The February shooting in Parkland, Florida has caused more of a student-run revolution for gun control than any other school shooting in recent memory, and the movement has received quite a bit of national attention. The students from Parkland were on the cover of Time magazine last week, and there have been multiple marches and student walkouts since the shooting on February 14. On March 14, there was a national student walkout organized by the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, with the goal to “demand Congress to pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship”. An oppositional movement was formed in response to this walkout, encouraging students to befriend would-be school shooters instead of leaving school for the protest. This movement, which is essentially an anti-bullying campaign, has been entitled and given the hashtag #walkupnotout, and it is a victim-shaming idea that is inherently dangerous and avoids confronting the actual issues that cause gun violence in schools. It is also not a viable solution to school shootings.
In an op-ed published on March 27 by the New York Times, Isabelle Robinson, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and a survivor of the Parkland shooting, said that she tried to befriend Nikolas Cruz, the shooter, and he still committed the massacre. “It is not the obligation of children to befriend classmates who have demonstrated aggressive, unpredictable or violent tendencies. It is the responsibility of the school administration and guidance department to seek out those students and get them the help that they need, even if it is extremely specialized attention that cannot be provided at the same institution,” she said. Robinson’s testimony and interpersonal experience with the shooter should be enough of an argument to combat this harmful movement, but its history goes beyond the Parkland shooting.
The narrative of the school shooter being a victim has been copied since the Columbine shooting in 1999. Media coverage from the Columbine massacre created the idea and stereotype that loners and people who have been bullied cause violent crimes. An article from BBC News published the day after the shooting says that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the shooters who premeditated and carried out a massacre that killed 13 people before ultimately killing themselves, were part of a gang at school called the “Trenchcoat Mafia.” This “Trenchcoat Mafia”, made up of boys who were believed to be loners, caused paranoia and fear, leading students to believe that if they bully other kids, they might be victims of a school shooting. It goes without saying that bullying is a problem in schools and that kids should be nice to their fellow students. But it shouldn’t be because they’re fearing for what might happen to them if they don’t.
That Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold committed this shooting because they were bullied is a rumor that has been debunked. However, even if all shootings were carried out by people who believed they had been tormented by other students, that doesn’t make their actions okay, something that the #walkupnotout movement seems to forget.
In 2014, Elliot Rodger killed six people on the University of California, Santa Barbara campus in Isla Vista. In a 141-page personal manifesto, Rodger justified his decision to commit this massacre to “punish [his] enemies”. Rodger’s manifesto is ensconced in male entitlement, and paints him as an awkward man who people thought of as a loser and who women weren’t attracted to. Even if people treated Rodger terribly, he had no justification to carry out this murder. Telling students to feel sorry for these mass shooters makes it seem like they had an excuse to do what they did. They didn’t.
It seems ridiculous to have to say that killing your peers is an absolutely horrific response to being bullied, but anyone who suggests that school shootings might be stopped if children just “walked up” to kids who seem like they are sad or alone victimizes the potential shooter more than the people who have lost their lives. Children should not be expected to fight for their own lives by protecting the feelings of other students around them. If a student looks like they might have violent tendencies, adults in their life should have them seek help. And, most importantly, guns should not be part of the equation. There are several reasons that mass shootings might be carried out, but without access to guns, bullying wouldn’t hold life-or-death consequences.