What The Hell Is Happening?: Finding the cure for our Mass Shooting Epidemic

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Abstract

 

Evil has always seemed to have existed throughout the history of humankind. Unfortunately, it seems it always will in some form or another. Whether “evil” is something we have naturally inherited or if it is “learned” is a debate for later—but will be addressed briefly. The taking of one’s life by another has been done for copious reasons throughout our history. Historically, the justification for killing others seemed to be fueled by factors such as; the control of land, the control and enslavement of other human beings, killing for love and out of jealousy, killing for power, killing for wealth, etc. In recent years in the United States, the senseless mass killings of innocent people seem to be driven by something else. Modern mass shootings in the U.S. seem to have originated in 1949 when a combat veteran of WWII walked through his neighborhood, killing 13 people. He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and lived out the remainder of his days in a psychiatric hospital. Since then, there have been over 50 notable mass shootings on American soil. Unfortunately, these mass shootings are becoming more frequent an event and more deadly and horrific in nature. In this paper, I will be addressing the questions of “why have these shootings happened and why do they continue?” and “what can we/should we do about them to prevent them?”. To be straightforward, I don’t have a “cure-all” answer for these troubling questions. But, after presenting the arguments–and research behind the arguments–on both sides of the fence, hopefully there will be a better understanding as to why these shootings are happening and a clearer set of solutions of how to deter them from happening in the future.

Is the Issue Bigger than Gun Control?

Exploring the Many Arguments for and Against Gun Control

Before we dive in and address the arguments for and against gun control, I feel it appropriate in giving pertinent background information about myself for historical context. Hopefully, this will expose some biases (both past and present) and worldviews that a reader may find helpful while reading my thoughts and views I express. I was raised in a very Christian, ultra-conservative household in Southern California. I never really had any experience or conscientious opinions about guns until I joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17. That was the first time I ever touched, learned about, and fired an AR-15 style weapon. Since then, and as a combat veteran, I’ve served overseas in very hostile environments and experienced hostile situations. Due to various life’s experiences and education, I have become more secular in my personal philosophies and ideals and less conservative in my views and beliefs. Because I have recognized—over the years–certain flaws and errors in my previously held beliefs, experiencing cognitive dissonance and recognizing my own confirmation biases, I am much more objective and open to well-reasoned arguments and debates. With that being said, let’s dive in.

Various Arguments “For” and “Against” Gun Control

As mentioned early, mass shootings in the U.S. have been taking place over the last 70 years. The shooters have ranged from combat veterans, disgruntled ex-employees, troubled youth, scorned ex-lovers, bullied teens, etc. The motives behind these shootings seem to derive from a myriad span of origins. Motives that seem to be instigated by prideful revenge at the loss of a job or are jealousy-infused due to betrayal in a romantic relationship or for others, it was the breaking-point and reaction of being bullied. Other killings seem to not be as emotionally-charged, but out of extreme dogmatic bigotry. Recently, we have seen an alarming amount of mass shootings with an extensive variety of motives behind them. Motives such as; blatant racism, religious intolerance and homophobia. What is even more scary then the obvious and hateful motives behind these tragedies, is when there was no clear motive found. With my understanding of history and politics, the tragic event that really catapulted our country in to two passionately divided camps over the debate of gun control occurred in 1999. The moment two kids, armed with high-powered weapons, decided to take the lives of their peers at Columbine High school, our country could no longer stay quiet. Since then we have had many “copycat” tragedies happen(ing) all over the nation. What’s worse, the (mostly) young men carrying out these heinous acts seem to be trying to outdo the last shooters performance. The body counts get larger, the guns get bigger and the elapsed time in between tragedies get shorter. What the hell is happening? Guns have been around for a few centuries now. AR-15 rifles, and other high capacity weapons, have been around and accessible to civilians since 1963; and it’s only in recent years that shootings of this magnitude have been occurring. Why the troubling change? Why now? I sincerely wish there were simple solutions to these troubling issues. Let’s take a look at some of the proposed solutions being presented from all corners.

In my personal observations I have noticed immensely different opinions and feelings as to what needs to be done to stop (or at least deter) these ever-growing mass shootings. There are noticeable “far left” sentiments, “far right” sentiments, and even sentiments finding themselves somewhere in the middle. From my observations, the common theme of the “far left” seems to be that of an emotional reactionary stance: “Guns Are Bad–Ban All Guns”. Sounds great. I, personally, wished that guns were never invented. But the harsh reality is they do and, unfortunately, always will. The common theme coming from the “far right” seems to be almost this entitled, Everything-is-in-God’s-hands stance: “Guns Are Great—Don’t You Dare Touch My Guns–Oh, And It’s My God-given Right”. Is the solution really one extreme or the other? Will banning guns (or extremely limiting them) really solve the issue? Or, is stock-loading more guns the solution? Various, peer-reviewed studies seem to be in favor of both solutions. In a study conducted in 2015 at the Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University, they “reported that firearm assaults were 6.8 times more common in the states with the most guns versus those with the least. Also, in 2015 a combined analysis of 15 different studies found that people who had access to firearms at home were nearly twice as likely to be murdered as people who did not.”

To support this study’s finds using real-world observation, one needs only look at Australia. In 1996, Australia experienced the worst mass shooting in it’s recent history. The shooter was successfully able to murder 36 innocent human beings. Since that time, legislation banned guns and now has one of the strictest gun control reforms in the free world. The gun control measures that Australia set in place seem to correlate nicely with the statistical data showing a virtually “mass shooting free” country to the present day.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the “far right” claims that more guns equal less shootings and even crime. According to a high impact study conducted in 1995 (and updated in 2015), it suggested that the greater presence of guns, the less chance for violence or crime. Simply put, if more people were armed, there would be less shootings. This study stated that 2.5 million Americans reported that having a gun helped them defend themselves in a time of need. To support this study’s finds, let’s look at Switzerland. This country virtually requires its citizens to carry a gun, and statistics show that Switzerland enjoys the lowest homicide rate in the entire world. In contrast, our very own city of Chicago already has some of the strictest gun control laws in the United States, yet, seems to also have some of the most gun violence and crime. The correlation seems to fit the argument that “more guns equals less violence”.

