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The Roots of School Shootings
By Peter O’Brien

A few weeks ago, while discussing school violence, a really smart friend of mine made the observation that: "kids with spiritual cores aren't the ones committing the school shootings.” Which led to some digging. So, first, some numbers.

The first recorded school shooting was in 1764. Since then there’ve been quite a few, but definitions are a problem. Wikipedia lists 497 "school shootings," including that very first one, but these include such incidents as the Kent State Massacre (1970) when National Guardsmen shot and killed students protesting the Vietnam War, a host of gang shootings that simply took place on or in front of schools, and a number of shootings involving teachers shooting co-workers or husbands shooting wives (who were teachers), and similar violent crimes; but not crimes in which, as is the connotation, students have come into schools with the purpose of killing other students; that number is substantially lower, perhaps 285 such incidents.

This is still horrific, but it doesn't really explain anything.

Prior to 1970 the most violent decade - as measured by school shootings - was the 1960s, with 19. In fact, prior to 1970 there had been 133 school shootings in 200 years. Since 1970, in the era of much stricter firearms legislation, the number of school shootings has climbed (364 in 48 years). And, roughly one-quarter of all school shootings since then have taken place in the half dozen states with the strictest firearms legislation. And of course, virtually all school shootings since 1990 have taken place inside "Gun-Free" zones.

But, very few shootings have taken place in schools run by a religion of some sort. From a search of the Internet, since the first, in 1867, when there was a murder in a seminary, there’ve been 9 shootings in such schools, including one which involved no students at all, and one in which a madman, unknown by anyone in the seminary, walked into a Benedictine monastery in Missouri and killed two monks. (Horrific, but doesn't fit the definition of the incidents we’re trying to understand...) Of the shootings that have taken place in various church-run schools, all involved a shooter targeting a specific individual; that is, there were crystal clear and specific motives; these weren’t mass shootings.

The obvious conclusion is that there is something about such schools and the students they produce: instruction in, training of, morals – starkly different from the antiseptic, amoral instruction found in most public schools – and graduates with moral cores. Such instruction would seem to have clear benefits for our society.

Stated differently, incidents involving random shooting at large numbers of students have all taken place in schools where there is substantially little effort to provide moral cores to the students.

Which leads to an observation: during the past several weeks I was driving around rural New England; every town has any number of beautiful - picturesque - churches. They speak to a rich heritage of a strong Christian faith.

And it's virtually dead.

On Sundays there is some traffic around a few of the Churches, but most have none at all.

One community after another exists apart from God. And that’s reflected in the public schools. For society, that means that they exist not simply apart from God, they exist apart from morals, from absolutes of right and wrong.

This isn’t an argument for a state church, far from it. What it is, is an argument for bringing the instruction of morals, of right and wrong, of cultural boundaries and social absolutes, back into our day-to-day lives.

History shows that communities and societies without clear morals are societies that are adrift. And the US, and the Western World, has been increasingly adrift since the 1960s, with the roots of that lack of a moral compass reaching back into the late 1800s and the rise of nihilism. Now, Western Civilization is reeling, teetering on the brink.

Getting off that brink will take a great deal of effort, constrained as we are by a country of far too many laws, but far too few moral constraints.

Legislation cannot and will not fix school violence, nor restore moral and philosophical boundaries to society. But if we’re to survive as a civilization, we need to relearn that there are rights and wrongs, we need parents and schools to instill core values of right and wrong, of behavioral limits, and of social obligation, into children. And we need to begin now.


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