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1 October 2013

Recently I was reading articles on the Columbine school shooting and it seemed to me that the authors made two errors. One was to assume that this was the first school shooting of its type. The other was that they seemed to believe that such things happened only in North America. On the first, I recently saw a partial list. It began in 1974 when a boy brought a gun to his New York High School and started shooting. He killed three of his schoolmates and wounded nine more. Only a year later another boy (and it almost always is boys) killed a teacher and a student, wounded thirteen other students, then committed suicide. (suicide of the perpetrator/s has increased.) The other increasing item, is that while the actual number of school shootings isn’t rising much, what often is, is the number of dead and wounded. That’s because as time passes the perpetrators are using guns that produce a greater level of firepower. They are automatics or semi-automatics that pour out a stream of bullets and require little aim. Just point in the vague direction and hose. If a direct hit doesn’t get someone a ricochet may.

But the assumption that this happens only in North America is based on reality. That in America the weapons are available to children, not always because they own them, but often because their parents and neighbours do and they can be stolen quite easily. Yes, in some states gun-locks are required, gun safes, or chained guns. And in what family do you think a teenager won’t know exactly what the gun-safe number  is, where to find a key for the chains or safe? And if the neighbours like kids and have known them all their lives they don’t hide keys and combinations from them. Because it just never occurs to them to do so. So when the day comes that the kid next door snaps, he has an arsenal at his disposal – let alone those weapons that he can buy on the Internet.

But what triggers such attacks? And that’s where New Zealand can stop smirking that ‘it never happens here.’ No, it doesn’t, because most kids here can’t lay hands on that sort of gun, not because the triggers don’t exist. At least one of the major motives behind school killings in America is bullying. That can be physical or mental. The boy who is brought up by a family that don’t have sufficient money so that he wears op shop gear, can’t go to optional classes or events, may find it hard to have clean clothes for each new day, and may always be hungry, so that his school work suffers and that constant empty feeling enhances anger issues. Does he get sympathy, understanding and support? In some schools, yes. In others, he becomes a target, the weaker member of the herd, to be driven out, and harassed. And yes, most kids who live that way won’t become school shooters, but now and again, one who feels he has nothing left, that he can’t live in the atmosphere of constant fear and rage will snap and reach for a weapon. It’s been occurring in North American for at least fortyyears! What makes us think that eventually it won’t reach New Zealand? And the answer is that we smugly assume ‘it’s an American problem.’ No. It isn’t.

What often triggers shootings in America is that feeling of having nothing, no rights, no power, no redress no hope or chance. Many of those who kill at schools are those who are seen as ‘outcasts’. They aren’t a jock, a cheerleader, one of the popular, pretty, wealthy, attractive, privileged kids and they’re reminded of that every single day by those who are. They’re tripped, shoved, have lockers vandalized, are called names, denigrated, embarrassed, and humiliated, and often without teachers, even when they see this clearly, taking any action against such events. Here such feelings seem to produce suicides, and of recent years there have been sufficient of those to show very clearly that constant, brutal and ongoing bulling in schools does exist. And the lack of shooting  may be because someone being constantly bullied to snapping point at school here doesn’t have the ready access to weapons. What they do have, and I believe it may only be a matter of time, is access to the internet. Where they can find out how to make DIY weaponry or bombs. They watch TV and see that the powerless can use IEDs to gain power. And if we continue to ignore the brutal effects of constant bullying that goes on relentlessly for years, one day we’re going to wake up and find that just like America, we can have a ‘Columbine.’ 

Everyone has a breaking point. One day I’m afraid that we may see the results of bullying in schools and a breaking point combine here and on that day we may discover our very own ‘Columbine.’ After which we’ll do as has been done elsewhere, we’ll blame the parents, ‘irresponsible, poor, solo, stupid, useless’. We’ll protest that other kids are bullied and didn’t do that. We were bullied and got over it. And it wasn’t as if it was anything much. A few insults, heck, I get worse than that at work. And the ‘cool kids’ who triggered it will be bewildered. “geeze, I only called him a fag a couple of times. I only tripped him.” Yes, they were wrong, I’m not saying they weren’t. But you try living in fear, not just for days or months, but for years – and to a kid, a year is forever. We’ll stigmatize the one responsible as ‘crazy, different, or evil.’ Instead of, guess what, they were just someone who couldn’t take it any more, who knew what was being done to them was known, seen – and ignored so kit will go on and on and…. Who were afraid to tell their parents because that usually makes things worse, afraid to tell the teachers because nothing would be done  (they’ve been seeing it for ages and done nothing anyway) and mostly, just afraid, because they couldn’t live any longer with the constant fear, that clenched-stomach-waiting for the next insult, the next casual trip or shove or after-school beating. (With the headmaster protesting that it was out of school hours and nothing to do with the school – except that most of it is in school hours and ignored and the one abused is all too aware of that.) And because finally the one who snaps doesn’t care if they live or die but it would be so pleasant to see terror at last and in turn on the faces of those who’ve done that to them for far too long…Bang!

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