The Gun Debate, School Shootings & Why Guns Are Not The Nexus Of The Problem

Following every American school shooting, a gun debate. The response is invariably the same: never again. Obviously, this is both sensible and preferable in the wake of such tragedy, but the conversations surrounding school shootings typically devolve, with unfortunate rapidity, into what is now an archetypal sparring match. From the rightist perspective these public spectacles are generally described in the most sensationalist of terms, usually something along the lines of: “Constitutional conservatives vs. Socialist gun grabbers!” Leftist response is generally nearly identical, only inverted and will generally read like something along the lines of: “NRA shills vs. sensible gun control advocate.” This is not to say that the conversations surrounding gun rights and the extent thereof are not important, they are, in point of fact, tremendously important and should not be overlooked nor dismissed. My contention, however, concerns the intensive focus on gun’s themselves as the crux of the issue and the nexus of the problem. Now, quite clearly any sane and sensible America will realize, given due introspection, that guns kill people only insofar as they are wielded by some other person. This is old-hat and so blatantly obvious that to say anything further would be a waste of time. It is also obvious that, despite this fact, guns greatly increase the kill capacity of a would-be murderer. Still, the principal concern should lie in the same place as the principal blame, that is to say, with the murderers themselves, not their particular choice of weaponry.

After a school shooting everyone asks why a particular school shooter behaved in such a insane fashion reflexively but quickly abandons it and moves on to guns. “Ban guns! All guns must go! The government should take them by force if necessary, the second amendment is not worth the lives of our children!” Shout the democrats, feverishly. “No, we need more guns! Armed guards at every school!” Respond the republicans with equal fervor. I shall contest that both responses are misguided. The tendency for a misbegotten response is understandable given the emotionally charged nature which such events produce, but if a solution to a problem is to be found it shall not be discovered by wayward emotional dispensation and a complete dismissal of a distanced and clinical approach.

To begin with, school shootings are a relatively new phenomenon and one which is particular in its intensity to America. For the purposes of clarity we should lay out a definition for “mass shooting,” classically defined, a mass shooting occurs anytime there is a instance of gunfire which harms or kills four or more people with the exclusion of those events involving criminal-on-criminal attacks (such as gang related slayings) and instances of domestic violence. The first ever recorded school shooting in the United States of America occurred in 1764 during the Pontiac War wherein several Lenape natives entered a school in Pennsylvania and shot the schoolmaster, a one Enoch Brown, killing him. The Lenape raiders then scalped him and slew nine other school children and took their scalps as well. This historical massacre is, however, very different than the modern school shootings which continuously erupt all across America in the nature of the act itself. In the Enoch Brown affair, the reason was the out-group aggression of war (Pontiac’s effort to drive the British from his and various other tribe’s territory due to dissatisfaction over post French-Indian War policies) whereas the motivation for the vast swath of modern school shootings and mass shootings generally is (at least ostensibly) considerably less political, considerably more in-group related and significantly more tied up in mental health, disaffection and atomization. On the 9th of July, 1998, the noted psychiatrist and author of Your Drug May Be Your Problem, Dr. Peter Breggin, stated the following, “I have no doubt that Prozac can cause or contribute to violence and suicide. I’ve seen many cases. In a recent clinical trial, 6% of the children became psychotic on Prozac. And manic psychosis can lead to violence.” 

Prozac is the brand name of Fluoxetine a SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), a class of drugs typically utilized for their anti-depressant effects but which carry with them a bevvy of dangerous side effects one of which is manic psychosis. The drug was approved for the general market of the US in 1987, it launched for sale a year later; 25 years before Prozac only 1 out of every 10,000 was treated for depression (or melancholia, as it was previously termed) whilst as of 2013, 1 in 10 were diagnosed with depression and 1-in-2 to 1-in-5 were likely to be diagnosed as suffering from “depression” during the total course of their lifetime. It would be profoundly disingenuous and silly to pin all of the blame for all school shootings in recent history in America on SSRIs alone, but the fact that their use has dramatically swelled since the 1980s is telling and should be concerning. Further corroboration for the link between increased SSRI use and psychosis is found in the work of the renowned science writer and historian Robert Whitaker who, in his book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, notes the remarkable fact that the number of individuals who recieve US governmental benefits for mental disabilities has doubled since 1987, the very same year that Prozac was approved for general use. The rebuttal to the theory is generally that though the increase in various different mind-altering drugs has markedly increased, general levels of violence have decreased. Indeed, this is true, the rates of most crime in the US has been trending downward for sometime. For example, from 1991 to 2010 violent crime fell by 47%, a remarkable decline and in 2012, statistical analysis showed that crime rates across the board had fallen to their lowest levels since 1963 (Psychiatric Medications and School Shootings, Dr. Peter Langman, 2015) further, from 1991 to 2010, violent crime rates plummeted. What this rebuttal fails to take into account is that a exception from a general rule does not disprove the general rule, which is to say that there is nothing unreasonable about positing that rates of a specific and uncommon kind of violence related to psychosis could increase or stay at some level of stasis whilst a vast bulk of other kinds of crime are falling. There is nothing contradictory in that supposition. All that remains is to back up this position with data.