Friday, May 18, 2018 in Santa Fe, Texas, once again our nation watched the horror of a school shooting as the ambulances carried away the wounded, and the police checked teenagers’ backpacks after the fact. The dead lay inside the building, unseen and now forever unheard. Ten killed, ten more injured; among them, a substitute teacher killed and a school resource officer critically injured. There was a slight twist to this attack today. There were homemade bombs involved. The police haven’t said any went off, but they found several different types, including pipe bombs and at least one pressure cooker bomb.
The killer was arrested. Some reports say he was injured, but he had his initial court appearance today and we watched him stand, handcuffed, at the court window and sign the papers. He didn’t look injured. He didn’t look like a killer, either. He looked like a seventeen year old boy who wasn’t sure what was going to happen next.
Before I go any further, let me say that I’m not trying to drum up sympathy for the killer. I’m simply describing him to make a point. Social media went crazy all day, describing him as a Nazi lover using an AR-15, an introvert, a loner, an experienced gun user, and a person who wore black trench coats daily, even in the heat, and carried a duffel bag. Some of these things appear to be true, but according to police, they found no evidence of his association with any Nazi group, or any particular fascination with terrorist organizations at all, for that matter. He has a few different patches sown on his coat and a picture or two on Face Book showing the coat, the symbols it bore, and a tee shirt that was lettered with “BORN TO KILL” in bold letters. The rest of his pictures were pretty basic, normal looking stuff you would expect to see on a teen’s page.
WHAT CAUSED IT?
So far in 2018, more children in school have been murdered than soldiers in our military. https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2018/05/19/mark-kelly-washington-post-analysis-santa-fe-shooting-sot-ac.cnn
We might find out what caused this shooter to flip out, or we might not. He didn’t use the weapon of choice that most shooters use these days. He didn’t have an AR-15. He had an old-fashioned Revolver (six-shooter) and a shotgun. And bombs. The guns belonged to his dad. So this isn’t about banning assault weapons – at least not this particular case – but it is about the need to stop this irrational behavior in our young people.
Was this killer mentally ill? I kind of think that being a teenager is a form of mental illness, with all the insecurities, uncertainties, and confusing emotions, hormonal and otherwise. It’s definitely a time of strife hitting people who often aren’t mature enough to know how to deal with it. And I think that anyone who thinks there’s some kind of solution to their problems, or some kind of worthy revenge in killing others is not mentally stable. But I’m not a doctor or a psychologist. I don’t know if this killer would fit the label of clinically mentally ill. No matter what people said on social media today, this kid played football, was fairly good at it, had been on the honor roll a couple of years earlier, and wasn’t known to be antisocial in any particular way. The trench coat thing was weird, but hey… kids do weird things.
COULD IT HAVE BEEN PREVENTED?
My concern is how do you stop someone who shows no outward signs of being hostile or violent? How would teachers know, or friends know, or even his parents know? Often there are signals that we disregard, but sometimes there really isn’t a strong forewarning. So how do we fight that?
Here’s an idea: Maybe his parents could have made it next to impossible for anything like this to happen. What would have happened if the guns in his house were locked up in a safe, and only his parents had the key?
Why should they do that? Because it’s the responsible thing to do. It’s not because they don’t trust him, or that they have reason to think he might be emotionally unstable. It’s for the same reason we don’t give the car keys to a 14 yr. old, even if he knows how to drive. The maturity level to use good judgment just isn’t there, yet. Sure, some kids mature sooner than others. Some are more responsible. But why take the chance? Why lay out the temptation? Just set a rule and stick by it. Guns belong in a safe. Kids without a driver’s license don’t get keys to the car, and kids without a license to carry a gun don’t get access to the safe. Oh wait… there are no gun user licensing requirements. There are no safety classes required. The guns don’t even have to be registered, in most cases. And what about the bombs?
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
Let’s step back for a minute. Many people say that somehow when we were all younger, things just weren’t like this. There’s some truth in that. But what was different?
When I was a teen, my parents were in and out of my room so often that I couldn’t have accumulated enough materials to make a single pipe bomb. – Mom: “What’s the piece of pipe doing on your closet floor? Me: “Oh, it’s just for a science project…” Mom: “Oh, what’s it going to be? How does it work? What else do we need to gather up for it?” Me: “Never mind, I think I’m just going to do a litmus test on something.” Now parents are either too busy to keep track, or they’re afraid of “invading the space” of the child. More on that in a minute.
So this kid, it seems, had access to an empty trailer, and was maybe even living there – at 17 years old. This is where he built his bombs, albeit not very expertly, according to police. I don’t know if this trailer was on his family’s property, or just sitting vacant somewhere, but he had easy access and no one was questioning why a teenager was going in and out of it. Was it even legal for him to be there? Did his parents know he was hanging out there?
The definition of being a parent is “invading space.” You no longer have to change their diapers, dress them, or feed them, and you probably shouldn’t be doing their laundry. But you should be invading their space. You don’t have to be the warden, but you do need to know what’s going on. You should know their friends, know where they hang out, and have some idea of their interests and their feelings about things. There should be rules, and consequences for breaking them.
