Close Down the Internet to Reduce School Shootings

Another horrific tragedy has people wondering what can be done to stop school shootings in America. With 17 dead and 14 injured at the hands of deranged former student, people across the United States are looking for a way to stop these killings. Repealing the Second Amendment is usually the answer for many, but maybe it is time to start looking at the First. Maybe it is time to put the responsibility on people’s right to free speech and limit information on the internet as the solution to end these atrocities.

Let the Outrage Begin

End free speech? This guy must be a commie!

There is no doubt that many who are reading this are blowing a gasket right now. They are sure I have to be some kind of totalitarian nut for even suggesting such a thing. After all, freedom of speech is a staple of American democracy.

This is true, but so is the right to bear arms. However, every time that an event like this occurs there are literally thousands who go on television, write in to newspapers, and head to the internet to explain that maybe it is time to repeal the Second Amendment. The removal of guns, they explain, will end these kind of catastrophes which, I will explain later, is simply not true.

The Rise in School Massacres

There were 14 school massacres in the United States prior to 1996. The first of these came in 1927 when a school employee, Andrew Kehoe, became upset when he was not elected as the town clerk. In response, Kehoe murdered his wife, blew up his farmhouse, and then went to the local school where he detonated an explosive that killed 44, including 38 elementary school kids.

The next such incident occurred in 1959 in Houston, Texas. In this incident, Paul Orgeron attempted to enroll his son in school, but did not have the proper paperwork. Angered that the school would not allow his seven-year-old to attend, the 49-year-old returned with a bomb and killed six people, including himself, his son, the custodian, a teacher and two students. There were 18  injured.

These events are important because they show that guns are not what is needed for a mass killing. Any person can go to the internet and learn how to make a bomb, something we will return to later on.

The first shooting at a school in the United States occurred in 1966, when Charles Whitman started firing from the clock tower at the University of Texas, killing 15 and injuring 32. Four months later, Robert Smith killed five at a school in Mesa, Arizona. He watched the publicity that Whitman had received and wanted fame for himself, which led to the attack.

It would not be long before students became the assailants. In 1974, 17-year-old Anthony Barbaro, who was on the school’s rifle team, started shooting out of a third story window at people walking on the sidewalk near the school. Three were killed and 11 injured. Five years later, Brenda Spencer, who became the first female school shooter, killed two and injured nine more. When asked why she created the carnage, her response was, “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.”

The 1980s saw four shootings at schools. The most memorable was at an elementary school in Stockton, California where Patrick Purdy used an automatic weapon to kill five students and injure 32 others. The attack eventually led to a ban on certain automatic weapons.

In 1991 and 1992, there were three shootings at schools or universities, killing a total of 11 and injuring 15 others. The first two of the incidents involved graduates who returned to commit their crimes, while the other was a student who had been banned from the college after reports were made that he was stockpiling ammunition. Wayne Lo, the assailant in the latter murders,  bought a rifle and returned to campus to kill two and injure four others.

The Rapid Increase in Shootings

For 70 years, 14 mass killings happened at schools. While a disturbing number, it was nothing in comparison to what has happened in the last 22. Since 1996, there have been 25 mass shootings at schools. This started in 1996, when 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis killed two students and a teacher before he was subdued by another teacher. Loukaitis came to school “in character,” dressed as a Western style gunslinger and armed with two handguns and a rifle.

In August of the same year, Frederick Davidson, a graduate student at San Diego State University, killed three faculty members during a meeting where he was to support his master’s thesis. Amazingly, a professor had just handed Davidson an email informing him that an employer wished to hire him if he could support his thesis. After being handed the email, Davidson pulled out his gun and opened fire.

Within the next three years, there were six mass shootings in schools in the United States, with the most horrific occurring at Columbine High School (Colorado), where 15 were killed and 24 injured. In each one of these cases, the common denominator was an angry student or group of students who were bullied and wanted to seek revenge.

Since Columbine, there have been 18 mass shootings at schools, or an average of one a year. In many of these instances, the perpetrator or perpetrators used social media to air their grievances as to why they were going to commit their acts of murder. Some directly referenced Columbine as inspiration for their rampage. This doesn’t even include those who were stopped before they were able to go through with their plan.

What Is the Cause of This Increase

When one looks at factors that played a key role in these massacres, there are three primary causes that leap out: mental illness, revenge, and desire for fame. While there are other factors involved, the truth is that these are the three major reasons why a person comes to a school and starts shooting (or bombing) students and faculty.

The first of these, mental illness, can be handled with staff that are better trained to recognize a student who is clearly depressed or psychotic, and a health care system that is prepared to treat students who are mentally ill. A person who has psychological issues can be prevented from doing things the Parkland shooting, but very little is being done to address this problem, other than to say it is a problem.

