Did you hear about the death of the high school student? The young man was a friend of my daughter’s; they knew each other since Kindergarten. I use the term “friend” loosely because they did not hang out together a lot over the years, but when someone is a neighbor and a school mate for 12 years, they’re more or less a friend. The other day, he walked out in front of his house, where he lives with his family, said out loud to someone that there was a note inside explaining something, turned a gun he was holding on himself and pulled the trigger. They say in cases like this that “he died instantly” but that is just to make people feel better. There’s a good chance he was alive for a while, during which time he bled out and his organs shut down one by one.
Did you hear about the other kid that died, this morning? It was in Ohio. A young man pulled out a pistol in a waiting area of a school, where four or five kids were sitting at a table, waiting for a bus. He pointed the pistol at them, and to the horror of various onlookers who later described the scene, walked towards the kids at the table, pulling the trigger again and again. One of the children slumped down on the table and started his process of dying. Another tried to hide under the table but he was shot anyway. One kid ran away and called the police, even though a bullet notched his ear. As of this writing, two kids are in the hospital in critical condition, and two in serious condition, and one is in the morgue.
We can ask why these things happen, why these kids did these things, but there is another question that must also be asked, and that is often left unaddressed until long after the shock and horror of the incident wears off for the news junkies, bloggers, and other voyeurs. This question is: Where did the guns come from? It is extremely unlikely that these weapons were legally owned by these children. They got the weapons from somewhere. It is extremely unlikely that anyone who might have owned these weapons legally would have loaned them out to the children. Most likely they got the weapons by taking them from where they were stored, against the wishes of the owners.
It is hard to find information on where the weapons that children use to kill themselves and each other come from. It is generally felt that in the case of suicides, the weapons are from the home, and they were not properly secured. In the case of “school shootings,” there is an old (but still relevant) study1 that tells us where the weapons are generally from.
During July 1, 1992–June 30, 1999, a total of 323 school-associated violent death events occurred in the United States, resulting in 358 deaths … To guide prevention efforts, CDC examined school-associated firearm violent death events committed by students in elementary and secondary schools in the United States and determined the sources of the firearms used in these events. The findings indicate that, among the incidents for which data are available, the majority of the firearms used in these events were obtained from perpetrators’ homes or from friends or relatives.
The study was able to include 128 events. Thirty-four of those events were suicides carried out in the school. Twenty six of those guns came from the child’s home, four from a friend or relative, and two were stolen. Ninety four of the events were homicides, and of those, 22 used guns from home, 26 from a friend or relative, with a higher percentage from various other sources including purchased, stolen, or taken from the victim, with 27 unknown.
A high percentage of these events involved multiple victims, the predominant gun type was a handgun, the shooters were mostly male, and most were over 15 years of age and white. Most were never charged with a crime, gang membership was almost never a factor, and drug or alcohol use was usually not associated with the event.
The law should provide for penalties for those who fail to secure firearms that are then used by kids to kill themselves or each other. There is no good reason that a firearm in a home can’t be secured. Anyone who has an unsecured firearm in their home right now is committing a crime, in my view, technically illegal or not. Such individuals have a misguided perception of what that firearm is for, and how to use it. School shootings such as today’s are rare, but suicides among young people are not. You would not leave a ten foot deep open pit in your front yard, you wouldn’t leave your car unlocked and running out in front of the store while you shop, you wouldn’t leave your pills and sharp things next to the baby’s crib. Why is your gun not locked up?
Here’s the local news reports on the incident:
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Source of Firearms Used by Students in School-Associated Violent Deaths — United Stats, 1992-1999. MMWR 2003;52:169-172.