ARE THE PARENTS FAILING THEIR KIDS, OR ARE WE ALL FAILING THEM?
I’m not blaming the parents, but I am suggesting that parents may want to step up and do something immediately, to ensure their child doesn’t face a life in prison with no hope of parole, or even a worse fate.
Now, back to the guns. This is no longer a political issue, but a moral one. We know right from wrong by about the age of 7 years old. That doesn’t stop most of us from doing something we shouldn’t, now and then. I stole a candy bar when I was about 10 and got marched back to the store, where I had to admit what I’d done, apologize, and hand the manager the money to pay for what I’d taken. Then I had to do special chores to “earn” that money. I don’t remember what I had to do anymore, but I’ll never forget having to admit my theft and having to apologize. I don’t believe I’ve stolen a thing since that day. My point is, our kids know they aren’t supposed to mess with guns. They know that just shooting someone because they feel like it, is wrong. But they need parental guidance, at times, to overcome problems, to keep temptations out of reach, and to learn to make good judgments until they mature.
WE NEED SOLUTIONS AND WE NEED THEM NOW!
We all need the help of the law. The law isn’t there just to punish. It’s there to protect and guide, as well. I’ve talked to both Democrats and Republicans who agree that safety classes and usage licensing make sense in gun ownership. Some disagree on licensing firearms, but in reality, it helps them, too. If a gun is stolen, we can report that to the authorities, and with the use of a decent database, that gun could very well be returned to us in short order. Should that gun be used in a crime, the authorities can see that it was reported stolen, and maybe track down the criminal, thereby securing and returning our property. Coordinating that database with sales and ownership of guns is no more invasive than having a database of vehicle VIN numbers and licensed drivers.
Part of the problem could be addressed by a regulation requiring some kind of safe or locking device for firearms if there is anyone under the age of 21 living in the same home. In the event of a minor committing a crime with a gun that wasn’t locked up, the owner would be held responsible, according to the severity of the crime. That would mean that if a teenager took a gun to school and shot someone, the parent could be found guilty of some charge such as felony negligence or felony contempt of a law agreed upon when purchasing that firearm. This obviously doesn’t address all shooters, or all circumstances, but it may be a solution for impulsive actions, or to keep guns from being stolen. At least it’s a step we can take within our own rights. Whatever we come up with, it needs to be backed by law. But you don’t need a law to make this happen in your home today. I found prices ranging from under $25 to about $200 that would fit most people’s needs. Of course, you can certainly spend more on higher quality, or for display purposes. Whatever the case, I think we must all do something until we can get our representatives in Congress to recognize the pain our children are going through, or until we vote in representatives that understand that some regulations have value.
I’m open to other ideas, if anyone would care to propose something. -THE END
WE NEED FULL CREDIT GOVERNMENT CLASSES IN HIGH SCHOOL
As adults, we don’t know how to fit political information into our schedules. If we haven’t gained political education before we graduate, we aren’t likely to for several more years. We glance at the news to catch the weather, or a sports score, but seldom do we sit down to watch the entire broadcast. Even worse, we spend less time listening to our political figures when they speak at a State of the State, or State of the Union Address, for instance. Even people who say they get their news online often read only the headline and a paragraph or two. Practically speaking, we elect our leaders and our representatives based on a picture, a few sentences we’ve randomly heard them speak, and a well-written biographical paragraph by a paid marketer. Some voters watch for the political ads and decide by what they see there, not realizing that these are nothing but mini-commercials by marketing strategists, selling you their product. Rarely do we think to look up an incumbent’s voting record or find out what their previous jobs were and what their business reputation was. The truth is, unless we take courses in college related to the political arena, most of us know very little about our government and how it operates. Once we leave high school, our lives become a whole new world of responsibilities with a job, and/or college classes. Many marry and begin families which brings in a whole new dimension of responsibility. We now have bills to pay, and of course we want a social life. We need a car, or a place to live… and on and on. High school prepares us for this new world with information that helps us make good choices, but does it prepare us to improve our lives and our worlds through the power of the vote?
Just about everyone knows who the president of the country is, even if they didn’t vote. However, it’s surprising how many don’t even know who the vice president is, let alone who their senators and congressional representatives are. Even locally, 20-somethings to 40-somethings often don’t know who is representing them in their state legislature, or who the governor is, or the mayor of their own city, let alone their council members. This is somewhat understandable, given that many families have both parents working, or are single-parent households. With children, there are doctor appointments, babysitters to schedule, laundry, meals, constant housecleaning, and general bill-paying. Then comes school registrations, parent-teacher meetings, sports, holiday shows, birthday parties and other parent-child activities… all while working a full-time job and trying to have some family time. Whew!
So the last year or two of high school (before all that starts) is the best time to teach some life skills that can lead to a better future for the student as he/she becomes an adult. First, we need to acknowledge that History is not the same as Civics, and a class in Government is completely different than either one.
