I mean, God damn it!

What the fuck???

We just had a school shooting just a few miles from where I live. Saugus High School. A couple miles up Soledad, hang a right and a couple miles up Bouquet Cyn. I once had a sub position at the Hart School district and it is the luck of a die roll I don’t work there now.

Saugus High School shooting in Santa Clarita.

Happy birthday, Nathaniel. For your 16th birthday party, you’ve just killed two children, injured three and blown a hole in your own head. You may survive, you may not, or you may be a vegetable from now on. (Later… he died.)

It is said that 96% of school shooters leave writing and video. School shootings aren’t impulse. They are carefully planned. No doubt we will see and hear all about it.

We don’t know specific motivation nor do we know if the victims were targeted or random. I don’t really care. It isn’t important relative to the greater issue.

I was a really unhappy teenager too. I was bullied. I was ridiculed. There was an actual conspiracy to keep me from going to basketball games when I was on the team in junior high. (That’s how bad I was at the game.) One of my teachers told me how worthless I was. So did my mother. I was beaten up and my property damaged and stolen. No girl would look at me without laughing – or cringing. I thought about suicide on a regular basis. I was less than Hamlet in a world that demanded Lancelot.

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,


But… never in my wildest fantasies did I ever think to kill anyone. I never wanted to hurt the world for hurting me. When the world is one way and you are another, it is just a terrible accident of fate. Really fucking bad luck. A powerful current I would struggle against until I came clear or it dragged me under.  Why on Earth would I want to pull the very people whose respect I craved under with me? If I didn’t think they were worthy of respect I wouldn’t have been hurt by their lack of it for me.

It isn’t about guns. That’s always the knee jerk response. The country was a lot more rural back then. Most homes in my area had a collection of rifles and/or shotguns and many had handguns. That was the reality of rural life in a hunting area. Hell, I even made my own pistol. My cousin built a cannon & brought his rifle to school for show and tell.

There were no trigger locks. Guns and ammo sat in a closet or were proudly displayed on a rack.

So something else much deeper has changed. While overall societal violence is at a historic low, the violence of mass shootings has increased. And school shootings, in specific, have skyrocketed.

The types of firearms in the mix has changed. Today there are more military-style rifles. AK47 and M16 style combat arms have become a larger proportion but it is difficult to tell from the data exactly how much. Most semiauto rifles are not military style. According to Wikipedia:

A 2014 study conducted by Dr. James Fox of 142 shootings found that 88 (62%) were committed with handguns of all types; 68 (48%) with semi-automatic handguns, 20 (14%) with revolvers, 35 (25%) with semi-automatic rifles, and 19 (13%) with shotguns.[58][59][60] The study was conducted using the Mother Jones database of mass shootings from 1982 to 2018.[61] High capacity magazines were used in approximately half of mass shootings.[62] Semi-automatic rifles have been used in six of the ten deadliest mass shooting events.

Now if it were possible to get rid of hi-cap magazines, the number of dead in mass shootings would drop. Not go away – but drop. It does not look possible to me. If they’d banned hi-cap magazines in 1964, it would have been a slam dunk. (The 1994 hi-cap ban was ineffective and eventually lapsed.)  But our political leaders (on both sides of the aisle) with their tendency to lead from the extreme have polarized gun rights advocates to the point where they won’t accept even modest measures.

And a would-be mass killer could use a common shotgun and inflict just as much damage as any combat rifle. It just isn’t fashionable. The AK is the fashionista’s weapon of choice.

Personally, I don’t have a big problem with banning external magazines with more than 5 rounds. That’s about like the internal capacity of a typical deer rifle. Or banning new firearms with changeable external magazines entirely. It won’t happen. To pursue such a strategy may feel good but wastes time and energy that could be put to better use.

This particular shooting was committed with a garden variety .45 auto pistol. Such pistols have been in circulation in the general public for over a century. There are literally millions out there; tens of millions if you count other calibers. No politically possible gun control measure would affect it. Owners will not be turning them in. Demanding that level of gun control is a guaranteed fail and everyone in power knows it.

Are video games to blame? There are some pretty conclusive reasons to believe they don’t.  My personal opinion is that video games offer an outlet for violent feelings, thereby reducing the pressure to act out. Did you know that overall violence in the US is at an all-time low? That’s something you will never hear in the popular media. You have to dig into real sources like the FBI Uniform Crime Statistics.

You’d be hard-pressed to support the claim that entertainment was all that much less blood-soaked in 2008. Yet in 2008 there were 13 school shootings (Wikipedia) and in 2019 so far there have been 44. (CNN – In 46 weeks this year, there have been 44 school shootings)

The question remains is about why this one narrow category of violence is climbing while all other violence is declining. The trend remains solid through multiple administrations and multiple shifts from one party to another. You can’t blame one group without effectively blaming them all.

