MICHAEL CYR ’15
I wasn’t sure what to think last week when I sat down to breakfast with the latest issue of the Tripod. I was reading an article that sought to call attention to gun control policies through a recent school shooting in Marysville-Pilchuck high school in Washington state. Fifteen year-old Jaylen Fryberg, of the Tulalip tribe, carried a gun into school and shot five of his classmates before taking his own life. As I neared the end of the piece I still hadn’t seen any mention of gun control. I sat confused as I picked at my eggs.
The author chose to juxtapose the recent shootings with an episode from the old teenage drama “One Tree Hill.” In the episode mentioned, a bullied student held his classmates hostage before killing himself. In the investigation the author explored relevant thoughts and feelings on the issue, discussing what could have caused this Native American teenager to want to take the lives of others. Questions were posed like, “what drove Jaylen Fryberg to go to school Oct. 24 with a gun…what made him turn on his friends that fateful Friday afternoon?“.
Was it that he was upset about getting rejected by a girl he liked? Or like the episode of “One Tree Hill,” was it a case of bullying that drove this young person to homicide?
There were a lot of valid questions about Jaylen’s personal motives, and it made me wonder if perhaps mental health support systems and surrounding social factors would be mentioned as well as gun control. Unfortunately for me and other Tripod readers, these questions were dismissed as unanswerable.
Finally in the second to last paragraph, gun control is mentioned. A short assault was made on any supporter of the 2nd amendment and then it was over.
At that point I had stopped eating. Throughout the article the author alluded to the motives and mental state of Jaylen. Many important questions were raised and towards the end of the article it seemed that gun control was thrown in as an answer. While this is a valid reason, I believe it should be examined with a little more thoughtfulness.
The brief mention of this constitutional amendment made me wonder at the level of knowledge, or lack thereof, that the majority of college-aged individuals have about the reality of certain situations where they are mentioned. It is rarely mentioned in the media that gun homicide rates have actually steadily declined by almost 40% from 18,253 in 1993 to 11,101 in 2010. These rates are not a result of a decreasing amount of firearms. Last December, the FBI reported a record high, 2.78 million background checks for purchased firearms. Although shootings, like this one, are especially tragic, the ownership of firearms for self-defense is an exercise of an important personal right. For many people like those of the Tulalip tribe, hunting is an important part of a rich heritage. Emotional blanket statements about firearms seem justified when considering the welfare of the nation’s youth, but are they even addressing the real issue?
Alarmingly the suicide rate of Native Americans is three times that of the national average. For those living on reservations it is 10 times that number. A slew of social indicators such as higher rates of alcoholism, domestic violence, and poverty begin to paint a picture of causation. The state office announced that one in every six students in Washington has at least one emotional, behavioral, or developmental condition. Additionally, almost half of American children ages 8 to 15 with a mental illness, regardless of ethnicity, have not received any mental health services in the previous year.
Often it seems that gun control is used as a mask which thinly veils the more complex issues about the importance of social and mental health services. This issue of social and mental health services is far more pervasive than most care to acknowledge. The day that Jaylen attacked his classmates, Becky Berg the Superintendent of Marrysville-Pilchuck high school was two hours away in the capital. It is a cruel irony that she was there discussing the details of a 10 million dollar grant from project AWARE (Advancing Wellness And Resilience in Education) to improve mental health resources in her school as well as others in the district.
It is not known whether Jaylen had a mental health history before this devastating event, but perhaps if project AWARE was implemented sooner he could have received some sort of guidance. This grant marks a step in the right direction to getting much needed help to at -risk adolescents.
As I stood up to clear my plate I had a sense of hope that maybe in the future we would be able to spend more time discussing ways to address the underlying social causes of shootings like this one. I hope in the future that more time will be taken to research and more fullly understand the multiple compounding factors behind complex issues such as gun control, rather than getting caught up in the emotional motifs often portrayed by the media.