One thing that is commonly said of the shooters is that everyone knew there was something wrong with that student. This proved to be the case in the Florida shooting, where virtually every student who was interviewed explained that Nikolas Cruz was “odd,” “angry,” “a bully,” and “someone to be avoided.” He had been expelled from school last year for bringing a gun onto the campus, which should have been an indicator to the authorities that this young man needed help and was capable of this kind of atrocity. Cruz is responsible for his actions, but more could have been done by the school, the county, and his mother to have averted this.

That deals with one causal factor, but how about the other two? Shooting people at school to get revenge (even if the people they are killing are not the bullies) or to become famous leads back to a likely root cause that has led to the escalation of these shootings – the internet.

These shootings began to escalate in 1995, which is around the time that the internet became a dominant social phenomena in this country. While the internet had been around for 50 years prior, it was mostly used by the military and academics, but the advent of Windows, AOL, and Yahoo! helped to make computers accessible and easy to use for everyone. You didn’t need to write lines of commands at the DOS prompt to get the computer to do things. You simply clicked your mouse button.

In the last 23 years, the internet has changed the way that kids interact with the world. Just a quarter century ago, most kids spent time with friends that lived less than a mile from them. Now their “friends” live across the globe, so that the social interactions they have are not really personal at all. In addition, their “friends” are someone who chose to follow them. Children and young adults don’t have close interpersonal relationships any more.

In addition, today’s youth are craving the attention that the internet and the media in provides. They see teens creating YouTube videos that turn them into stars. They learn of no-name people who have sex with rappers, make a video of it, and then become huge celebrities. They watch shows where the only quality that puts the person on television is that they are pregnant, short, obnoxious, or borderline stupid, and they want that kind of attention for themselves. Today’s youth are craving fame and with good reason. In the 21st century, fame translates into wealth.

Sadly, some see mass murder as a means to get that attention. They go to the internet and learn about the murderers at Columbine High School and think that they could be “famous” like that as well. They don’t care how they are remembered; they just want to be remembered.

The Influence of Social Media

Chamath Palihapitiya, who was an executive at Facebook, has recently come out against the site, explaining that it is destroying society. He is not alone in this assertion. According to Palihapitia, “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth. This is a global problem. It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other.”

It is the manner in which people behave that makes social media so dangerous. The Parkland shooting is the perfect example. The moment a tragedy occurs, people race to their Twitter and Facebook accounts and begin to rant as vulgarly as possible. They will attack anyone and everyone who even remotely challenges their way of thinking, and do it with extreme prejudice.

There is no civil discourse in this country about anything anymore. Every point of view is expressed as the “best” or “worst” thing that ever happened. It seems that everyone does this – politicians, athletes, journalists, even the 10-year-old girl next door.

Rants like this were usually kept to oneself or in the company of a few close friends. Now they are spewed out for the whole world to read. People read stories about politicians who do things they disagree with and they demand the politician be killed. They see posts from depressed people and tell them to kill themselves. They see a dad who has raped some child and wish that dad’s child was raped. Is it any wonder why these kids would actually commit murder?

How About Ending the First Amendment?

To end these tragedies, there are a number of calls to end the right of individuals to bear arms. Is this the solution?

In looking through the statistics, gun violence at schools is a relatively new phenomenon, yet, people have had guns in this country since its founding. So why do students now come to school with guns to kill classmates and faculty?

The answer is rooted in the First Amendment – free speech. The internet has made it so that those who are angry or even homicidal can get support for their ideas. Kids post images of death and murder, and no one bats an eye about it.

Consider that Cruz posted pictures with guns and in military style garb and, now, everyone says that this should have been some kind of warning sign. What should be more worrisome is that these images were of no concern to anyone before. They were “normal” to most who saw them.

In Johann Hari’s book, Lost Connections, he explains that the root cause of depression is not chemical at all. What he is finding is that more people are becoming depressed and anxious because they feel more isolated, something that he explains is directly caused by internet addiction.

Palihapitiya completely supports this. He is a former executive at the largest social media site on the planet, but he does not allow his own children access to the site. Why? His explanation is priceless.

“I can control my decision, which is that I don’t use that shit (Facebook). I can control my kids’ decisions, which is that they’re not allowed to use that shit.”

One could easily argue that the internet is changing society and not for the better. People’s ability to speak freely is not benefiting the culture at all, and maybe it is time to start banning free speech. In fact, since many of these killers have committed their acts to gain publicity and fame, maybe it is time to end a free press. Let information and speech be limited and we will likely see these atrocities come to an end.

Featured Image Courtesy of the New York Daily News

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