The unspoken issue behind gun violence

The mind behind the gun and the responsibility we all share to stop school shootings


Art by Justine Picard

A disappointingly familiar headline flooded our newsfeeds on March 27: 6 killed in Nashville school shooting, including 3 children; while tragedies like this often spark heated arguments about gun law reform and who has the right to bear arms, an often overlooked aspect of the discussion is the mental health of both the perpetrators and victims who are involved in these situations. When faced with an issue so sensitive, prevalent and concerningly frequent in our country, it is easy to point fingers at the law and turn our heads away from the more complex and unfortunately stigmatized issue of mental well-being. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education and Secret Service’s Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative, prior to the incident, most attackers struggled with significant losses, had considered or attempted suicide, were bullied, persecuted or injured by others and engaged in concerning behaviors.

Essentially, behind every active shooter is someone with a complicated history of mental unrest. Someone battling frustration or loneliness. Someone feeling misunderstood, lost and hopeless in their situation. While these emotions can never justify their crimes or their cruelty, understanding their motives can help us prevent future gun violence.

“Every [gun violence] case is different but there is usually a feeling of being alone, anger and also wanting to escape,” Oak Park High School Wellness Counselor Fatima Hernandez said. “Feeling like you have no one to talk to and no release for your emotions. In those moments, you feel like nothing can fix what you are going through. But this is not the case, you are not alone, things can get better and there are resources to help.”

People don’t just wake up one day with a desire to shoot up a school. The progression of these violent tendencies is usually gradual and noticeable, but often goes unreported because others don’t want to get involved. 

In Parkland, Florida, the shooter’s classmates “were not surprised” when the shooter was identified and claimed that they “always had a feeling there was something wrong.” In Uvalde, Texas, the shooter left so many warning signs before attacking that students nicknamed him “school shooter.” In the recent Nashville shooting, the shooter was posting about depression weeks prior to the incident and had maps of the school planned out for the attack.

But in Daytona Beach, Florida, after students alerted officials about threatening messages the shooter had sent, an arrest was quickly made, and an attack was prevented. And in Chesterland, Ohio, when a student contacted an officer about a bullet in the bathroom, authorities were able to find the perpetrator with the weapon in his backpack before any harm had been done.

Why has our primary focus been on gun laws when an equally prevalent problem is that there are people so angry with their situation that they feel like their only solution is pulling a trigger? Why have we turned a blind eye to the struggling students, the bullied and persecuted, and blamed this problem on the weapons in their hands? 

Gun reform can help keep firearms out of the hands of people who wish to use them irresponsibly or maliciously, and enforcing it is a key step in improving America’s active shooter problem. However, it is also just one part of the issue. Recognizing the many factors of gun violence is an important effort we must make to improve the situation. 

People who struggle with these violent thoughts should be provided with the support they need to overcome them. Anyone can play a role in helping them heal before they reach their breaking point. It is up to both individuals who are struggling and their peers to be open and communicate about the challenges they face. 

“Communication is so important,” Hernandez said. “A lot of students just try and keep it in, go about their day like nothing is bothering them, but then things build up. And sometimes it is scary asking for help alone, it’s different and has this stigma around it. But everyone deserves a space to talk and to be listened to so they can get the support they need.”

The psychological problems associated with active shooters are obviously not fixable by a single question or gesture. Some have complex and intractable psychotic disorders. But even simple actions are a step in the right direction when it comes to making our community a safer place to talk about mental health.

“It’s a hard thing to talk about and it can be uncomfortable to ask those questions, to ask someone if they are ok or if they feel suicidal, but it can make a huge difference,” Hernandez said. “It could be as simple as walking with them to the Wellness center, checking in on them when they seem upset or being kind. Kindness can go a long way.”

OPHS is working hard to provide students with the resources necessary to prevent something like this from happening at our school. You can learn more about them by reading this article.

It is time for our prevention plans to go beyond just taking guns out of people’s hands. To truly ensure the safety of this nation’s students, we must address the root of the issue and shine responsibility on all aspects of the problem, not just the ones that allow us to point fingers at others. 

We can demand that reform be established in our legal system, but we can not expect results without putting in an effort of our own. The responsibility lies on all of us to educate ourselves and others, to ask the hard questions even when it’s uncomfortable, to be a person to talk to and a shoulder to lean on, to report our concerns and to help when we can. 

This issue is not just about physical weapons nor legislative action. This is as much a human issue as it is an issue of guns, and it requires the courage of our communities to break stigmas and enact change. A lasting solution to violence in schools lies in the hands of each of us.