The problem behind America’s school shooting crisis is not just found in their constitution

If the United States is to stop the school shooting epidemic, they need to confront their mental health crisis too.

Source: Center for Community Action and Research

CW: Violence, suicide, depression.

Nineteen children with backpacks on, excited for the upcoming summer break head to school. Tragically, their time is cut short, all at the hands of someone clearly wounded, bruised and awfully spiteful.

The mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, over two decades after Columbine, is another painful reminder that the issue of gun violence is far from resolved in America.

There are two crises that Americans face: the guns themselves and the minds of their wielders. While both must be addressed, the latter is too often overlooked.

Debate on appropriate responses to school shootings is contentious, especially when arguing that mental health and the psychology behind offenders is a crucial aspect, as this in itself has become politicised, often being viewed as a means of defending the Second Amendment.

But it would be remiss to not interrogate why most of these shootings take place at the hands of one demographic: men around the age of 18 who suffer from depression. 

The last mass school shooting, defined as an attack with four or more victims, that was perpetrated by a woman was in 1979. The majority of school shootings are planned well beforehand and end in suicide. It is also important to note that the majority of offenders are under the age of 18, and therefore acquired their weapons illegally.

In the decade from 2009 to 2018, the United States saw 288 school shootings while the remaining G7 countries saw only five, despite having a combined population that is larger by 100 million.

Mainstream media narratives often portray the overrepresentation of deaths from mass shootings in the US as a result of weak gun control inhibited by their Second Amendment. However, Switzerland, which also has a statutory right to bear arms, has only experienced eight mass shooting deaths in 2022. Meanwhile, the US has seen 199 deaths by mass shootings this year, 83 of which were school shootings. These statistics highlight differing realities between two gun-bearing countries and suggest that the culprit may not just be the guns themselves, but those that hold them.

A Harvard study found that nearly 20 per cent of men in the United States are depressed. In contrast, approximately 6 per cent of men in Switzerland experience depression, as found by a Swiss Health Survey. Further, the same Harvard study found that these men frequently hide their depression under a blanket of violence, aggression, and substance abuse. Men are also far more likely to commit suicide than women, dying at a rate nearly four times higher.

Not only do men feel more ostracised when struggling with mental health compared to women, they are also born into a culture that explicitly enables and normalises violence. 59 per cent of school shooters were found to have shown a previous interest in violence through gaming, movies, or their own work or hobbies. Violent games, movies and activities are gendered in their audience. Men grow up in a world where violence is presented to them as an outlet, as normal. 

For American policymakers to fully address the school shooting epidemic they must also address the mental health crisis facing this reoffending demographic – young men.

However, this assertion should not be conflated with an endorsement of the Second Amendment. Rather, addressing the parallel concern of mental health will yield progress where discussions of gun reform have stagnated, whilst advancing an important issue facing young people more generally.

Since the Robb Elementary shooting, US senators reached a bipartisan gun control deal, raising the required age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21. Yet considering many offenders are below the legal purchasing age, it is questionable the extent to which this rare reform on gun control will fix America’s mass shooting crisis.

It is clear that so far that effective solutions have not been found, and with stalled action in wake of these shootings, it is also clear the urgency for a wider discussion on the drivers of such violence have not been grasped. 

The shootings have not stopped. Since the Robb Elementary shooting on 25 May there have been a further 56 mass shootings in the US. 

The US needs more than good gun laws to stop this. They need a change of mindset.