Seeing children tout their parent’s feelings on all things political is sad to me. And yet, there are students nearby, outdoors, passionately picketing against those who most fiercely protect the free speech they are exercising.

An eleven-year-old at Maryland’s Takoma Park Middle School is holding a sign stating, “GOP Math–Guns + More Guns = Less Gun Violence”.  Pretty sarcastically insightful for a sixth grader, right?

Too bad their liberal parents don’t admit to one very true equation. That is, that although U.S. gun ownership across the years has steadily decreased, gun violence has only increased.

In 2016, household gun ownership dropped to the lowest rate in fifty years (Washington Post, June 29, 2016). Only 36% of households owned guns in 2016, down from 51% in 1978.  And as nationwide gun ownership has gone down, so has responsible parenting.

My father-in-law is turning 80 next week. He’s from a tiny town in Michigan. When he was a kid, his middle school classmates would often bring their guns to school in the morning in order to go hunting together after school. And in the Upper Peninsula, ten-year-olds safely handled firearms.  A 60-ish friend told me that at age ten she’d babysit her two siblings, keeping a shotgun handy when their parents went out for the evening. It was normal for place and time. Despite the local gun glut, there was no gun violence and no school shootings. Because no bad apples were welcome in the community pie.

My 70-year-old dad’s experience as a child was much different, yet similar. In the 1950s, he lived in the roughest neighborhood in D.C. His family of eleven was cramped in a row home with no heat and few intact windows. They ate once a day. They were the poorest of the poor families with no comfort whatsoever. But, each household in that neighborhood had some sort of functional firearm. Did the adults shoot each other? No. Neither did the children take the said guns to school and kill each other.

Why? Because the social norms (i.e. good behavior) of that era were strictly followed in the neighborhood. They had no material possessions, but did have community pride. If a kid stole something and one of the neighborhood moms found out, she’d make a beeline to that kid’s house and have a talk with that other mom. The kids did rumble at the playground, but if a particular someone was found to be too rough or use a weapon, his parent would blow his categories that evening. Often that kid was my aunt Darlene. She’s still a scrapper at 68.

Am I for beating kids? No. I got spanked more than I care to elaborate. But the reasoning behind the ready rod was that my folks simply were not going to have a punk living in their home. We didn’t have much, but we had our pride and reputation. My brother and I knew the expectations of our parents (and immediate community) and didn’t get into much trouble (at least, I didn’t).

When my brother was fourteen, he shoplifted a $300 leather jacket from a local department store in order to impress a girl. Of course, he sucked at shoplifting and got caught.

The cops showed up and cuffed him then called my dad to come pick him up at the mall. What did my dad tell the cops to do with my brother? Take him in. My brother (at 112#) has to this day never been so scared in his life. My dad left my brother at the jailhouse for three hours before picking him up and that taught him a lesson.

But that wouldn’t happen in most households these days. Parents don’t care enough about their kids to do the right thing — to establish proper civil behavior and follow through. And if they are unsuccessful in their efforts, to enlist the help of professionals.

How many times had that shooter at Stoneman Douglas been in trouble? Why didn’t an adult do anything about it? Because addressing the kid’s issues and parents/guardians would have been hard. But putting the kid in a safe place where he could explore his anger and be treated by mental health professionals may have saved 17 young lives.

In a distinct societal shift, our nation is now more interested in the rights of the violent, mentally ill than citizens who are upstanding individuals and actually contribute to the community. I know this because I work with mentally ill adults who were babied by their parents. I’m not talking about “at-risk” ghetto kids who are drowning. These are white, educated kids who grew up in nice families, and lacked nothing but tough love.

I lost a dear friend in 2003 to one of these individuals. She was shot four times in a courthouse ladies room while seeking a restraining order for the second or third time from a mentally ill adult who made threats to many folks over the years, yet no one took her seriously. The judge was too concerned about committing a verbally violent woman who had never even held a job or paid taxes.  She was mentally ill and therefore privy to public assistance, free rent, food, and transportation… which gave her plenty of time to buy a gun and do some serious target practice before her premeditated murder.

As we allow these obviously disturbed young people to coast through life, scaring others, making threats, and ignoring obvious signs of psychopathology, then we will continue to have school shootings. And if they don’t do it at school, they’ll grow up and do it somewhere else… a movie theatre or shopping mall.

Or they will find a mensch to fixate on, hate, and kill.  Just because.

There will always be a gun to acquire somewhere at some price by those who wish to kill. Our people and courts just need to understand who is worth protecting, first.

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Photo by OSU Special Collections & Archives : Commons