, according to The Wall Street Journal 6/12/18, a gunman “purchased several guns and killed 26 people at a church last year in Southerland Springs, Texas. Years earlier, [the gunman] was court-martialed by the Air Force on charges of assaulting his wife and young child. The Air Force didn’t submit the records to NICS.”
     But why confine the violence to school shootings? I mean, once school was out, I read of how a man in Annapolis killed 5 and injured more at the Capital Gazette newspaper office June 28Font size="-2">th. And Wall Street Journal even reported 6/30/18 that “Capital Gazette staff were shown a photo of [the shooter] years ago, and were warned that if they ever saw him to call 911.” But on this Thursday in 2018, “he barricaded one door at the ... newsroom, shot his way through another and killed 5 employees with a 12-gauge shotgun.”
    So, lucky for us, maybe the mass shooters aren’t only high-schoolers anymore — I was beginning to feel left out... Because when it comes down to it, I don’t think it’s technology that is making us more violent, though we can find more ways through social media to complain and give out the right warning signs when things aren’t going right for us. The technology may connect us in ways we never understood before the Internet, but that connectivity can be so shallow that everyone always ends up feeling more alone (If you don’t understand me ask yourself: how many friends do you have on Facebook and twitter and Instagram and Pintrest, and how many friends can you call up when you need someone to talk to?). And maybe that technology “connectivity”, which becomes a lack of connectivity, maybe that is the first step for those who never learn of another option to solve their problems, until they resort to killing others and wanting to be killed themselves, because they feel too alone to know how to look for a solution.

Janet Kuypers©
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Chicago poet Janet Kuypers
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