In a press conference today, the parents of one of the victims of the recent shooting at a middle school in Roswell New Mexico made several comments that deserve some reflection. The father of 13-year-old shooting victim, Bert Sanders, told reporters he believes the boy's family are "good people," that the alleged shooter "is not a bad boy" and urged people to stop trying to find someone to blame. He went on to say that the suspect and his daughter are friends and that she feels the guman “made bad choices”.
Mr. Sanders believes that no one is the blame for the shooting. "Not the teachers. Not the schools. The responsibility is ours. We as parents need to be more involved," he said. While the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation is commendable, his remarks today as the father of a victim who was injured but survived, raise a number of troubling questions:
Can the gunman’s parents be both “good people” AND share responsibility for their son’s actions? One would hope so, but the nagging question is if we can lay the burden solely at the feet of parents, and more importantly, how do we (and should we?) hold parents responsible for the actions of their children?
In a society that often encourages a victim’s mentality and doesn’t want to discuss personal responsibility, can we really just chalk up the shooter’s actions to “bad choices”? When these horrific events occur, the ramifications and damage ensures that no one involved will ever be the same. How can there be no responsibility in that?
If we simply shrug off school shootings as “one of those things” have we stopped looking for ways to stop them? Is it possible that there IS blame that can be assigned? We certainly can agree that spending time trying to determine blame in and of itself is pointless, but perhaps a larger conversation needs to occur that centers on why these individuals are driven to these violent acts.
And finally, there is the unpopular reminder that what the alleged gunman did in Roswell is attempted murder – a crime – not an educational event. He did not make “bad choices” by arguing with a teacher, or shoving a fellow student, or cutting in the lunch line, he attempted to end the lives of multiple individuals. We cannot lose sight of the fact that while the perpetrator may indeed be a juvenile, he attempted to perpetrate the most serious of offenses. While we must view preventing these events from both a law enforcement and educational perspective, we must understand that we are in truth responding to a criminal event involving the most heinous crime of murder. We owe it to all the victims of past shooting events to remember that THEY are the victims, not the perpetrator.
So simple answers? There aren’t any. But perhaps Mr. Sanders’ remarks today can start some important conversations.