I sat down to write tonight, hoping to put something cohesive together about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary last Friday. I can't. All that I can come up with is a bunch of thoughts simultaneously running through my mind. Maybe that's what this post needs to be since my brain isn't capable of formulating well thought-out paragraphs. Maybe I just need to get it all out.
I wrote about the usual tropes with mass shootings after the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado. That post highlighted the pandemic of instability our youngest members of society face in the United States. Instability, I argued, is the greatest cause of problems among our country's youth.
Does our country need tighter gun control laws? No doubt about it. Will tighter gun control laws save lives? Logic tells me they will. Yet, no matter how tight the laws are or how well they are enforced, I believe a mentally unstable person desperate to do others or themselves harm will find a way to find a lethal weapon. So, the solution extends beyond the gun laws.
We can't jump to conclusions about any shooter from any of these cases, yet we can observe the parallels and hope to learn something from them. When classmates, friends, family members, or other acquaintances describe the shooters, their adjectives include: adolescent, male, loner, awkward, isolated, computer geek, goth, average, depressed, quiet, smart, nice, divorced parents, suburban. Lumped together, these adjectives often do not add up to what the education system considers an "at-risk" kid. A non-minority child with good to average grades from a middle to middle-upperclass background simply won't get the attention and resources that the "squeakier wheels"(i.e. children with behavioral outbursts, socioeconomic concerns, learning disabilities) receive.
I do not doubt our country is full of hardworking and sacrificial teachers that give nothing less than their best everyday to their students. We cannot fault our educators or the education system for allowing these truly at-risk children to "slip through the cracks." We need to see what brokenness these children are bringing with them to school that our education system cannot and must not be expected to repair.
Many of these young men come from broken homes and many are raised by single moms. There are plenty of single parents in this country (most are moms) who are doing a heck of a job raising their children on their own, but I imagine most would concede that it's not ideal. Parenting is a tough gig, and there are all kinds of reasons that God designed it to be a tag team effort. (While we're at it, parenting used to be an extended family and neighborhood team effort, but we're talking about moms and dads right now.) Parenting is supposed to be a mom-dad tag team effort because, no matter how much protesting or hate mail this comment receives, mothers and fathers are not interchangeable, they do not perform the same functions in families, and they and their children need one another to bring their unique gifts to the family. (In putting my thoughts together, I realized I actually have a lot of thoughts on this topic. In the interest of staying on-topic, I bunched those thoughts all together into another blog post that I'll publish another time.)
In the Sandy Hook case, we hear that the shooter's mother stayed at home with him, homeschooled him for some time after fighting with the school board, and received substantial financial support from the shooter's father. The father seems largely forgotten in the scenario while the news and blog comment boxes are full of belligerent comments about the mother. This is where we see that even a stay at home mother or financial stability is not enough. We all know it is not always possible because of death, military service, or another reason, but whenever possible (and barring unique situations like abuse), the ideal scenario for a child is living with their mother and father.
As a society, let's beef up the gun control laws and figure out what makes these shooters "at-risk." Let's examine our mental health diagnostics, procedures, and protocol. Let's get these troubled youth the help they need, but let's not depend on our education system to catch everyone. Our educators are already overworked, underpaid, and generally expected to raise our country's children for us. Let's look within our own families and ourselves as parents to determine what we can do to be our children's best advocates. Let's create as much stability as possible for our children. Let's remember that women and men are not interchangeable, that we need each other, and that we need to work together within the family context to help our children transition healthily into adulthood. Let's remember that marriage is a lifelong commitment to one another and any children that we help to create.