Opinion: Are Mass School Shootings Caused by Mental Illness or a Lack of Brain Development?

Walter Rhein

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Whenever children lose their lives, it has a devastating effect on the whole community. Every parent is terrified of losing their child to a car accident, or depression that leads to suicide.

Responsible communities try to lead children safely into adulthood.

We all know that young people do stupid things. Sometimes those stupid things end in tragedy. To avoid tragic outcomes, we place limitations on what we allow children to do.

We don’t allow people who are under the age of 21 to purchase alcohol. We know that young people aren’t responsible enough to handle adult decisions.

This is not because young people are “mentally ill,” it’s because their brains haven’t developed. The result is that young people make very bad choices.

This isn’t a matter of opinion, it’s science.

It doesn’t matter how smart teens are or how well they scored on the SAT or ACT. Good judgment isn’t something they can excel in, at least not yet. The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so — Understanding the Teen Brain

One reasonable takeaway from this fact is that it’s clear we shouldn’t allow individuals in our society with undeveloped brains to have access to weapons of war.

Since 1999, seven in 10 school shootings have been carried out by people under the age of 18—Nick Smith

This unfortunate reality is exactly what scientists predict. It doesn’t make sense for children to have access to guns.

There is no single solution that would completely solve all gun violence in the United States. Much of the debate on this issue is confused because various forms of gun violence are lumped together.

We must examine each form of gun violence independently. Mass shootings are different than mass school shootings. Neither of these events should be confused with other forms of gun violence such as suicide or gun violence related to criminal activity.

There is always a temptation for individuals and journalists to put all the numbers together to justify a scandalous headline. When it comes to the topic of school shootings, a more focused approach is warranted.

The numbers suggest that raising the purchasing age for gun ownership could result in a dramatic reduction in the number of mass school shootings.

Unfortunately, it’s not realistic to predict that the action will eliminate the problem, but that doesn’t mean we should discard the idea. It’s time that American society took a hard look at why our young people are routinely committing these heinous acts.

Some people claim that the increase in gun violence can be linked to a departure from traditional values. However, the United States is still largely dominated by traditional values. Traditional values haven’t changed. The only thing that has changed is that superior weapons are now available.

Perhaps the rash of mass school shootings we see in our country represents the ultimate failure of traditional values?

I know that all the parents in my community love their children. I know that teachers, students, and parents are terrified that their next day at school might be their last.

Mass school shootings represent a failure of our whole society. It’s time that America takes a hard look in the mirror and accepts the responsibility of providing a kinder and safer world for our children.



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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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