The seventh-grade student said last week that she was afraid to go to school. Her desk in homeroom, she told her parents, was near the classroom exit into the hallway. If someone burst into the room with a gun, she might be one of the closest targets.
What do you say to a middle-school kid who is genuinely worried, her father wondered?
It adds to tragedy when lies are told about school shootings, like the one last week in Santa Fe, Texas, that are designed to stoke irrational fears in youngsters for the purpose of swaying public opinion.
In the muddied water of modern communications, fake and real news can pass for kissing cousins at first glance.
Skillfully produced propaganda has always been difficult to discern; a 24/7 online news cycle can give even shoddy disinformation an air of fleeting credibility.
Being first with a story has traditionally been important to journalists and the news organizations that funded the profession, operating under constitutional authority with a duty to serve the public interest.
What passes for "news" to a 21st century seventh-grader, however, doesn't even remotely resemble the journalistic product her parents and grandparents grew up with.
Among the negative social shifts besieging American culture is the blurred-beyond-recognition lines that once discretely separated news and entertainment, and the subsequent loss of boundaries that helped confine political exploitation. The power of the Internet, and the accompanying development of handheld device technology, has enabled everybody to connect with everything.
Not only every good thing, but also every bad thing.
Anybody with a smartphone can publish a "report" with the potential of "going viral." And even if it falls short of the 15 seconds of social media fame, deceptive information can still misguide, misinform and mis-influence people before the longer process of correction catches up.
Internet "news" has fostered a red-herring factory on steroids--a dynamic never lost on minions who believe the importance of their cause trumps all principles and truths that might be trampled in getting their policies enacted as law.
Which brings us to CNN and others irresponsibly preying upon the fears of middle-schoolers, instead of keeping facts forefront.
When a "school shooting" like the one in Texas happens, the event is self-defined. It means what happened: a heavily armed student went on a rampage inside the school.
For CNN to hurriedly report that there have been "22 school shootings" in 2018 is a scare tactic of the most despicable sort, because it implies 22 crimes like the one at Santa Fe.
People who see only the headline--"one school shooting every week"--become unnecessarily frightened. The few who read the story closely realize that CNN redefined the term to include a harmless BB-gun incident.
Half of the 22 didn't involve children at all, three of them were accidental discharges, and several others were gang-related or domestic violence incidents that just happened to occur on school grounds.
But the shared, reposted, retweeted and repeated headline survives. And the wrong purpose--to deceitfully alarm rather than truly inform--persists.
One need not work hard to find substantial factual evidence to calm the hysteria young 'tweens might unreasonably indulge. Relative to the rest of American society, the rate of homicidal violence experienced by the subset of K-12 school students--comprising 50 million children--is very low.
In California alone, with a population of under 40 million and a nationally low homicide rate, the average week features 35 murders, most by guns. Nearly 300 Californians survive assault with a weapon every single day--and that's despite the nation's largest police force.
For 50 million students to experience, even by CNN's exaggerated count, 21 firearm fatalities and fewer gunshot injuries over a five-month period is remarkably safe on a per-individual basis compared to most cities and states.
Chicago and its 2.7 million residents will consider it cause for celebration if fewer than 40 people get shot over the Memorial Day weekend.
Little wonder there's gridlock on gun violence, given the tsunami of untruths swamping the facts. Let's recount a few particularly pertinent ones:
Fact--every modern mass school shooter except one was either a student or former student at the school he attacked. Knowing the pool from which the next perpetrator will come is a tremendous crime prevention advantage, if schools will employ successful threat assessment techniques.
Fact--mass shooters always formulate and execute a plan. There are no instances of impulse mass attacks at schools. Planned, premeditated shootings easily circumvent gun possession impediments, such as waiting periods and background checks. Shooters either adjust their timeline or (like Santa Fe) choose to steal their weapons.
Fact--"gun-free zones" invite armed attacks by killers seeking to maximize casualties and willing to die themselves in the end. They case their targets and pay attention to perceived risks. Even mentally unstable, suicidal would-be murderers don't set out to get killed before they have a chance to kill others.
An Israeli-style machine-gun-wielding guard at the school door would make students safer. That may not be a feasible or desirable idea, but it's a fact.
And facts, not irrational fears, must drive the discussion for effective solutions.
Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.
Editorial on 05/25/2018
Print Headline: Stoking irrational fears