The Ritual of School Shootings

I want to think about the prevention of school shootings and other related mass shootings in terms of layers from the moment of actual shooting and outwards through the acquiring of the gun, and the radicalizing and motivations of the shooter. There are concentric circles of protection to analyze and argue and to accept or dismiss rather like the Law and the Midrash for those of you who are familiar with the inner-workings of Jewish Jurisprudence. This is the sort of post where I say things like “Jewish Jurisprudence” because I’m not intellectually stimulated at my job. Please offer me a better job.

Working inside out, I’ll start with the actual moment of the shooting. It has been proposed by various sources including our president that we should arm teachers, certainly that there must be someone with a gun on campus. This would be insane for a few reasons. One is the absolute chaos that is a shooting moment. Remember a school shooter’s job is quite easy, if he hits someone he has succeeded. An armed teacher or police officer’s job is rather difficult. They have only one target to hit to be successful, and if they hit any other person that have, in fact, utterly failed. Having multiple people all with guns trying to discern who the malevolent shooter is would simply end with a lot of confused people shooting at someone.

Sociological statistics and my own anecdotal evidence of working at a high school also reveal how incredibly dangerous an armed high school would be for its students of color, especially its black students. Teacher, police officers, anyone with a gun generally, read black bodies, black voices, black music, black culture as aggressive, violent and in need of stern correction. Adding guns into the mix will only lead to black students being shot at by armed officials who have interpreted behavior which in white students would be read as “boys will boys,” will be read in black boys as aggressive. In a scenarios where there is a glut of guns on high schools we leave the era of school shootings and enter the era of “officer involved school shootings,” which is not better.

Perhaps improved campus infrastructure would help. But then, that would be wildly expensive to execute and easily bypassed anyways. But maybe.

The next level out that I want to discuss is the acquiring of the weapon. There is a general cry to make the selling and purchasing of the AR-15 assault rifle illegal. Indeed, I can’t imagine why anyone would need an AR-15 assault rifle. Certainly, if the purchase of this weapon had been made illegal it would have stalled Nikolas Cruz and other recent mass shooters, but would it have prevented it entirely? This argument worked better when we were telling ourselves these school shooters were “lone wolves,” without any support system. This is proving not to be true. These mass shooters often have a thriving connection to extremist and criminal undergrounds, the sort of undergrounds that will always have access to weapons. If Cruz could not have purchased an AR-15 from his local Walmart, he very likely would have just searched his message boards for someone who could supply him with one.

Likewise, there’s been discussion of banning the mentally ill from purchasing guns. This seems smart and like it should already be on the books, but would it prevent school shootings? Nikolas Cruz and Dylann Roof, for example, had no mental health issues. After all, school shooter-ism is not in the DSM. These people are not mentally ill so much as angry and racist. Any policy on gun control needs to consider anger and racism more than it needs to consider mental illness. The mentally ill should not have easy access to gun to prevent suicide more than homicide.

But then, we all must acknowledge that Canada doesn’t have this problem, Australia doesn’t have this problem, Germany doesn’t have this problem, and they all have tighter gun laws. That can’t be pure coincidence. Tighter gun control laws is certainly a piece of the puzzle.
Let’s consider the actual purpose of a school shooting. It’s really not akin to a normal pre-meditated act of murder. That is “Charlie stole from me and now I will kill him in revenge.” In this scenario the killer knows the victim, has been wronged by that victim, and killing him will make them somehow even. A school shooting does not have that logic. No one who was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas or Sandy Hook or Emanuel AME Church had harmed their shooters. It’s a different type of event, almost a ritualized event. By this I mean it is physical actions, actions that are scripted and imitable which are taken to achieve ends that are either symbolic or not materially measurable. It’s more like a human sacrifice to the Gods of White insecurity than it is a murder. It’s more like the ALS ice bucket challenge than it is warfare. When you dumped the ice on your head that in no way helped to cure ALS, but it was highly visible, easily imitable, and indirectly helped make some major breakthroughs in ALS research. School shooting likewise are easy to imitate, there’s a script for the shooter to follow but a lot of room for innovation within. Likewise, it’s highly visible. In a rare moment where I echo NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, “cable news loves school shootings.” Nikolas Cruz is now famous, the country is now frightened, and we’re having very impassioned but likely fruitless discussions around violence which fall nicely along partisan lines. These are good end goals for an act of terror.  Am I suggesting that news networks don’t cover school shootings? I don’t know. That sounds like terrifying alternative. But at the same time, I wonder if these other countries don’t have school shootings because it’s not a ritual that rests in the entire countries consciousness where most are just horrified congregations but some are terrifying celebrants.

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