By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
It happened again. Seventeen precious lives were snuffed out by a vicious young man. Before their bodies were laid to rest, “experts” began screaming at one another on TV. However, finger-pointing, shouting matches, and emotional rants do not solve problems. Thoughtful, well-informed, practical strategies solve problems.
Clearly what we have been doing to prevent school shootings has been inadequate. The reasons are myriad.
- Gun control laws are flawed. I’ve long been baffled by the fact that there are more restrictions on me as a physician prescribing four ounces of cough syrup containing codeine than there are on a violent teen buying an assault rifle. Most reasonable people would probably agree: This makes no sense.
- Counseling is a fine endeavor. We need more of it. But caring, prudent advice will not stop slaughter. It’s impossible to reason with someone who is irrational.
- School security needs attention. In Israel, schools are locked at the final morning bell and teachers with military training carry hidden weapons. We now have hundreds of thousands of well-trained veterans who could help secure schools and do data mining of social-media sites to enhance intelligence analysis. Why are we not enlisting their help?
- Over the past 30 years, children have been exposed to tremendous levels of violence on TV, in movies, and perhaps most intensely, in video games. Here there are no consequences to killing, apart from racking up points. Many kids who have been left to fend for themselves never have been taught to respect another person.
Additional resources providing better security, practical law enforcement, and sensible mental health care are needed almost everywhere. But one devastating flaw remains. Many people realized the shooter in Florida was dangerous. The police had been called multiple times over the years. He had beaten his mother and reportedly tormented and killed small animals. His social media postings threatened murder. Other students feared him and school authorities expelled him. The FBI failed to follow-up on two credible reports.
Why do any of us fear getting involved in difficult situations? It’s simple. We’re scared to death we might be sued. We’re afraid of revenge or even the possibility of being called “mean.”
Many years ago, I had to confront a serious situation in a training program. Patient safety and professional standards were on the line. I took action I deemed necessary and was clobbered with a lawsuit along with several other faculty. It made our lives a living hell for nearly five years. Other physicians and administrators simply looked the other way. They suffered no retribution. Some of us did what we believed was right. Some chose to remain silent.
On February 14, 2018, many people did the right thing. Some of them died trying to save others. None of us is off the hook here. Fear can have fatal consequences. Courage is the antidote.