The horrific Florida high school shooting which occurred on February 14, 2018 has rocked the nation, and people across all partisan lines are looking to assign blame. Some observers are blaming guns, while others are citing mental health as the true problem. Conspiracy theories have even entered the mix, suggesting that there is more to the story than the official report. Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old shooter, is currently going through the legal system as the country watches.
To nobody’s surprise, the Parkland, Florida shooting has reignited the never-ending debate over gun control. Liberals are staunchly calling for assault rifle bans and stricter gun control measures, while conservatives affirm that criminals do not follow gun control laws.
Unfortunately, liberals and conservatives alike are missing the bigger picture, and arguably the single greatest contributing factor to the Florida shooting - mental health. As people dig into the life, history, and associates of Nikolas Cruz, it has come to light that the 19-year-old is believed to have suffered from emotional/behavioral problems and mental health issues. Unfortunately, the storyline is all too familiar.
For far too long we have collectively stigmatized and even demonized people with mental health issues. Given the countless children and adults in the U.S. who suffer from these issues, their inclusion as a factor in debates ranging from gun control to healthcare is painfully absent.
Taking the issue of mental health seriously does not detract from the debate about guns, nor should it. Surely any serious issue that can be shown in such a repetitive way to overlap with our concerns about mass killings like Parkland ought to be included in this discussion.
Consider, for instance, if we were to follow the advice of those who say that banning guns altogether is the solution to this problem. As well-intentioned as they may believe themselves to be, simply doing away with guns is choosing to engage with only part of the problem. Criminals, mass murderers, and psychopaths who are determined to commit atrocities will find a way to do so, even if it means breaching the law. Aside from this, a complete gun ban is both impractical for various reasons and greatly overlooks the fact that the majority of gun crimes are not committed by NRA-loving gun-toters. It is clear that there is a crucial piece of the puzzle missing here.
If we are to prevent future incidents like this we must consider the “how” as well as the “why.” Here, we must look to the psychological condition of young men like Nikolas Cruz, and ask ourselves what could have been done differently. Cruz was reportedly bullied throughout his schooling and had a history of behavioral problems and mental illness. Whatever your position on firearms, it is clear that merely having them was not the reason that Cruz used them.
Finally, there is one more problematic element that seems to reliably emerge in shootings like Parkland - conspiracy theories. Assertions that Cruz was brainwashed into committing the massacre have surfaced, as have suggestions that parents of the surviving students purposefully brainwashed their kids into getting Cruz to commit the shooting to strengthen the fight for gun control. It should be said that neither of these theories has any credible evidence behind them. While the desire to rationalize such an unspeakable event is understandable, the last thing America needs is to further muddy the waters of this tragedy.
Last week’s Florida high school shooting was tragic. Lives were lost and the nation was thrown into further chaos. However, until we are able to address the full picture of what causes events like those that took place in Parkland, we will continue to engage in a debate without progress.