HISTORY is mostly about the names of Kings, Queens, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Tribal Chiefs, Sheiks, Dictators and a few famous U. S. patriots and the dates of their birth, death, and times in power. It also focuses on wars and specific battles throughout the years.
CIVICS class is centered around the rights of citizens, mainly in the United States, and sometimes broken down to the state level. The Constitution is usually a part of this curriculum. Some voter information is usually included. It is an important course but it doesn’t teach much about how the government functions.
GOVERNMENT class is the study of how governments run, particularly in the United States. Besides learning about pacts and treaties and how they come to be, this course takes into account how the three branches of our federal government work (and the checks and balances this provides), and describes how policies and laws are made. Ideally, there is some overlap between government class and civics class, but one does not take the place of the other.
Today, civics classes are required as early as 7th grade. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember a single class I had when I was 12. Boys were discovering girls, and girls were discovering that boys were noticing them. Sports were being introduced on a competitive level. I remember that elective classes were added to the curriculum, and most of us chose something that seemed like fun; possibly shop or home economics (back in those days), or music, art, or typing.
The civics classes in school today are usually half-credit classes, paired with some kind of local government class. While this is better than nothing, the message is sent that the workings of government really aren’t very important to the average citizen. The amount of time allotted doesn’t allow for the setting up of a mock government and studying the variety of issues our three main branches face. How can we expect our next generation to be inspired to become involved if they don’t even know how it works? How can they know how to vote if they don’t even know that senators and representatives can write and submit bills, but both the house and the senate must approve them and the president must sign them before they become law? (Yes, the president has a veto power which allows him to keep a bill from becoming law, but the veto can be overwritten if it goes back to congress and passes both the senate and house of representatives by 2/3 majority in each.) Instead, we believe a president can actually change the law at will, without understanding that he can only do that with the help of congress. In fact, most presidential candidates don’t even know the full extent of their limitations until they begin receiving briefings. (Many people also confuse Executive Orders with Laws. Executive Orders can only pertain to laws that are currently in existence.)
And then of course, any new laws (or orders) have to be legal. That is, laws cannot be made that go against the Constitution. Our judicial system is set up to prevent that from happening. There are legal ways to circumvent that, such as adding a constitutional amendment – something that is very difficult and requires a great deal of work in order to reach an agreement which will win the necessary backing of the individual states. First a proposal must be developed and must pass both branches of congress by 2/3 majority of each branch. Then the bill must be sent to the states where their legislatures must agree, by simple majority, to the amendment. Three quarters of all states must approve of the amendment. The president cannot veto any step of this process. ***For more on amendments, see the end of this article.
Did you know all this? More importantly, did you know all this the first dozen or so times that you voted?
Shouldn’t our future voters and leaders know that federal judges are appointed for life – not only the Supreme Court? Shouldn’t our newest voters understand that there is a hierarchy to the court system?
Shouldn’t our schools teach that even the executive branch of the government must meet the standards of the Constitution, and that our congress and judicial systems may be called on to determine if any new law or regulation is constitutional? Wouldn’t all this stick in their minds more, the closer they got to voting age?
Isn’t it up to us to talk to our state legislators, boards of education, and our school districts to try to encourage more involvement for our students so they can go into the world armed with the best information they can get? Wouldn’t we have a better world if the youngest adults were as informed as we’ve become after raising our families and then finally finding the time to actually learn about the amazing way our forefathers set up our democracy?
While researching data, I found that most requirement information is only current through 2013, so some states may have modified their requirements in either direction during the last 4 years. At this website, I noticed some states had actually dropped government from their requirements. Reference for graduation requirements Info: http://ecs.force.com/mbdata/mbprofall?Rep=HS01
According to the referenced website, only 4 states and the District of Columbia show a full credit required for U.S. Government – Idaho, Iowa, Maryland, and Nevada.
Fifteen others show Government at a full credit, but mixed with other subjects such as history or civics.
Nine states show no Government requirement at all – Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming.
The other 22 states require only ½ credit, sometimes mixed in with other subjects such as local government or history, and of these, some offer the classes as early as 7th grade.
In early 2017, several states reviewed and have changed, or are considering changing requirements for graduation. You can look up your local Board of Education to find requirements and other graduation information. If you would like to see the next generation graduate as a better informed and more aware group of young adults, you can begin with your local school board. Let them know what you want!
**** A final consideration might be to require that all students pass a citizenship test prior to graduation. Why do we expect new U.S. citizens to know more about how our government works than the young people that have gone to school here their entire lives?
There are currently many petitions and proposals circulating for a 28th amendment. A few are:
- Citizens United (campaign funding)
- Time limits on congressional and senate votes for appointed positions such as the Supreme Court.
- Social Security and healthcare as a right.
- Term limits for members of the House and Senate.
- More recently, limitations and requirements pertaining directly to the president, such as release of tax forms, medical records, and divestiture of business conflicts are being discussed.