Kentucky lawmakers from both parties are scrambling to find a solution to the scourge of school shootings following a 15-year-old boy’s rampage at a rural high school in Marshall County. The teen, armed with a handgun, shot 16 classmates last week, killing two of them.
While some lawmakers focused on ways to keep guns out of schools—and just about everywhere else—others suggested more guns might be the answer. Kentucky law now bans guns on school grounds, unless carried by a law enforcement officer. One proposed bill would allow school districts to create “marshals,” employees with licenses to carry guns who could help patrol campuses that can’t afford to hire an official school resource officer.
“I’m going to be beating the drum again. We had this shooting this week. If we do what we did last time and nothing is done, this will come back again,” state Sen. Steve West said, referring to the 1997 shooting in Paducah, Ky., that killed three students.
Gun control advocates agree with West on at least one thing: the inevitability of the next school shooting. The latest incident in Kentucky came just one day after another shooting at a high school in North Texas, where a 16-year-old boy wounded a 15-year-old girl. Two shootings in one week seemed tragic enough, but gun control advocates made an even more shocking claim: According to Everytown for Gun Safety, which tracks U.S. gun violence, there have been 11 school shootings since Jan. 1.
Why haven’t we heard about all these cases? Because most of them didn’t involve students. The list includes a Michigan man who committed suicide in his car in the parking lot of an elementary school closed for the day. It also includes a fight between two men at a sorority party in North Carolina, a teen who committed suicide in a school restroom, and two instances of off-campus gunfire that hit a school building, injuring no one.
While any amount of violence affecting students is unacceptable, it’s vital to accurately assess the problem so lawmakers, educators, and parents can come up with an effective solution.
Katherine Newman, a researcher who studies rampage shootings, found that most mass shootings happen in small towns, where close community relationships mean the signs of a potential attack rarely go unnoticed. In places viewed as “idyllic” for raising children, kids who don’t fit in stand out. The shooters Newman studied, including Paducah gunman Michael Carneal, wanted to leave their mark on something.
“They were trying to get people to think of them as an antihero because that was better than being thought of as a loser,” she said.
Classmates of the accused Marshall County shooter described him as shy, quiet, and nice but said he had appeared anxious about school and “a little down” in recent weeks. Investigators haven’t released many details about a possible motive, although rumors of bullying are circulating on social media.
With so many common factors identified in school shooters after the fact, educators, friends, and neighbors have a long list of warning signs to watch for and speak up about before it’s too late. Three days after the Kentucky shooting, police in Uniontown, Pa., arrested a 14-year-old boy after he threatened to kill classmates at his high school. When they searched his room, they found a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun, two machetes, throwing knives, two lever-action rifles, a revolver, a crossbow with arrows, and bulk ammunition.
District Attorney Rich Bower praised the student who reported the threats and didn’t discount them: “Fortunately, nothing occurred, nobody got hurt.”
While lawmakers debate policy solutions, the real answer to stopping mass attacks by lonely, disaffected students might lie in two Biblical prescriptions for living in community: Be kind and love your neighbor.