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Parkland, Florida shootings: Don’t blame mental illness, school discipline because … stigma

The political left has seized the post-Parkland, Florida school shootings moment by yet again attempting to constrict the Second Amendment.

The mainstream media has turned several Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students into overnight celebrities, most notably with the disgraceful CNN “town hall” where Florida US Senator Marco Rubio and NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch were ranted at and belittled for daring to present an alternative viewpoint.

CNN even put up a story about how one of the students got more Twitter followers than the NRA. Gosh.

A recurring theme in the college student papers this past week has been to castigate those who have focused on the mental health aspect of mass shooting incidents.

Writing in San Diego State’s Daily Aztec, Chance Page says mental illness “is not the driving force behind gun violence,” and notes those suffering from it are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators: “Shifting the blame on to the mentally ill only perpetuates stigma against them and ignores the root causes of the issue,” he says.

Page goes after the “Y” chromosome instead: “While the vast majority of men aren’t violent criminals, this disproportionate level of aggression is something that we must try to check in future generations.”

He’s backed up by The Daily Illini’s Kyra Sadovi who addswait for it — racism to the mix:

Toxic masculinity is a psychological term created by Professor Tracy Karner in 1996, a then-Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas. She studied veterans of the Vietnam War and subsequent generations of American men. Her work showed that, after soldiers returned from war, many reported “a loss of power which had been an assumed privilege of white American manhood.”

Playing shrink, Sadovi proceeds to claim that Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz suffered from an “overcompensation” for that loss.

MORE: Study: Homophobic attitudes ‘associated with mental illness’

The Dartmouth’s Matthew Magann (who gets the name of the victimized Florida high school wrong) chimes in with an op-ed arguing for “sensible [gun] limits,” noting a 2015 study which “found that just 4 percent of American gun deaths resulted from mental illness.” But …

… actually, there is a clear link between mass shootings and mental illness.

That’s the title of a Los Angeles Times piece by Minnesota Department of Corrections Research Director Grant Duwe and Bates College professor Michael Rocque. In it, they say “individuals with major mental disorders (those that substantially interfere with life activities) are more likely to commit violent acts, especially if they abuse drugs.”

According to our research, at least 59% of the 185 public mass shootings that took place in the United States from 1900 through 2017 were carried out by people who had either been diagnosed with a mental disorder or demonstrated signs of serious mental illness prior to the attack. …

Mother Jones found a similarly high rate of potential mental health problems among perpetrators of mass shootings — 61% — when the magazine examined 62 cases in 2012.

Both rates are considerably higher than those found in the general population — more than three times higher than the rate of mental illness found among American adults, and about 15 times higher than the rate of serious mental illness found among American adults. …

In a story that largely suggested mass murderers are not “insane,” the New York Times cited research showing that, in fact, mass murderers are nearly 20 times more likely to have a “severe” mental illness than the general population.

Duwe and Rocque aren’t ideologues on the matter; they do acknowledge the danger of stigmatizing those with mental health issues. However, “it’s possible for mass public shootings to be both a gun problem and a mental health problem,” they say.

The over-concentration on mental health stigma in which Page, et. al. engage is similar to another now-coming-to-light aspect of the Parkland massacre: The reluctance to criminalize almost any sort of terrible behavior by today’s school students.

In a recent report, Paul Sperry points out how murderer Nikolas Cruz was able to “slide under the radar” and purchase his weapon legally — all because he had no official arrest record.

But he could have had one. And the factors involved are those which The College Fix has covered many times before.

In 2013, the year before Cruz entered high school, the Broward County school system rewrote its discipline policy to make it much more difficult for administrators to suspend or expel problem students, or for campus police to arrest them for misdemeanors– including some of the crimes Cruz allegedly committed in the years and months leading up to the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at his Fort Lauderdale-area school.

The new policy resulted from an Obama administration effort begun in 2011 to keep students in school and improve racial outcomes […] and came against a backdrop of other efforts to rein in perceived excesses in “zero tolerance” discipline policies, including in Florida.

Broward school Superintendent Robert W. Runcie – a Chicagoan and Harvard graduate with close ties to President Obama and his Education Department – signed an agreement with the county sheriff and other local jurisdictions to trade cops for counseling. Students charged with various misdemeanors, including assault, would now be disciplined through participation in “healing circles,” obstacle courses and other “self-esteem building” exercises.

Runcie stood behind Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel at a 2013 signing ceremony, Sperry writes, where the latter promised to “demolish” the so-called school-to-prison pipieline:

“We’ve got to demolish this cycle from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse,” Israel said. “Our kids need to be in schools, not jails.”

MORE: Hurt feelings? Students grapple with real mental health problems

IMAGE: Ron Mader/Flickr

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 18 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.