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“Ritalin and Video Games Are Not the Problem”

Don’t blame students who take ADHD medication for America’s problem with gun violence. This latest sound bite from the NRA is a distraction and an outright lie. And anyone serious about solving this problem knows it does more harm than good.

Memorial to victims of school gun violence
Memorial to victims of school gun violence

Less than two days after 10 people were gunned down at a high school in Santa Fe, TX, incoming National Rifle Association president Oliver North blamed video games and Ritalin for that massacre and other school shootings that seem to be occurring with astonishing regularity.

What the retired Lieutenant Colonel told America is not true. It is simply a lie.

I have worked as an educator for more than thirty years at Landmark College, a school dedicated to teaching students who learn differently. In that capacity, I have come across hundreds of young adults who play video games and who have been prescribed various medications, like Ritalin or Adderall, to help them deal with the academic challenges that stem from having various forms of attention deficit disorder. Almost all of these students have been gentle and kind, and wonderful to work with.

All of which makes what North said reprehensible, offensive, and downright ignorant. This is just blaming the victim to deflect the truth, but in an ugly kind of way.

There is no question that ADHD medications are over-prescribed. Researchers have written books that lay this narrative story out – no mystery here. But it has nothing to do with gun violence in our schools.

[10 ADHD Medication Fallacies Even Doctors Believe]

I don’t know any young person I have worked with who didn’t spend more time online than I think they should, and video games are a currency of discussion in the rising generation. When I teach creative writing, I am sometimes dismayed by how much contact my students have had with artificial creatures and how little contact they have had with real ones.

Ritalin and video games are not my favorite things. I wish the rising generation was not so medicated and attached to their smartphone screens so much. But it’s simply wrong to say school shootings happen because a mentally disturbed young person with access to lethal weapons is on medication, or is spending too much time online. Seriously? Is that really what we are led to believe?

In the classroom, my students and I deal with facts, so let’s do that, shall we? Since 2009, there have been nearly 300 school shootings, and more than 20 this year alone. We’re at the point where this is becoming the new normal. In that same time nine-year period, Canada and France have had only two schools while Germany has had just one. Think about that. Is the United States really that much crazier than the rest of the world? Or do we make it incredibly easy to get our hands on lethal weapons? The answer has been obvious for far too long now.

We live in a gun culture, and all of the horror – from Sandy Hook to Parkland to Santa Fe – is tied to access to guns. And because of it, there is no other country in the world apart from failed states like Somalia that has the kind of gun violence we do.

So, to the Second Amendment loyalists who keep up the drumbeat that everyone deserves the right to bear arms – even a semiautomatic weapon – fine, but with that right comes the obligation to own what’s happening in America. Take responsibility. And don’t blame my students.

My students sometimes take prescription medications to help them with their academic work and sometimes with their sorrows or anxiety, and yeah, they play video games. They are good people who go on to have good careers and do the best they can in the world. To call out Ritalin and video games as the cause of school massacres is a distraction, and we all know it.

To expect North to stop adopting this kind of position when he takes over as NRA president is a stretch – I know. But if he does nothing else, just stop the lies. And the disingenuous misdirection the next time a school shooting happens – because another school tragedy involving guns will happen, sooner than we think.