The deadly shooting that occurred in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 sparked national grief, bringing gun control to forefront of the political stage once again. This outrage manifested as protests and activism, led by the very students whose lives were jeopardized by the government’s inaction towards gun control reform.
The March For Our Lives was an important step in creating real change, but many argue that it is the wrong kind of action. The Walk Up Not Out movement proposes that cracking down on bullying in schools will prevent future school shootings. It encourages students to reach out and befriend peers who seem socially isolated. There is no denying that bullying is a problem, but it is unproductive to pretend that bullying and school shootings are the same issue. This notion shifts blame from the attackers to the victims, and stifles the debate on comprehensive gun control.
Students nationwide participated in the March For Our Lives on March 24 and the School Walkout on March 14. They exercised their First Amendment rights in order to garner support for gun control laws and prevent future shootings. The Walk Up Not Out movement directly opposes this action, saying that students should instead focus on being nicer to their socially isolated peers.
This campaign is built on the notion that school shooters tend to be “loners” who were bullied in school and just never quite fit in with the crowd. School shooters are also often labeled as mentally ill or unstable. Walk Up Not Out argues that if students include such children in their lives, those children will not grow up to be violent and angry.
This idea is problematic for many reasons. First of all, there is no single profile for a school shooter. Not all school shooters were bullied, and not all school shooters are mentally ill. In fact, it is impossible to make the claim that mental illnesses cause school shootings. More than 20% of Americans suffer from some form of mental illness, and many more have experienced bullying or social exclusion. These traits are not the problem. Guns are the problem. There is no real reason to believe that being nice and outgoing to every lonely-looking student is the answer to gun violence in America. This argument is favored by those that oppose comprehensive gun control. It effectively stifles discussion about real solutions that aim to prevent potentially dangerous people from obtaining firearms.
The Walk Up Not Out movement is also riddled with logical flaws. For one, it turns every introvert into a potential school shooter. In reality, it is okay to be a loner. Another important thing to note is that there is a difference between bullying and not being friends with someone. It is okay to not talk to every student that sits alone at lunch. It does not make you a bad person. If students are lonely or feel socially awkward, it is nobody’s duty to befriend them. That is the beauty of friendship: it happens naturally. The Walk Up Not Out movement creates a dark motive for kindness that taints the very message that it espouses. No one should be nice to someone out of fear for their future safety.
Furthermore, some socially isolated students are potentially dangerous. These students absolutely deserve guidance and love, but that does not mean that other students should endanger themselves in order to help them. It is the responsibility of the administration to get those students the resources that they need. In a revealing New York Times op-ed, a former classmate of Nikolas Cruz, Isabelle Robinson, describes how he once hit her in the cafeteria. Years later, she was asked to tutor him. Looking back on it, she feels that the school should never have put her in that position. Her kindness towards him did not stop him from killing 17 of their classmates. Administrative and government action might have.
The bottom line is that it is neither fair nor right to place the responsibility of preventing school shootings on the shoulders of the students. This is exactly what the Walk Up Not Out movement is doing. With that responsibility comes victim-blaming when attacks do occur. Students cannot learn in an environment where they fear for their lives, and schools should be able to protect their students without forcing them to carry the burden of preventing future violence.
Walk Up Not Out has become a popular message in America. President Trump himself responded to the Stoneman Douglas High School attack by calling for a “cultural shift” in American schools. He urged his citizens to “answer hate with love,” while saying little about actual legislative changes to address the problem. The President is right that it is important to confront this tragedy with love, but love is not enough. Love alone is not going to prevent future attacks. If we truly want to end this cycle of needless death then we need to speak out, walk out, and demand comprehensive gun control.