Published: Granite Bay Today, Oct.2, 2015.
Reason for publication: When the Roseburg, Oregon shooting occurred, I felt that not only was it necessary for the Gazette to write a piece, but it was necessary to write a good piece quickly. I interviewed sources and wrote the piece a day in two days. It was uploaded a day after the shooting, on my birthday. It can be seen online here.
In 2015 alone, there have been 17 school shootings on college campuses, 45 shootings on school grounds and 294 mass shootings. The events that occurred on Thursday, Oct. 1 on the Umpqua Community College campus in Roseburg, Oregon that injured twenty and killed thirteen are undoubtedly horrific, but certainly not an event which is unusual or isolated.
According to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, there are approximately 88.8 firearms per 100 people in the United States. Since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December of 2014 in which 28 people – including 20 students, 6 staff members, the shooter and his mother – died, there have been 95 school shootings.
President Barack Obama spoke on behalf of the mass shooting in Oregon in his fifteenth statement made concerning a mass shooting, saying an event such as this “has become routine” and that “we’ve become numb to this.”
Some students were deeply shaken by the event. Senior Erica Lucia watched Obama’s speech regarding the Oregon shooting.
“President Obama had to speak again about this and when I watched what he said, it was definitely different,” Lucia said. “He always carries the same themes that this shouldn’t be happening, but … he just seemed like he couldn’t even bear to be standing there, having to deliver this type of message. He even said (he) had to deliver this message way too many times because this has happened way too many times.”
Numbness and desensitization following a school shooting has seemingly increased among the general American public. Since President Obama’s reelection in 2012, there have been nearly 1000 mass shootings, so it’s unsurprising to note that crimes of this kind are becoming less and less shocking.
“I know, myself, (that) I’m getting desensitized to it and that scares me,” Advanced Placement Government teacher Jarrod Westberg said. “I talk about this stuff for a living, and it gets to a point where (you think) ‘Oh, here’s another one,’ and that scares me. When it happens often I think it makes it difficult, if people aren’t shocked by it, to make it a top tier important issue (or) discussion.”
One interesting aspect of the Oregon shooting is the fact that in 2013 a letter was written to Vice President Biden from Sheriff John Hanlin of Roseburg, Oregon saying “gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings” and that he will not enforce any actions or federal regulations that infringe upon the rights guaranteed in the Second Amendment.
The gun violence problem in America is so extreme that according to The Guardian, if the Sandy Hook massacre had been the sole shooting of the day on its occurrence (December 12, 2014) the death toll on that day would have been lower than the average number of gun-related deaths for the days of that year. It is difficult to generalize why mass shootings occur, because each reasoning is specific from case to case.
To look at the reasonings or answers that explain why mass shootings are so prevalent in American society, it is important to look at culture.
“I feel like we need to start taking a really close look at what is happening culturally (and) how the factors are coming together socially that (creates) this perfect storm, where we are beginning to see this (type of event) crop up over and over,” said AP Psychology and Peer Counseling teacher Natalie Elkin, who is also a licensed marriage and family therapist. “I feel like we really need to take a closer look at examining ourselves, examining our schools and what’s happening and be self-reflective instead of pointing the finger outward.”
Elkin also said that one recognized mental disorder in the Philippines and Malaysia which is not recognized in America includes some of the same trends and behavior commonly seen in American male shooters. The disorder, called “Running Amok” or simply “Amok,” describes a particular instance of mass violence or aggression against people or objects.
“To run amok in our everyday vernacular just means to sort of go wild and out of control,” Elkin said. “(But in those countries) it is a legitimate disorder. There are some theories about why that is, and they’re all culturally relevant, so all of a sudden it hit me. What is going on culturally that in the last decade … we are beginning to create in young men – because we haven’t seen a female (commit a mass shooting) yet – this particular violent outburst directed at educational institutions? We don’t yet have a name for it, but all of a sudden it sort of occurred to me (that) it’s sort of like this running amok.”
Because, as Elkin pointed out, mass shootings are occurring more and more on or around school grounds, educators and faculty members who work in schools have begun to take progressive steps in order to decrease the likelihood of a shooting.
Lucia said she doesn’t doubt the chance of a school shooting happening here. There are similar trends in aspects such as the socio-economic status of Columbine, Colorado and Granite Bay and it would be ignorant to believe it could never occur at or around GBHS, Lucia said.
At Granite Bay High School, these precautions include two distinct factors of safety and emotional well-being. Staff members are beginning to look more closely at safety plans and increased focus on psychological health of the student body.
“Safety of the campus (is) analyzing access and fence points that are secure,” assistant principal Jessup McGregor said. “We’re trying to make sure people aren’t on and off campus who shouldn’t be here. There’s a lot of conversations going on regarding where we position adults on campus during certain times of the day (and) whether doors should be unlocked or locked in classrooms. The second piece is the health side. We have a really great team of counselors, and we recently brought on board Holly Minor, who is our learning support specialist, and Melanie Anvari, who is our intervention counselor. A portion of it is academic, but a large part of it is emotional. We’re looking at identifying students who are going through external or internal problems and providing support for them to be able to help them manage those emotions because I think if we can be proactive in seeking them out and giving them the support they need, then we can help avoid the potential for them to make a poor decision.”
In addition, students and staff at GBHS recently experienced a shelter in place, lockdown and fire drill, which Westberg said were smart steps which establish a clear and organized plan of action. In the 17 years he’s been here, Westberg said he’s only experienced a lockdown drill four or five times, and continuous instruction makes him feel more comfortable to handle a potential situation.
A second part in helping protect GBHS from a possible school shooting are programs such as Ripple Effect, which is organized by the Student Government Program and works at positively influencing school culture.
“Programs like Ripple Effect can make an impact in students’ lives,” said senior Aubrey Holt, who organized the Ripple Effect event this year as part of her duties as Associative Student Body leader. “Realistically, I believe a student who has gotten to the point, psychologically, of making … horrific decisions would be closed off to all outside influences. I think Ripple Effect and all other culture activities help students be more compassionate and understand that everyone goes through trials. I hope that these programs can reach out to those individuals in need.”
It is important early action are taken to prevent the possibility of the unthinkable, but it is also important to note that students must be willing to take steps themselves and work together to address any issues.
“I feel like there’s something on the other side that always needs to be happening to balance this equation,” Lucia said. “There needs to be people on the other side that care enough about this message that people are delivering and I think that starts with administration to put that on the students to make them actually care about these programs. I think that these programs are meaningful, but for them to achieve true success and leave a lasting impression, we need people on the other end who are ready to accept them and I think we need to place importance on that.”
While is it near impossible for schools to eliminate the chance of a school shooting ever taking place, students and faculty believe that GBHS is working to implement efficient programs and resources, and maximize security.
“We’re talking about a whole perspective shift,” Elkin said. “I know that that takes a lot of time, (but) I do feel very hopeful that particularly at Granite Bay … there is awareness (and) there is consciousness of making a genuine change to (achieve) that kind of perspective. You hear about this horrible thing, and you bring it home to yourself and how (you) can make your life and the lives of those around you better.”