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Soul searching as shootings continue

Without reflection on the causes, these atrocities are sure to continue unabated


The June 10 report of a student shooting at Reynolds High School in Troutdale punched home yet again the hard reality of mass shootings for which we — law enforcement, parents, school and government officials, media observers, etc. — seem sadly ill-positioned to remedy.

Dialogue on media websites invariably veers into the political quagmire of gun control and rights. On one side, gun control activists pit their position of limited firearm access and registration against 2nd Amendment defenders who argue any regulation of arms is an affront to the U.S. Constitution.June 25 guest opinion

The result is paralysis. We bicker and argue and cast barbs at each other, and yet, two weeks later, as has recently been the case, somebody else grabs a gun and seeks to kill and/or be killed. And then we bicker and argue some more.

The Internet has become a vehicle for many to deliver a daily dose of hate against those who disagree with them, or sometimes those who even dare to join the conversation. Our political landscape is a war zone. In many respects, we have become a society of bullies — often behind the veil of anonymity. At the least, it’s distasteful. At worst, it’s eroding our society, much as an unchecked infestation of termites will erode a home’s foundation.

Though there is some discrepancy in the numbers, the occurrence of mass shootings, at schools or otherwise, seems to have sadly reached a place in our society where the shock value is waning. It is becoming a part of our social reality, not too different from any other life-threatening disease. And much like a disease, patterns are emerging that warrant genuine exploration beyond the muck and distraction the heated political debate about gun control and rights inspires. But it’s going to take a lot of work and an acceptance that there are no simple answers.

Some of the emerging patterns include mental health issues; the use of pharmaceutical drugs and other substances, such as alcohol and illicit drugs; access to weapons; the influence of mass media in the Internet age; and bullying and other social pressures.

We should be asking ourselves what we could do about curbing out-of-control domestic abuse, including sexual abuse. We need to confront the reality that some elementary school students — yes, kids who are as young as 5 years old — have been identified as needing mental health support services. Home life for too many children today is a reality more harsh than many of us, as adults, could even fathom. Just look at your local police department log.

There needs to be a renaissance in our valuation of mental health services, and we need to cultivate a deeper understanding of mental health awareness. Could we, today, recognize when someone is suffering from a mental illness, and is at a breaking point? If so, how could we, as a responsible society, provide assistance to that person?

And do we, as a society and community, feel a sense of responsibility for the people in our communities who suffer from mental illness? If the pulse offered via the comments section of any large media source is any indication, the answer is no. Yes, there are defenders who are staunchly advocating for mental health awareness, but those voices are too often shouted down by proponents of a dog-eat-dog, every-man-for-himself world.

It’s a sad statement for the relatives and friends of 14-year-old Emilio Hoffman, who was killed in the Reynolds shooting. Equally sad is the suicide of the shooter; at some point, the freshman perpetrator felt his only recourse in life was to embark on a rage-fueled suicide mission.

If you had known the depth of his despair, would you have tried to help? To potentially prevent Hoffman’s senseless death?

So many questions, so few answers.

And that is why another mass shooting is just right around the corner.

Darryl Swan is publisher of the South County Spotlight



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