Troubled Minds, Guns and Schools – A Deadly Combination

Bullets Both Ways Troubled Minds Guns and Schools

Troubled Minds, Guns and Schools – A Deadly Combination

A Commentary by an American Military Veteran


School shootings are, unfortunately, on most of our minds today.  This curse on our kids seems to first have started at Columbine High School (Colorado) in 1999.  However, in actuality, the first shootings occurred in 1966 at the University of Texas some 33 years prior to Columbine (15 were killed)1.  Thirty-three years between these events without a school shooting.  Who would have dreamed?  Certainly in those three decades, there was silence in the schools.  Nevertheless, there were still other types of mass shootings and bombings occurring around the world.  What’s going on?  Why does it seem we have lethal chemistry brewing out there for our schools and colleges?  There are at least three ingredients in this issue.  A brief discussion of the three follows…


  1. Troubled Minds: Likely the primary cause of school shootings, troubled minds are a difficult issue.  The developing troubled mind is likely negatively influenced by associations, emotional turmoil, hormonal imbalance, immaturity, and isolation.  As a result of these influences, the potential shooter’s anger is accelerated to a level demanding action.  The availability of healthy interaction with family, friends, co-workers, and even casual encounters is somehow thwarted by a self-inflicted isolation.  In some instances, people may talk to the troubled individual, but likely do not realize something is wrong.  They “disconnect” because they are too busy, possibly frightened, or have unpleasant prior history.  Sadly, they choose to ignore the troubled mind.  The potential perpetrator, living in his own unhealthy reality, chooses to act out with drastic results for him and others. If the shooter has friends in the same state of mind, the resultant troubled group can further exacerbate the damage.  Certainly, the troubled mind, be it a result of genetics, environment or abuse, is very difficult to identify.

    Does “Seeking Attention” Come into Play?:  The attention given to shooters in the media can serve to sensationalize shootings.  Hence, new candidate shooters with troubled minds may perceive the sensationalism as an attraction for the perceived injustices they are experiencing.  Potential shooters see an opportunity to get more attention and do more damage.  The details in a recent shooting in Kentucky were not given to the media.  It appears at least in Kentucky, they were convinced there may be a “desire for attention” in the shooter’s mind.


  1. Guns:  Simply put, guns are the first choice for troubled minds.  Why is that?
    • A. Acquisition: Guns are fairly simple to obtain by legal purchase, black market, theft, loan  or fabrication (zip guns);
    • B. Operation: They are reasonably easy to fire. Google training videos are readily available;
    • C. Accuracy: At close range as in a school room or hallway, little ability as a marksman is required;
    • D. Proximity to target: The effective firing range of rifles or handguns allows for separation from victims. (i.e. knives require getting close).  Likely, this is important to the troubled mind.  Close contact is eliminated,
    • E. Gun Control: Questionnaires and tests for purchasing guns are fallible or inadequate.  There will always be people who “slip through the cracks.”  Judgments or considerations of an applicant’s mental state are not a part of the gun purchase process.  Misjudgments have taken place.  In England and Australia, the authorities have required training, interviews, references and frequent renewal of permits/licenses, much like getting a driver’s license.  Training for personnel reviewing gun purchasers would be a must.  This practice could significantly reduce the number of troubled minds with weapons and result in significant reduction in mass shootings.  More stringent evaluation for the purchase of ammunition would also a desirable deterrent.  Without ammunition, guns are of no use.
    • F. Gun Lobby: Due to the large numbers of gun owners in the U.S., it has been projected that banning personal ownership of guns will likely never be approved.  So, qualitative review of candidates for guns and ammunition purchases seems the strongest workable measure at this time.
    • G. Shooting Statistics: There has been much vagueness and hyperbole in statistics concerning guns, murders, and shootings in the U.S.  As a result, the public may often judge and evaluate without accurate information.


  1. School (Security/Defense):2 It is clear that most schools are unprepared for armed attacks.  Economic constraints are an obstacle to this need.  Schools weren’t meant to be fortresses.  However, access control obviously needs to be implemented.  Once a shooter gains access, there are fewer deterrents to his success so controlled access seems to be the best first defense for schools.  The strength of the police presence in and outside of the building is softened by the behavior patterns of the officers at the school.  Even with scheduled patrols, the probability of being in the right place at the right time is low; therefore, maintaining a state of readiness is very challenging.  Those in the military know the problem with maintaining vigilant guard duty.  It requires frequent patrols which still are not foolproof.  Unfortunately, armed teachers are virtually nonexistent in school systems.  This needs to change – with willingness.  Teachers could also be equipped with defensive sprays that can seriously de-mobilize an attacker from as far as 20 feet.  This would require only low level skill.  Defensive shields as used by SWAT teams could be considered as well.

    These ideas can be summarized in President Trump’s recent words; we need to “…harden our schools.”  Another writer suggested another possibility:  “Instead of hardening our schools, arm us with tools that will help students thrive3.”  A combination of these two efforts would be wonderful.



In conclusion, we can see the problem of the troubled mind is with us more than ever.  Using “hard” protective measures coupled with “soft” counseling/listening” in our schools should bring much needed relief from this deadly threat which plagues us.



  1. “The History of School Shootings in the U.S”, Sun Sentinel, February 14, 2018
  2. “How Best to Secure U.S. Schools,” Lauren Camera (Education Reporter), U.S. News, March 8, 2018
  3. “Arm Teachers with Resources, Not Guns”, Sydney Chaffee, Sean McComb and Josh Parker, U.S. News, March 7, 2018



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