Another day and without surprise there has been another school shooting in America. An event that has become all too familiar in the world’s wealthiest nation that prides itself on freedom. I wanted to write this article the last time kids were shot in a classroom but procrastinated as I unfortunately knew there would be plenty of other opportunities. I could have waited until the next one, or the one after that, but I’m writing this today, the day after 19 kids and two teachers were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Guns and violence everywhere
I started high school in 1999. I was a goth kid and listened to Marylin Manson, wore black eyeliner, and wore a trench coat despite it being pretty hot in California. I was bullied by jocks and smug rich skater bros. I remember singing the lyrics to ‘Lunchbox’ to give me the empowerment just to show up to class. Yelling “I got my lunchbox and I’m armed real well” in my head would incite fantasies of not getting spit on or shoved down in the locker room.
That same year, there was a massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado committed by two teenagers killing twelve students and one teacher. Shortly after this tragedy my high school 1,200 miles away, installed a 12-foot high (4 meters) steel fence around the campus. I was mostly upset because this made it much more difficult to skip class and trench coats were banned in my school district. Marylin Manson was also largely blamed by soccer moms and politicians for inspiring the school shooting. While I’ve never been a violent person and would never do anything so horrible, I was able to relate to the bullying and wanting it to stop by any means necessary. The kids were brutal, and I knew it wasn’t to blame on music or video games. It was the relentless bullying by kids who weren’t taught empathy or acceptance of others outside the status quo. It can push someone over the edge.
That same year, I attended my first funeral for a 15-year-old girl who sat next to me in art class. She shot herself after school one day because her Catholic police officer father found out she lost her virginity to her boyfriend and other kids called her some pretty nasty names. Bullying was a very serious issue back then and still a very serious issue today.
A few months after I left high school in 2003, one of my old classmates, who I had also went to Catholic elementary school with, brought a shotgun to school. If I hadn’t passed my high school proficiency exam a few months earlier, I would have likely been in the same classroom with this guy during this event. Luckily no one was killed but he was shot by police who were then able to take him into custody. In 2009, four of my high school friends were shot in a drive-by shooting leaving one dead and another paralyzed for life. Another old friend was shot to death in his driveway after being followed home in a road rage incident. I’ve gone to house parties where people showed off their guns after drinking. It was normal even for growing up in a predominantly white middle class suburban neighborhood.
While working as an armed security officer and private investigator for 10 years, I have had more than my fair share of experiences with guns and have owned a few myself. I was shot at once while apprehending an attempted murder suspect. Luckily, I’m skinny and he missed.
Having been living in Poland for the past six years and telling my European friends some of these stories, I am reminded that America is like a Hollywood movie to the rest of the world because these things don’t happen, or very rarely happen, in any other developed country. These things are just unimaginable most elsewhere.
Since the Columbine massacre, there have been 331 school shootings with 554 children, educators, and school staff have been killed or injured at school. What has been done to curb gun violence? Not only in schools, but in general? Republicans think more police and harsher punishments for criminals with a lethal dose of thoughts and prayers is the answer. Democrats want stricter gun laws, better background checks, and call it a mental health crisis. As a former private investigator who became a teacher, I know that determining the root cause of a problem is key to solving it. Democrats, Republicans, and many other Americans are looking for bandages to address gun violence as if gun violence was the actual problem. It’s not. Neither is crime or homelessness. They are symptoms of bigger beasts.
So, how does America fix these things?
People need to earn a fair and livable wage.
The United States has massive wealth inequality. The ultra-rich are getting richer while wages have been stagnant for 40 years for the rest of us. People are often working multiple jobs that barely pay the bills. Parents are less involved in their children’s lives because of it too. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that being overworked and underpaid causes massive amounts of stress that can lead to serious mental health issues resulting in depression, suicide, domestic violence, drugs and alcohol, gambling, and other crime, including mass shootings.
People need to be healthy
We need to tax the rich and provide healthcare for everyone, including mental healthcare. For a country with such advanced medical technology, it is largely inaccessible to a good chunk of the population. Private healthcare and big pharma need to be strongly regulated to keep medicine affordable and accessible.
People need affordable housing
There are about as many vacant homes in the United States as there are homeless people. We need more public and community owned housing and ban property investors from building and buying homes and rental units for profit while jacking up the housing market. Credit score checks to be able to rent a place to live should be illegal.
People need to have equal education opportunities
Many U.S. public schools are funded through local property taxes often by zip (postal) code. This means that wealthier neighborhoods have better funded schools and better paid teachers. Due to America’s long history of racism, redlining, and segregation, demographics aren’t too much different today. We need to end this practice and demand equal funding and resources for all public schools. If the USA can afford nearly 80 years of continuous war, it sure can invest in public education. This includes cancelling student debt and funding higher education. Our schools need to teach diversity, empathy, respect, financial and emotional responsibility, critical thinking, how to change a flat tire, not to be a bully, and other things we all need to know to be able to be successful adults.
End lobbying and special interest groups
Another major problem that has destroyed American democracy are the lobbyists and special interest groups. Politicians are legally bribed to write legislation and pass laws that favor corporations instead of people, such as the NRA (National Rifle Association) who spent over $3 million lobbying in 2021 alone. When corporations and the wealthy buy politicians, there is no freedom, and everyone suffers. This isn’t a Republican vs. Democrat issue. It’s a class issue and neither party, nor these big corporations have working people in their interest.
What is good for the community is good for the individual
America’s individualistic culture has largely forgotten about the power of community. Having travelled to 24 countries, never have I seen a society so obsessed with putting individual interests before community good. While there are many great aspects of individualism to pursue one’s aspirations, this often means that a lot of people are left behind and lack resources in such a dog-eat-dog society. American culture is all about living in your own bubble and has long forgotten that what’s good for a community is also good for the individual. This bubble is also why many people are complacent and have grown accustomed to tragedy. That is until that bubble gets popped by a bullet that hits too close to home.
There are more guns than people in the USA, so banning guns would be impossible and likely incite a civil war. More cops and harsher punishments don’t prevent crimes. Thoughts and prayers certainly haven’t worked as mass shootings have only increased over the years. National background checks, gun buy backs, banning assault weapons, and limiting ammunition sales would be small bandages and possibly make minor improvements, however it does not solve the root of the actual problems.
I don’t think it’s far-fetched or a radical idea to think that healthy, educated people who are paid fairly and have a good work-life balance with a roof over their head are far less likely to have substance abuse problems, commit crimes, shoot people, or suffer from mental health issues. Americans need to take a hard look at their culture of individualism and recognize that the harder it is for people to live, the more violence will prevail. We need to stop thinking only about ourselves and focus on the good for everyone to live in a healthy society. Only then will we be able to curb gun violence, gangs, substance abuse, crime, and homelessness.
– California John
The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not represent or reflect the views of MyCoolClass or its members.