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YouthSpeaksOut! is a monthly public affairs program hosted by high school students in Mendocino County, California. Today the topic is "School Violence and the American Mindset." After the latest tragic school violence in Newtown, Connecticut, Americans discussed gun control and how to prevent such acts. Deja Vu! What is the real solution? Providing more mental health services? Arming the teachers? Changing gun laws? Or changing the American consciousness?
Today our topic is "School Violence and the American Mindset." In April of 2008 YouthSpeaksOut! did a show called "America the Violent- What Fuels School Shootings?" In February 2008 Americans had seen students using guns to kill other students and teachers in 4 states. Gun critics called for more restrictions on guns. Gun advocates called for arming teachers and other school personnel. Others called for bans on violent video games and movies. In 2008 guns were not restricted, school personnel were not armed, and there were no new restrictions on violent video games and movies.
Last month the mass killing of 20 young children at Newtown, CT's Sandy Hook elementary school has revived the debate over gun violence and gun control. Gun critics called for more restrictions on guns. Gun advocates called for arming teachers and other school personnel. Others called for bans on violent video games and movies. Deja vu.
These calls for changes in the schools could prove to be a mixed blessing. While highly publicized and horrific, of course, "spectacle" killings are extremely rare. In 2012, only 33 of the 50,000 violent deaths recorded annually occur in school settings. And, in recent years, the number of those incidents has actually declined.
People still remember the deadly incident at Columbine High School, where Dylan Klebold and a co-assailant, who'd reportedly become addicted to violent video-games (leading to a spate of failed lawsuits against the companies that produce the games), gunned down 12 fellow students and a teacher before taking their own lives. But that was almost two decades ago. The last major school killing, at Virginia Tech, which claimed 32 lives, occurred over 5 years ago. Despite all the hype and the rhetoric, there is no actual "epidemic" of school shooter violence in America today.
Of course, 33 violent deaths annually are 33 too many. Finding statistics for deaths by firearms is not as simple as goggling a question. The most conservative number we could find for homicides by firearms in the United States in 2012 was close to 11,000. (10,962 to be exact). The per capita rate of murder by firearms in the United States is far above any other developed nation (7 times higher than Canada which comes in second place) and only slightly less than Mexico (which is constantly portrayed as a "murder capital").
These statistics say two things- that there are a lot of firearm murders in our country, and that one third of one percent of them occur at schools. We are going to focus our show on school violence, but we need to remember that there is a much larger problem with violence is our general population.
There have been calls for having highly trained, armed personnel at every school in the country. Since there are 130,000 schools in America, this would be a force twice as large as our military has deployed in Afghanistan. There have been suggestions that teachers be trained in firearms and that some be armed at school. None of the teachers we know want to be on call to "take out" a school shooter.
The bigger question is "What creates the violent mindset in America?" We know that most young American males grow up playing video games where the goal is to kill as many of the enemy as possible. This is leading a town in Connecticut to a public destruction of violent video games and movies next weekend. Time magazine just did a story calling a link between violent video games and school violence "nonsensical." Quentin Tarantino just said that trying to link violent movies to school tragedies was "disrespectful to their memory. Obviously, the issue is gun control and mental health." Senator Rockefeller has called on the National Academy of Sciences to study the effects of video game violence on children.
A main focus of our news media is describing violent actions by individuals in America, terrorist threats and events, and deadly wars around the world. A large percentage of our TV and movie entertainment includes violent acts in varying degrees of graphic accuracy. Many say that we have become numbed to viewing explicit savagery. In America sexuality is censored far more than graphic violence- the opposite is true in most European nations. Still the question remains- "does viewing violence stimulate people to act out in a similar way?" Clearly Hollywood and the TV world does not want that answer to be affirmative.
When Tarantino said the the problem is not media but instead a lack of gun control and mental health services, is he making a valid point? Certainly countries with severe limitations on firearms do not have high rates of murder by guns. Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobbying group, has blamed both game and movie makers for the ongoing violence in the real world, as he rejected calls for stricter gun controls. Many Americans think that restricting certain types of weapons and clips would lessen the problem of mass murders. Some believe that all firearms should be restricted or even banned unless the user had a specific need. Many thought, or feared, that President Obama would take actions about guns when he was elected in 2008. In fear of the pro-gun lobby, he has done nothing in the four years of his first term.
How about a lack of mental health services? The man in Connecticut who murdered his mother and the kindergartners was clearly mentally ill- though no one is confident about his motives. Were mental health services available to him? Had anyone suggested that he needed help? Could anyone foresee his actions? We don't know. But the Fort Bragg man, Aaron Bessler, who killed several local citizens in 2011, was acknowledged to have mental problems but services were not readily available to him. And he had a serious arsenal of military style weapons. Maybe there is some truth to violent film director Tarantino's notion that a lack of gun control and mental health services are primary factors in mass murders.
So what we will discuss today are various questions brought up by the tragic murders of school children and teachers in Connecticut. In about 30-40 minutes we will open the phone lines for your questions, insights, and experiences. Let's all go around and talk about how we felt when we learned about the Newtown massacre.