Stop blaming mental illness for mass shootings

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Catherine Gagulashvili staff writer

Valentine’s Day 2018: for many at Beverly, it was a day to celebrate love, but for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, it was a day to fear for their lives as a former student opened fire on campus, wounding 16 people and killing 17. Rather than address the continuous problems created by not enacting stricter gun control laws, people are quick to wrongfully blame shootings on those with mental issues and or disabilities.

Police suspect former student Nikolas Cruz, who had been expelled from the school due to disciplinary problems, that he fired at students and adults toward the end of the school day. Cruz set off the fire alarm with hopes of increasing the number of people he could shoot at. Students barricaded the hallways, only to be ushered back into classrooms when the school was placed on a code red lockdown. Videos containing students’ reactions to gunshots can be found here (videos contain graphic content).

President Trump sent out his “prayers and condolences” to the victims’ families through Twitter on Wednesday. Later on Thursday, he posted, “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” This message indicates that the shooting occurred because of Cruz’s mental instability, rather than addressing the fact that the shooting occurred because Cruz had easy access to a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. In many states, it is legal to purchase a long gun at age 18 and a handgun at age 21. Cruz, who is 19-years-old, purchased a rifle last February. He passed the background test which checked for prior criminal offense and if a court had officially found the buyer to be “mentally defective.” Neither of these limitations applied to Cruz and he was able to purchase the gun.

Shootings like this happen in America. They don’t happen anywhere else. The fact that school shootings happen predominantly in America is rooted in the fact that we, as Americans, so desperately cling to our idea of freedom which we interpret as the right to own guns. People are quick to jump to the conclusion that people with mental issues kill other people. They blame the fact that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred because Adam Lanza had mental issues. They blame the Douglas High School shooting on the fact that Cruz was depressed, not because he had access to a gun. What so many people fail to realize is that people who suffer from mental instability would not be a major threat to society if they didn’t have access to a gun. Mental illness is not the problem; people do not inherently fear a person who has been diagnosed with a mental disorder. We do fear, however, if said person points a gun at us. Putting weapons that have the means to kill a massive number of people in minutes in the wrong hands is what causes these shootings. Background checks must be more thorough. The process of buying a gun should not be shorter than the process of getting a driver’s license; it should not take as little as 15 minutes to buy something that could cause the next school shooting. Purchasing semi-automatic rifles, such as the AR-15 rifle that Cruz used, is easier than ever. If we don’t control the purchasing of guns, the Douglas High School shooting most definitely won’t be the last school shooting of the year.

Since gun control is a controversial topic and the path to achieving it is a long one, every student needs to be aware of what to do in case they are put in this awful situation. School protocols call for lockdowns. These have been effective in the past, saving lives of students and staff from active shooters. The greatest lesson that can be learned about safety when it comes to school threats, is that it is crucial to stay with others in a safe, closed area. Do not run off by yourself. Do not play the hero and attempt to go after the shooter. Do not think that you will be safer if you run off campus and try to go home. Cruz pulled a fire alarm to lure students out of classrooms so he could shoot at more people. If your immediate thought when hearing an alarm is to run home, don’t. Staying with teachers and administrators who have been trained and know what to do in case of an emergency is your best bet. As we wait and hope for stricter gun laws to be enacted, every student must know what to do in case they are put in this awful situation.

With social media becoming more and more prevalent in our daily lives, it is important to be aware of what you see on social media. Cruz’s Instagram page was filled with images of guns. He was known for being violent toward animals and even his ex-girlfriend. If you come in contact with, either in person or via a social media platform, someone who you suspect might be a threat to the school campus or any individual on it, tell a teacher, administrator or parent. Students at Douglas High School would joke that Cruz would be the one to “shoot up the school.” If you hear someone “joking” about something that would inflict violence upon a school or individual, speak up; better to be safe than sorry.

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