School Shooting Chardon, Ohio, And Other Tragedy

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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.

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13 thoughts on “School Shooting Chardon, Ohio, And Other Tragedy

  1. My condolences to your daughter, what a heart breaker. I cannot imagine a teen having that much hurt. We have the gun violence rate of a third world country. That is simply unacceptable.

  2. “Tragedy”…a word, these days, somewhat devoid of real meaning, I fear. The emotional aspects of it have been burned out by overuse. Merely a musing.

    This is one of the gun control advocate’s strongest arguments, that suicide becomes easy and more effective, and swifter, requiring less preparation and forethought, than other methods. By and large, this assertion is true.

    Where I somewhat stand aside, however, is the defining of “tragedy”. Undoubtedly, it is for the family, assuming any reasonable level of normal family affection and love (an assumption I am becoming somewhat less sanguine about making, I’m afraid).

    But for the “victim”? I believe in no afterlife, nor reincarnation, but I can honestly see situations, emotional, physical or intellectual, where the ending of the situation is a superior outcome to trying to live through it, even at the cost of the ending of life.

    Besides which, I strongly and all but without exception believe in bodily sanctity – including the end of existence, as and when demanded by the person involved.

    So, in which cases are these “horrible tragedies” that “should have been avoided by better gun laws” (not your words, Greg, but those of many I have heard) – and how many swift, effective releases from a situation found to be intolerable?

    Unfortunately, I have no answer.

  3. Does it surprise anyone that the organization that tracks these gun-related public health statistics, the CDC, is among those that Republicans want to shut down because “every penny helps”?

  4. I have the answer, if I correctly understand your question.

    Many people go though a period of what might be categorized as depression when young, some contemplate suicide, some attempt it. Among those who do this but fail at the attempt, the depression goes away, often but not always with some sort of help, and they’re essentially fine after that. However, for those who attempt suicide with a gun, between 80 and 90 percent succeed. Had they not had access to the gun, they would have gotten past that period of their life and been OK.

    So most of these suicides, of young folk, are tragedies. So many so that the appropriate number to use is, I would say, 100%.

  5. Had they not had access to the gun, they would have gotten past that period of their life and been OK.

    This is likely true in the majority of cases—the proportion of multiple-method or complex suicides, wherein the victim uses multiple methods such as swallowing pills before hanging themself, is relatively small.

    I know people who work in this area (I’m in public health), and I’m led to believe most suicide attempts are preventable if the individual can be caught in time. I’ve heard of suicide attempts being derailed because the potential victim ran into an old acquaintance on the way to the bridge.

    In other words, you’re far more likely to be correct if you assume that the suicide attempt is a temporary cry for help than if you assume it’s the only solution to an intolerable situation.

  6. Oh, your poor kid! That’s just awful for everyone involved. Burying your friends is one of the worst things I remember from my teen years.

    I can’t offer any platitudes to make her feel any better and I’m sorry for it. It’s the one thing I kinda miss about religion, the ability to offer meaningless blather that the dead one has ‘gone on to a better place’. Instead, I will only offer my sympathies.

  7. Thank you Greg, Brownian. My own experiences have been more with adults…and I wouldn’t exactly call my own upbringing “normal”.

  8. The father of the perpetrator of the Erfurt school shooting in Germany was actually put on trial (and,if memory serves right,convicted…)as an accessory to murder (or was it manslaughter?),because not only had he attempted to “cheer up” his clinically depressed son by reguarly taking him to the shooting range,he left one of his guns (he had a collection,which in Germany is,how shall I say,rare and strange)loaded and unsecured in his bedroom.This was the gun the son used to murder a teacher and 15 students (almost all female,by the way,a fact that the media conveniently dropped under the table).
    German law says that any legally owned gun must be kept seperate from the ammunition,both locked in individual safes/steel vaults,the key or combination to which must be possessed ONLY by the legal owner of the gun(s).So even if the accessory charges didn’t stick (too lazy to google right now),he in all likelyhood was still convicted seperate charges of violating the
    Schusswaffengesetz (firearm law),

  9. Another hug for your daughter, Greg, and I’m so glad that you are acknowledging that she’s entitled to grieve and have her grief taken very seriously indeed. Love to you both.

  10. But for the “victim”? I believe in no afterlife, nor reincarnation, but I can honestly see situations, emotional, physical or intellectual, where the ending of the situation is a superior outcome to trying to live through it, even at the cost of the ending of life.

    …you really think a high school student is qualified to make that kind of call? Especially one who, whatever’s going on, isn’t hospitalized?

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