ART BY HAZUKI TONOMURA
Time and time again, school shooting incidents are headlines to the news media, reporting on all the bright lives that were abruptly ended, on communities that will never be the same again, on families that are mourning the loss of a loved one. Yet all we do is change the channel or flip the page, all while thinking: it will never happen to me. As increasing incidents of school shootings occur, it is time to face the reality: gun violence is a real and apparent issue.
On his birthday, a student entered the Saugus High School campus in Santa Clarita, California, with a .45-caliber pistol, the very object that claimed the lives of two classmates, as well as Berhow himself. In the span of sixteen seconds, Saugus High School would never be the same again.
Individuals acquainted with the shooter described him as a quiet individual who was perceived to have a stable life; when on the contrary, his father, an avid big-game hunter, died two years ago. Prior to his death, the student’s father had been arrested under a charge of domestic violence. Clearly, it is never excusable for someone to take the lives of others. It is also clear that the shooter had experienced emotional trauma, which may have motivated him to organize such a devastating event.
The fact that the shooter was able to access a gun is a dilemma on its own. With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell withholding fiercer gun control laws, individuals who are unfit to yield have access to such weapons. No doubt, mental illness is neither an excusable nor valid reason to murder, but when looking at the trends of such shooters we must ask ourselves, were these kids mentally healthy. There is not one concrete factor that can be used to blame the recent school shootings, but it is important to recognize adolescents are developing in an era where emotional stability has been affected through advances in society.
Although the shooter appeared to not possess any violent antics, the events that unfolded on November 14 show otherwise. The fact that many did not realize that he may have been struggling with mental health and lack of emotional support becomes a key indicator as to why the shooter felt the need to harm his classmates. According to the Association for Children’s Mental Health, as many as eighty percent of adolescents in America do not receive the mental health care they need. This may be due to the lack of support that students are given, whether it be with counselors at school or parental, that may result in them feeling as if they need to lash out and perform these devastating actions.
In light of recent events, many schools have begun implementing safety drills as well as increasing security and strict regulations on what students can and cannot bring to school. Of course, training students on handling an emergency is important. Yet, by focusing on such safety provisions, schools neglect the preventative measures concerning mental health that would have helped students like the shooter. The narrative this creates is that schools are neither safe nor fostering of a healthy psychological environment. Yet despite school administrators across the country fighting for mental health advocacy, sadly some students aren’t receiving the mental health treatment they need.
On the positive side, it seems that this country has finally learned from the past experiences of school shootings inflicted on our nation. In response to the events on campus, Saugus High School will offer students counselling and emotional support after re-opening on December 2. When deciding how long the school would close, Saugus High School had consulted other schools that had experienced the same incident.
Essentially, Saugus High School’s decision to consider the well-being of their students mentally is a huge step in providing adolescents the support they need. Through emotional counseling, Saugus High School students are able to seek professional help to address the shock that comes with having one’s own peer, classmate or even friend fire gun shots with the intent to kill.
Subsequently, school shooting incidents are terrifying—for teachers, parents, but most importantly, the students. This is a situation where the individuals you see every day for years suddenly become threats to the school with the possession of a weapon that is extremely dangerous in the wrong hands. It is terrifying to imagine, but Berhow is not the first school shooter, nor will he be the last one.
When interviewed by news media, almost all of the students at Saugus High School shared that they never expected any sort of situation like this to occur. The school was in an extremely safe suburban area and the school faculty was shocked to have to undergo lockdown procedure. Obviously, no schools ever plan to have school shootings, so events like these are always unexpected, and its consequences are unremovable.
However, the more important issue that schools should be emphasizing is the mental health of the students, especially in a time of social media, where all aspects of one’s life is broadcasted online. While the actions of Saugus High School have indicated that there has been improvement to adjust to the changing society, more schools, whether they have experienced school shootings or not, should take in the consideration of the emotional state of students’.
It is so easy to hide internal struggles and isolate oneself emotionally. The shooter was a perfect example; many believed he was a “normal” high school student, with no malicious intent. It is time to realize that focusing on mental health is a priority, not an option. When it is treated as one, it is easy to see why school shootings continue to plague our nation today.