It could happen here. It could happen anywhere. As last week’s school shooting in Eastern Washington reminds us, no region of the country is immune from the scourge of school shootings.
When a 15-year-old student at Freeman High School southeast of Spokane allegedly killed one classmate and wounded three others, we were left searching for answers. And yet they came no more easily than when a student at Marysville Pilchuck High School killed four students in October 2014. Or when a student at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore., killed one student in June 2014. Or when a shooter at a college in Roseburg, Ore., killed nine others in October 2015.
There is, unfortunately, nothing unique about school shootings. But any time such an incident occurs in the Northwest, it pulls the issue a little closer to home with the knowledge that it could have happened here.
Various motives and explanations for the Freeman shooting will be offered in the months to come, and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich was quick to reach some conclusions. He blamed a culture of violence and the media for reporting on school shootings. He blamed adults, asking, “Where did we really go sideways in raising our kids? Perhaps we taught them to glorify the wrong things.” He blamed politicians, saying, “Both the right and the left, you’re both enamored by radicalized hate. You seem to hate everybody and everything.” He blamed mental health care: “This is a state and national issue that they better wake up and start dealing with.” And he blamed video games, adding, “You started glorifying cultures of violence. You glorified gang culture.”
Yet in running down a laundry list of causes for the slaying at Freeman High School, Knezovich curiously ignored this nation’s gun culture. He inexplicably failed to mention a country in which there are nearly as many guns as people. He conveniently deflected questions about the weapons used in the Freeman attack by saying, “You never know how people get ahold of weapons.”
If the United States is to have much-needed discussions about mass shootings, it is important to talk about culture and the media and parenting and video games. But it is absurd to ignore the elephant in the room that is this nation’s obsession with guns.
It is true that many students at Freeman likely have access to weapons, and none of the others have targeted classmates. But many students also play video games or see violence in the media — and none of them have lashed out with deadly violence.
Shamefully, since 1996, Congress has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from taking funds allocated for injury prevention and using them to “advocate or promote gun control.” This has effectively limited research into gun violence, because any finding that guns increase the risk of death would violate the Dickey Amendment. Notably, former Congressman Jay Dickey, R-Ark., for whom the amendment is named, has since lamented his role in preventing research.
The United States’ failure to address gun violence or even to have serious discussions about it amounts to nothing less than a moral failing. More than 30,000 Americans are killed by gun violence each year — many of them in suicides. Numerous factors contribute to that, and it is essential to study the role played by each of those factors.
There is no certainty about how to prevent mass shootings in this country, whether in schools or elsewhere. There is only the certainty that they will continue — and that they can happen anywhere.