In light of the latest school shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan, just how will America respond to this continuous threat against teenagers?
Article written by Jett James Pruitt
Today was another interesting news day for members of Generation Z.
Once again, a high school shooting dominated the news headlines. This time it was Michigan. This time it was a 15-year-old with a 9mm Sig Sauer pistol. This time the shooter's parents were called in that very morning to discuss what teachers observed to be "disturbing behavior" just days before.
This time, Oxford High School won the undesirable honor of America's 28th school shooting that resulted in death or injury in 2021.
So, how does the average teenager in the United Sates react to such news? Quite honestly, we grew up with this type of senseless violence in our schools, and are sadly accustomed to it as a generation.
I can't remember a year in which there wasn't at least one school shooting that made national headlines. I can't remember a time before schools conducted active shooter drills like "Code Red" or "Alice." More importantly, I can't remember a time where politicians didn't send thoughts and prayers to the families of victims without offering any solid, concrete solutions.
I can, however, remember how the tremendous amount of pressure put on politicians after Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland had literally ZERO impact on the rate of school shooting occurrences.
So, how can we expect the shooting at Oxford High School to change the status quo? Because we may have finally realized that we have been rallying for the wrong solution all along, and here's why.
Today was also the day that police announced the arrest of the alleged murderer of my neighbor, Ryan Rogers –– a 14-year-old Palm Beach Gardens, FL teenager who attended my district high school. Unlike the Oxford High School shooting, Ryan went out for a bike ride on November 15 and was found stabbed to death under an overpass the next morning.
The motive in both cases? At the time of this writing, none.
Both the Oxford High School shooter who killed at least four students with a gun –– Ethan Crumbley –– and the alleged Miami drifter who killed Ryan Rogers with a knife –– Semmie Lee Williams –– exhibited mental health problems that others noticed.
In fact, both murderers kept journals (Crumbley's was hand-written and Williams' was on video) clearly indicating paranoid thoughts and fantasies of violence, and in both cases, other people were fully aware of it.
And THIS is the truth our country keeps ignoring.
Perhaps it's time we start holding "The Village" accountable for not taking action that prevents the deaths of others. Perhaps it's time the fear of getting arrested for not reporting severe mental illness in our loved ones becomes the norm.
But in this age of expensive and limited mental health services, plus the fear of reporting others due to "Karen syndrome" or personal retaliation, we are allowing the most dangerous weapon of all — a troubled mind — to freely roam our streets, our communities, and our schools.
People can and often do heal from mental health problems. Sometimes it is systemic. Sometimes it is temporary. Sometimes it is purely a chemical imbalance. Other times it is a result of traumatic experiences that require a lifetime of treatment.
Those who have mental health challenges must be treated with the utmost kindness, respect, and dignity. But we must identify those who are a threat to themselves and others earlier and act immediately to remove them from the general population until treatment has time to take effect.
In my home state, the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971 (more commonly known as the "Baker Act") was designed with this notion in mind. It allows for law officials and family members who recognize the need for a person to receive emergency mental health services to be temporarily committed if they appear to be suicidal or dangerous to others. Although this law has saved literally thousands of lives, it still has its shortfalls as it does not provide ways for family members to insist on long-term mental healthcare.
But what about the teenager who just appears clinically depressed or has an odd fascination with revenge or firearms? What about the individuals who fall short of the high benchmarks set forth by laws like the Baker Act?
This is where it gets complicated, but the truth is, there is almost always a friend, co-worker, or family member who sees the signs well in advance.
And what options do they have? At this time, very few:
The average cost of a psychiatrist is $200 an hour in America, with the number of visits limited by most insurance plans.
The cost for a 30-day residential program for the treatment of depression is between $14,000 and $27,000 in the United States.
According to CNBC in May 2021, the average person with major depression spends $10,836 on health costs.
So, what does a family who earns too much for Medicaid and too little for high-end services do when the school calls and says that their child is exhibiting odd behavior?
They try to solve the problem first quietly by themselves. Every parent wants to avoid the stigma of having their child go through a mental health evaluation at school.
Which is why this needs to change.
We already have numerous gun laws in place to prevent dangerous individuals from lawfully obtaining guns, but we must finally admit as a nation, this has been a complete waste of time.
Time and time again, school shooters have circumvented gun control laws, obtaining firearms from parents, friends, or individuals on the street.
The truth is we have been rallying for the wrong solution all along. Gun control laws may somewhat reduce but will not ultimately solve our problem, even if every gun is removed from the planet.
We must address the root cause of mass shootings – individuals who have reached a breaking point with mental illness – and until we have a solid national protocol and an accessible place to send individuals who might pose a threat, even a kitchen fork can become a weapon.
We as a society need to remove the stigma, barriers, and costs associated with mental health services. If we can give out free vaccines to individuals for the sake of protecting the health of our country, we need to rethink the concept of socializing mental health services, making treatment both free and widely available to all who need it.
More importantly, we need to write tough but fair laws that allow family members and close observers to separate anyone who may pose a danger to others, and re-open plenty of clean, humane, and pleasant facilities dedicated to serving those who need mental health services long-term.
Gun control advocates often cite other countries such as England and Australia who have successfully reduced the amount of mass shootings and have strict gun control laws. But for whatever reason, they often neglect to consider the impact socialized medicine and mental health reporting and treatment laws may also have in preventing individuals who would otherwise pose a threat to the community.
In America, certain gun control laws absolutely make sense. No one needs an AR-15 to go shopping at the mall... But it's not enough. And it will never be enough unless we admit and pinpoint the exact area where we have failed: providing free, effective, and humane short-term and long-term mental health services to all who need it.
This may be a bitter pill for us to swallow as a nation, but facing the truth is the only way we can change the future for younger generations.
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