I grew up in India in the sixties. Our schools were (and still are) very safe. As a tall boy, I was always seated in the last bench (along with the more notorious students). Friendship with those boys gave me an insight into their thoughts and actions. These boys were not saints but at the same time, they were not too bad. They had some sadistic tendency to bully and fight but the most that happened was fist fights and that was it. My mother was a teacher in the same school and perhaps that saved me from many problems with those boys.
While at college in Mumbai and later in university, we had more freedoms and access to money and very low supervision. This meant that drugs and other vices found their way into our college washrooms and grounds. Intimidation by gangs of students was not uncommon. However, you had to move in certain circles to attract their attention. If you were a regular student that attended lectures and went home, you could be assured that you will not face any problems. There were gangs of students that were known to fight for turf (maybe for drugs) but that was away from college and it involved knife, sticks, iron rods and in the extreme case there would be a sword. These instances were rare and we came to know through the grapevine.
I then lived in the Middle East for a couple of years and then four years in Ireland. In both places, there was no news of school shootings. Most probably, there are no school mass shootings in most of the world except for USA. When I first heard of the Florida shooting, I must confess that it did not shock me. At the back of my mind, I guess I was anticipating the next mass shooting. It was just a question of where it would happen – would it be a mall? school? a place of worship? restaurant? office? In fact, I was mentally prepared for a mass shooting to happen anywhere anytime. Now that I recollect my life experience and reflect at how my mind had been conditioned now to accept mass shooting as an inevitable reality, it hit me hard about how we have been programmed to a version of truth prevalent only in the great US of A.
As a non American, it seems to me that in trying to answer the Florida school shooting, the authorities are committing a big mistake by proposing solution centered on the school. Past experience will show that the shooter might as well have selected a mall or theater or any other venue.
What they need to understand is that the common factor everywhere in mass shooting is the Gun. Remove gun from gun violence and suddenly USA will be like any other part of the world.
Plain violence without gun requires hard work. To be violent with lots of people simultaneously without possessing a gun requires guts, physical strength, skill and a heck of a lot of preparation. Also, if an attacker tries to attack lots of people simultaneously without guns, it is easy for law enforcement with guns to subdue them. It is easy for a group of unarmed brave hearts to subdue them. Even if the attacker succeeds initially, loss of life is unlikely. What may result may be a few serious injuries.
In most parts of the world, it requires a lot of paper work and justification to get a license to own a gun. They need to prove that they are under such threat that they cannot rely on local law enforcement alone. Most citizens trust the government to protect them and ensure justice. Most people do not find the need to have guns because civilization and government assures that the rough edges of most people have been sufficiently smoothed. As a result you do not find mass shooting headlines in most countries. There may be a one off but not even close to the frequency with which it happens in the USA.
Today I read an open letter that a teacher wrote to politicians on CNN in response to the proposal to arm teachers to protect the students. One line from her letter made me freeze. She asks why are you putting me in a situation where I have to choose between living for my daughters and saving children in my school?
The good guy with the gun (a deputy) did not enter the school for 4 minutes while the firing was on going. Now people are calling him a coward and he had to resign from his job. I ask everyone to think honestly if you would have stepped in knowing that some one is firing an automatic weapon and all you have is probably a Pistol? It is a difficult decision to give up your life knowing that you leave a family behind and lots of unfinished business.
The greatest source of bewilderment for outside watchers like me is that right from the President onward, no one wants to look at the simple solution – take the gun out of gun violence. They want to go to ridiculous levels like fortifying the school, putting metal detectors, arming teachers and training them. This same government had cut funding for schools, tried to prevent teachers from getting deductions for school supplies they buy, cut funding for mental health services. On top of that this administration revoked checks on mentally challenged people getting their hands on guns. After the tax cuts, the administration is strapped for cash and the proposals being made now will cost money that they do not have.
Let us for a moment assume that the event did not happen. If we take a step back and look at USA, we can see all great things in the world are happening there. Electric car, movies, financial innovations, Supply chain, intellectual property, information technology, most powerful rockets etc. This indicates a very smart, intelligent and progressive civilization. I suspect there is a small but less enlightened and vocal element somewhere that is just obsessed with guns and blind to everything else. Unless that group is enlightened, we have just begun the countdown for the next gun massacre. It could be in a school or mall or church or airport or hospital or ….. take your pick….. one thing I can say with certain, it will involve a gun – most likely one that can fire rapid rounds and inflict certain death. What model? that is immaterial.
Let us hope that this time the politicians would be able to do the right thing and put an end to this cycle of meaningless killing.