Back in the early 1980s, when I decided that I’d be a college teacher, I never imagined that the next century would place me on the front lines in a war. It’s a strange sort of war, a war of attrition rather than a holocaust, and no one wears uniforms to indicate what side they’re on. Like any war, there are moments when the trenches are at peace. But there are also moments when spectacular violence erupts, when the cold war turns hot.
I’m talking about school shootings, of course. Our latest, as of this writing, was at Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb. A man carrying a shotgun and at least one pistol stepped out from behind a curtained area in a large lecture hall and opened fire. Seven have died so far and a number of others were wounded, including the lecturer. The gunman killed himself before the police arrived. It happened on Valentine’s Day.
This wasn’t even the first school shooting of the month. On February 8, a nursing student at Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—about an hour drive from me—shot and killed two fellow nursing students and then herself in a classroom on campus.
Certainly, every one remembers last year’s Virginia Tech shooting, where 32 died, and the worst High School shooting in history, at Columbine in 1999, at the turn of the century. But there have been shootings at many other schools. One that’s not on the list at that link occurred at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville a few years back. It happened in a building I frequented while in graduate school there.
I’m sure there are many reasons for the upswing in school violence and it’s unlikely to be due solely to one factor. For example, it’s clearly not due just to easy access to guns. Guns were readily available when I was growing up in the 1970s, more readily available than now. In fact, I took guns to school with me many times. I didn’t carry them into the school, but left them in the car because I was going hunting after school and didn’t want to go home first. Growing up in Arkansas you would frequently see trucks in the parking lots of schools, churches, and everywhere else with loaded gun racks in the back. No one got shot with those guns.
I’ve noticed that quite a few of the shooters have been graduate or professional school students, like in DeKalb and at Louisiana Technical College. I wonder if the stress of graduate/professional school, along with the fact that many (not all certainly) graduate/professional school students are not the world’s most socially apt individuals, could be a contributing factor. When you’re stressed, and you don’t have the social support network you need, bad things can happen.
What I really wonder, though, is how soon the next school shooting is going to take place. And where. And I wonder if maybe I should start requesting hazard pay from my school.