We all know America has a problem with mass shootings. Just one every year – every decade, every century – would constitute a problem in dire need of fixing.
Yet, consider this. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, which took place in Florida on Valentine’s Day, killing at least 17 people and injuring at least 15 more at last count, is the eighth deadliest mass shooting in contemporary US history.
Moreover, it’s the eighteenth shooting to take place within the confines of a school in 2018.
That’s 18 in 44 days. It’s the eighth school shooting to have resulted in death or injury in those seven weeks.
Wednesday’s violence marks the second-greatest loss of life from a shooting at a US public school, after the 2012 massacre of 20 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
It’s also the deadliest mass shooting – defined by The Gun Violence Archive as an incident in which ‘at least four people injured or killed in one location, not including the suspect’ – ever at an American high school.
It surpasses the 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where two teenagers killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.
Authorities identified the suspect as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former student who’d been expelled for disciplinary reasons.
Broward County Sheriff, Scott Israel, said Cruz was believed to have one AR-15 rifle and multiple magazines in his arsenal.
Officials have not yet identified a motive for the shooting, but the teenager has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
America promised ‘never again’ after Sandy Hook, when a gunman walked into an elementary school and opened fire, before also killing his mother and himself.
Yet, there’ve been at least 239 school shootings nationwide since, in which 438 people were shot and 138 of whom were killed.
Michael Moore had previously called out the hypocrisy in 2002’s Bowling for Columbine:
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The subsequent outcry of grief in the aftermath of any tragic event like this is compounded by society’s firmly held belief how school should be a place of safety.
It’s a feeling echoed by child psychotherapist, Dr Valerie Sinason, who told UNILAD how trauma on such a large, community-wide scale can leave young people suffering with PTSD for years to come.
Dr Sinason, explains ‘feeling heard’ by counsellors, supportive friends and family members can alleviate victims’ symptoms of PTSD, but added this is a type of incomparable childhood trauma.
Nevertheless, a mass shooting is a different order of trauma. From Columbine onwards this is a particular American tragedy with post traumatic stress disorder being the largest result.
While some with huge support networks and lucky personalities escape relatively unscathed, PTSD symptoms can last for years. However the community trauma adds to the pain of the child victims.
Also those closest to young people killed have the highest symptoms.
Deadly attacks with firearms are not just an American issue. They happen all over the world. The fallout of grief and suffering is universal.
UNILAD spoke to the mother and friend of 15-year-old Olivia Campbell, who was killed in the Manchester Arena terror attack on May 22 2017, at an Ariana Grande concert.
Six months on, mum, Charlotte and Adam explained how they’re learning to cope:
Research analysing mass shootings in 11 countries, covering the period from 2000-14, found the United States has more mass shootings – and more people cumulatively killed or injured – than Australia, Canada, China, England, Finland, France, Germany, Mexico, Norway and Switzerland combined.
Yet mass shootings in schools are a primarily American problem, argues Dr Sinason:
In America, the inability to deal with the second amendments and severely restrict access to guns means children can face successful attempts at mass murder.
The emotional impact of school shootings has sparked a booming school safety industry, reports the Guardian.
In 2017, the market for security equipment in the education sector was estimated at $2.68bn, according to industry analysts at IHS Markit, with some companies selling bulletproof backpacks to students.
Dr Sinason adds there are many things in the modern school system – including bullying and academic pressure – which ‘can profoundly affect self esteem’ but don’t necessarily cause mass shootings.
She sums up why this is so potent for young adolescents:
School provides powerful intense experiences of both support and humiliation at a time when there’s least capacity to regulate emotions.
In a few disturbed vulnerable young people the negative experiences remain virulent and fester and the ease with which it’s possible to gain a murder weapon – a gun – allows revenge fantasies to become real in a way they can’t without access to guns including automatic weapons.
Schools don’t have adequate counselling to aid vulnerable loners or social failures.
Many of those who commit these crimes have not succeeded in finding a place for themselves, but do confide their fantasies to someone or write about it.
Explaining how ‘societal denial of such dangers adds to the problem’, alongside a lack of ‘adequate school counselling provision’, Dr Sinason concludes; ‘Access to guns is the primary cause of danger’.
President Donald Trump tweeted his ‘prayers and condolences‘ to those affected, but others said prayers were not enough to appease the great pain caused by inaction in congress.
Meanwhile, the American public is fighting against the National Rifle Association, (NRA), the pro-gun civil rights organisation which has spent $203.2 million on political activities since 1998.
Chris Murphy, senator for Connecticut, site of Sandy Hook, gave a statement saying:
This happens nowhere else other than the United States of America.
This epidemic of mass slaughter, this scourge of school shooting after school shooting.
It only happens here not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction.
We are responsible.
If the senator is to be believed, there’s blood on the hands of the elite Americans millions of civilians trust to keep their children safe.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year.
Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.