TEXAS VIEW: We must address the ‘who’ of mass shootings

By The Facts

The opening phrase of Congressman Randy Weber’s statement Friday afternoon about the horrific shooting at Santa Fe High School was pretty standard.

“Earlier today, the unimaginable happened.”

The same with the first statement put out by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those injured and killed at Santa Fe School District.”

Santa Fe Independent School District Superintendent Leigh Wall’s tack also proved familiar.

“We experienced an unthinkable tragedy at our high school this morning.”

All of those expressing varying degrees of astonishment that a teenager with an affinity for symbols of darkness would walk into a school and attempt to slaughter teachers and classmates must have been deceiving themselves. Those who were sitting amid the carnage were sickened, scared and experiencing a range of other emotions about what happened.

But did they find it unthinkable? Unimaginable?

No, they expected it.

“It’s been happening everywhere. I always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too,” a young girl who was inside the school during the shooting told reporters not long after it happened. “I wasn’t surprised, I was just scared.”

That feeling of insecurity should horrify all of us. We as parents, as adults in our communities, are tasked with safeguarding future generations, and it is a task we repeatedly fail to live up to.

And our children clearly know it.

Our response to tragedy after tragedy, however, is not to take action. It is to cling to the same mindsets that created the circumstances that led to the carnage of Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland. We cannot even say our leaders are coming up with bad solutions, because in almost two decades after Klebold and Harris, they have offered more politics and few answers.

Not that those answers are easy to find. But the promises to try to find them have proven as empty as the prayers they offer while the dead are being counted.

Better mental health care is one possibility, but funding for programs keeps eroding. Broader background checks are fought at every turn. Police presence hasn’t worked, with the officer in Parkland freezing during the crisis and a Santa Fe ISD officer who attempted to intervene becoming one of its first casualties.

Suggestions banning certain classes of weapons won’t go anywhere, and even if they do, they don’t address the “who” part of the problem — the troubled kid, disgruntled adult or mentally unhealthy person intent on bloodshed.

Elizabeth Englander, a professor of psychology and director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University, offered a list of 10 ways people could potentially diffuse a tragedy before it happened. Her recommendations, written for The Conversation website in February after the Parkland shooting, didn’t call on the government to act, but on people with whom the potential killer interacts with on a regular basis.

The list includes schools using technology to help them identify troubled students, providing more counselors and resource officers to intervene and teaching more about social and emotional skills. Communities can enlist doctors to conduct routine mental health screenings and push for social media companies to create algorithms that detect repeated violence-laced posts and pass on those potential threats to law enforcement.

In our own homes, parents can more closely monitor their child’s relationships — or, importantly, lack of them — pay attention to the child’s screen time and what they’re doing during that time, and spend time talking with their children and listening to them, showing an interest in their activities without judgment.

It is far past time for children obviously displaying anti-social behavior to go unnoticed in our homes, schools and communities. It is equally past time for no avenues of help to be available when they are noticed. And it is well past time for people to find such horrors as 1,400 Santa Fe High School students lived through Friday to be unimaginable.

They are not only imaginable, they are — as that young Santa Fe girl said — to be expected. Each of us should be working at every opportunity to make them unthinkable again.