This article was originally published in 2018.
The millennial generation might be surprised to learn that theirs is the first without guns in school. Just 30 years ago, high school kids rode the bus with rifles and shot their guns at high school rifle ranges.
After another school shooting, it’s time to ask: what changed?
Cross guns off the list of things that changed in thirty years. In 1985, semi-automatic rifles existed, and a semi-automatic rifle was used in Florida. Guns didn’t suddenly decide to visit mayhem on schools. Guns can’t decide.
We can also cross the Second Amendment off the list. It existed for over 200 years before this wickedness unfolded. Nothing changed in the Constitution.
That leaves us with some uncomfortable possibilities remaining. What has changed from thirty years ago when kids could take firearms into school responsibly and today might involve some difficult truths.
Let’s inventory the possibilities.
What changed? The mainstreaming of nihilism. Cultural decay. Chemicals. The deliberate destruction of moral backstops in the culture. A lost commonality of shared societal pressures to enforce right and wrong. And above all, simple, pure, evil.
Before you retort that we can’t account for the mentally ill, they existed forever.
Paranoid schizophrenics existed in 1888 and 2018. Mentally ill students weren’t showing up in schools with guns even three decades ago.
So it must be something else.
Those who have been so busy destroying the moral backstops in our culture won’t want to have this conversation. They’ll do what they do — mock the truth.
There was a time in America, before the Snowflakes, when any adult on the block could reprimand a neighborhood kid who was out of line without fear.
Even thirty years ago, the culture still had invisible restraints developed over centuries. Those restraints, those leveling commonalities, were the target of a half-century of attack by the freewheeling counterculture that has now become the dominant replacement culture.
Hollywood made fun of these restraints in films too numerous to list.
The sixties mantra “don’t trust anyone over thirty” has become a billion-dollar industry devoted to the child always being right — a sometimes deeply medicated brat who disrupts the classroom or escapes what used to be resolved with a paddling.
Instead of telling the kid to quit kicking the back of the seat on a plane, we buy seat guards to protect the seat.
If you think it’s bad now, just wait until the generation whose babysitter is an iPhone is in high school. You can hardly walk around Walmart these days without tripping over a toddler in a trance, staring at a screen.
The high school kids who shot rifles in school in 1985 were taught right and wrong. They were taught what to do with their rifle in school, and what not to do. If they got out of line, all the other students and the coach would have come down on them hard. There were no safe spaces, and that was a good thing.
Culture is a powerful force for good. When good behavior is normalized and deviant destructive behavior is ostracized, shamed, and marginalized, you get more good behavior.
Considering evil in this debate makes some of you uncomfortable, but evil bathes all of these shootings. I am reminded of Justice Antonin Scalia’s spectacularly funny and profound interview in 2013 when he toyed with a New Yorker reporter about evil. “You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil!”, he chortled.
Thirty years ago, kids who brought their rifles to the high school shooting range didn’t wonder about evil and cultural decay. They simply lived in a time in America when right and wrong were more starkly defined, where expectations about behavior were clear, and wickedness hadn’t been normalized.
The idea that guns caused the carnage we have faced is so intellectually bankrupt that it isn’t worth discussing. Remembering where we were as a nation just 30 years ago makes it even more so. It’s time to ask what changed.