Photo by Ben Mater on Unsplash

A guy came to my cell and asked me if I was watching the teenagers marching in Washington, D.C., for gun control. I turned on the news to see them, but I found myself getting annoyed. “Gun control is not going to stop these school shootings,” I thought. “The power to stop it is in their own hands. It is the kids themselves who are creating the violence.”

The Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was the result of Nikolas Cruz’s inability to accept rejection from an ex-girlfriend, a student at his school. The social dynamics at the school, combined with Cruz’s low self-esteem, caused the pot to boil over within his own psyche.

Were other students talking about him? Were people posting stuff on Facebook? Did the girl who rejected him change her relationship status? Was Cruz venting his anger and frustration to others about this girl and her new boyfriend?

I never heard one single teenager during the march ever bring up or answer any of these questions. 

Not one of these students said, “Yeah, I knew Cruz. I heard him venting; I saw him isolating himself, so I tried to talk to him; I tried to build him up and talk some sense into him.” 

No one even tried. Instead, they rejected him and distanced themselves from the situation until February 14, 2018. 

Cruz said on Facebook that he was “going to be a professional school shooter” months before he made good on that statement. Wasn’t that his cry for help? Why didn’t any of these students who marched in Washington recognize that one of their peers was experiencing the pain of losing his mother, losing his home, losing his girlfriend? 

This same set of circumstances played out again at Great Mills High School in Maryland, where Austin Rollins took his father’s handgun to school and shot his girlfriend, Jaelynn Willey, along with another student, and then himself. No gun control law could have prevented Rollins from taking his father’s gun, from buying a gun from a drug addict, or from stealing one from somewhere. 

When are the kids of America going to take responsibility for their own social behavior? How many times must these school shootings occur before America confronts the real issues? 

How about teenagers stop playing the “I’m better than you” game, stop bullying their peers, stop posting negative things about their classmates on social media sites, and stop having relationships as if they are adults when they are not mature enough to accept the consequences like rejection, betrayal, disloyalty, infidelity and pregnancy?

Since these teenagers want lawmakers to make new laws that will absolve them of any responsibility for the social environment they created, how about a law that requires all public schools to segregate boys from girls? How about a law that prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from using any social media site? How about a law that mandates a student’s lifetime expulsion from all public schools if he or she physically or verbally bullies another student? These are also laws that could be used to control the out-of-control school shootings. 

If the students want to bring about change, let them take the anti-bullying group Stand for the Silent’s pledge: “From this day forward, I promise to respect those around me as well as respect myself. I am somebody and I can make a difference. I can make another feel loved. I can be the helping hand that leads another back to the path of hope and aspiration. I will not stand silent as others try to spread hatred through my community. Instead, I pledge to lift up these victims and show them that their life matters. I will be the change, because I am somebody!”

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Zachary A. Smith

Zachary A. Smith is a writer and artist incarcerated in Missouri. He has studied law for over 20 years and has earned a paralegal degree with distinction from Blackstone Career Institute. He is the author of the “Smith’s Guide” series. His latest additions to the series are “Smith’s Guide to State Habeas Corpus Relief for State Prisoners” and “Smith’s Guide to Second or Successive Habeas Corpus Relief for State and Federal Prisoners.”