I believe the answer is less sexy and more complicated than the “Easy Buttons” our leaders would try to sell us. It may well be that the mental health of today’s teenager – or young adult – or some segment of this group – is poorer in some regard than their predecessors of 30 or 50 years ago. And that will be a tough and unglamorous nut to crack.

It isn’t depression and bullying that has changed either. I’ll put my own experiences up there with anyone else’s. It is the school shooter’s response to it that has changed. I internalized my issues. If I didn’t fit in, it wasn’t anyone’s “fault”. It was the hand of fate. The question always arose of “Why me and not them?” And the answer always came up that I was too different, not that everyone else was bad. I was a Martian.

On bad days, the balance would shift from We’re both ok but I have problems to You’re ok and I’m an absolute fail.  That’s not a good thing but infinitely preferable to I’m ok and you deserve to die for giving me pain. And while school shootings have climbed rapidly, teenage suicide has climbed very slowly. We do better than many Westernized countries in that regard. Maybe, just maybe, there’s something new under the sun?

School shooters invariably have extremely serious problems yet rarely seek counseling. I suspect it is because they don’t believe they have a problem. Society, the world and one’s peers are now the preferred scapegoat. They are encopuraged in this belief.

Supposedly the Saugus shooter was an okay kid, JrROTC, good grades, and baseball. But that could have described me when I was thinking about dying. His divorced father was a spouse beater, in and out of jail a couple times and had died in 2017. The anniversary of his death was coming up. While the interviews all say he seemed okay, the son of a teacher at a school I subbed at told her he didn’t think he’d ever seen the boy look happy one time. This will all come out in due time.

Between a 24-hour news cycle that brings instant glory to whoever commits these acts and online fora where researchers, fangirls, Columbiners, and copycats collect and reinforce their members’ sense of being externally wronged, mass shootings have become fashionable in some circles. It seems there is a Global Subculture Surrounding School Shootings. and it shares many traits with fora blamed for radicalizing Islamists and domestic terrorists. It offers an alternate reality where it is ok to murder en masse if you feel sufficiently wronged and a ready pool of people who will celebrate your actions.

This study is grounded in extensive online ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with 22 people who expressed a deep interest in school shootings. Such people form a global online subculture; they share common interests and find the same cultural objects important. Media accounts of school shootings have fueled this subculture; its members participate in the re-creation and circulation of online media content and give new meanings to that content.

8Chan may be down but there are plenty of replacements. I don’t see a way to stop them. Shutting down these fora would be a wise move but also constitutionally suspect. And it would be a game of whack-a-mole if we tried.

If someone shot up a school in 1965 it might have been a couple of minutes on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. The shooter would have been universally cursed as a monster. Not a lot of encouragement to someone else feeling unfairly treated. OTOH, every second of breathless reporting on cable news or the internet today is viewed as an homage to the shooter by the next potential shooter. But… good luck convincing CNN, Fox and the other news networks to change how they report mass shootings. They know what draws ratings.

Our best bet seems to be to try to identify children and teens undergoing extreme levels of alienation. That’s a very deep and complex problem. How do you do it? And once you do, how do you handle it? How do you handle it in a way that doesn’t adversely affect the many false positives or fighten the real McCoy into hiding his problems? How do you get students to express concerns about fellow students without becoming a snitch? How do you get reluctant politicians to pony up the dough for it?

How do you get people out of denial, that it won’t happen here?

The best indicator we might have would be a concerned parent monitoring internet activity. Good luck on that, too.

Maybe we could treated it as a rare but deadly disease that infects unusually vulnerable hosts. Once you identify a vector and the factors that mediate immunity, use an epidemiological model to fight it. Sic the CDC and NIH on ’em.

It isn’t a sexy thing. It calls for the best minds we have in the behavioral sciences, education and law enforcement to team up and find out what is really going on without falling back on the usual political platitudes. Bullying hasn’t changed. Firearms haven’t suddenly gotten more available. We need to look closely at what has changed in society over the last 10-50 years and identify changes in attitudes and morals and perceptions, media vectors, cultural and religious values, differences in pedagogy, child psychology and in parenting.

I bet what we find will be disturbing.

But I am saddened that there will likely be no solution. Left or right, they believe that advancing their cause is worth a few dead children. That’s just how the politics of polarization works. As another blogger, Phil Ebersole, has said, “Instead of aiming for the broadest possible consensus, they aim for the narrowest necessary majority to push their agenda as far as it will go.”

It is a prescription for generating heat without light, smoke without flame. Small numbers of hyper-fanatics rather than broad moderate support.

FYI, this is the FBI’s take on school shooters but notice the dates. Twenty years ago you could count the number of school shootings in a year on your fingers and toes. The concepts are probably still sound.