Other proposed solutions seem to stem from the softer, and sometimes overlooked, voices of concerned citizens who identify somewhere in the middle of these two extreme positions. Instead of taking the guns away (or extremely limiting them) as a solution, let’s limit the amount and type of firearms made available to the public. Instead of stockpiling more guns as a solution, let’s implement certain prerequisites that ensure only qualified citizens can obtaining them. Other proposed solutions are: 1) Raising the purchasing age of firearms to the age of 21 years old 2) Implementing mental health evaluations to prospective buyers. 3) Ensuring private sales of guns are held to the same selling standards and requirements that gun dealers are 4) Banning all “assault rifles” 5) Minimizing bullet capacity in clips/magazines 6) the list goes on.

Potential Causes

In any study, we are expected to find common variables shared by all those being examined. In the case of our mass shooters, an interesting common variable was the lack of a father-figure involved in their lives. According to one study, “Adolescents living in intact families are less likely to engage in delinquency than their peers living in non-intact families. Compared to peers in intact families, adolescents in single-parent families and step families were more likely to engage in delinquency. This relationship appeared to be operating through differences in family processes—parental involvement, supervision, monitoring, and parent/child closeness—between intact and non-intact families.” I also found this intriguing, “A study using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health explored the relationship between family structure and risk of violent acts in neighborhoods. The results revealed that if the number of fathers is low in a neighborhood, then there is an increase in acts of teen violence.” One other major common variable that the shooters seemed to have in common was the use of some form of anti-depressant. This could be interpreted that the shooters were each dealing with some sort of psychological disorder or that the anti-depressants themselves were affecting their psyche.

So far, our shooters have some significant traits and backgrounds in common; lack of a strong role model-figure during crucial developmental stages in their lives (whether that strong figure was a father or was a mother who stepped into the role of paragon), some level of documented mental disorder such as anxiety, depression, etc., social alienation of some sort whether it was an event such as being bullied or long term situation such as exclusion. The various motives which led to their heinous actions seem to be noticeably different. These motives span anywhere from emotional reactions due to romantic betrayal or bully-induced revenge to bigoted ideologies such as homophobia and racism. Despite the varying motives that have been highlighted, the correlations between their psychological and familial backgrounds is enough to give one pause. This correlation is what’s generically known as a “recipe for disaster”. I have come to the conclusion that most of these shooters shared a few key ingredients which led them to inevitably do what they did. Of course, this isn’t insinuating that everyone who has grown up without a father-figure or who suffers from something like depression or anxiety is a potential time-bomb waiting to explode. If those were the only two ingredients for the making of a mass shooter, we would be experiencing catastrophic, daily mass shootings. There are obviously other ingredients to this recipe, not accounted for. Some people (and groups of people) suggest that those other ingredients can include: desensitization from violent movies and video games, social alienation and rejection, culture of ultra-sensitivity and even the idea that some people are just evil.

Various Tools & Ideologies

I hope it’s fairly obvious that there are issues here deeper than someone simply pulling a trigger. As mentioned earlier, these same guns have been in the hands of civilians for almost 70 years, yet, these kinds of mass shootings didn’t truly become “a thing” until less than 20 years ago. People have and will kill with or without a gun. The problem isn’t guns, per se, the problem is disturbed people; and why they are/become disturbed. With that being said, one dangerous aspect of the “far right” mentality is something unique to the majority of their deeply entrenched ideologies: their Christianity. To be clear, my agenda in bringing this up is not to belittle or “bash” their religious beliefs (there are many great aspects to religious belief), it is simply to bring up an aspect of their beliefs I find harmful in relation to discovering a potential source for these mass shootings. No one is really giving this particular point any audience—and it needs an audience. It needs to be discussed. It is the unique, theological belief that human beings are born “evil”. According to Christianity, we are all born evil and there is nothing we can do about it. For some, there are some out there more evil than others. The reason I find this problematic when discussing potential mass shooting solutions, is the idea that we will never find scientific or psychological reasons (and therefore “cures”) for some people. The simple catch-all answer is they are just evil. Whereas a more secular view would believe we are not born “evil”, we are taught bad traits. We are introduced to bad thinking and can develop bad traits in response to our environments and in response to various events we experience throughout our lives. Historically, the majority of people hailing from the “far right” camp subscribe to this ideology. Because of that, I can’t help but observe the correlation between the indifferent attitudes far-right-extremists harbor; that those shooters can’t be fixed by any scientific or psychological means, they are just possessed to some degree. I, personally, do not find that indifference helpful when striving to implement preventative measures and in providing preventative aid and treatment to potential, would-be murderers.

In Nice, France in 2016, 84 people were murdered by Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel using a truck as a weapon. Before that in 1995, Timothy McVeigh murdered over 160 people essentially with fertilizer. In China in 2014, a small group of men were able to murder 33 people and wound over 130 others with just knives. I bring these tragedies up for a reason; once people get to the point where they foster a desire to kill, they will. History has made this abundantly clear. Many people like to use Australia as an example of successful, strict gun control (as I did above). Ever since a mass shooting took place in Australia in 1996, killing 36 people, Australia instituted some of the strictest gun control measures in the world. Though they do not see as many mass shootings (they still do happen though), they now have more “mass arson” murders. More than any other country.

Appeal to Authority—Kind of

The “Gun Control Debate” is arguably the most heated, passionate and opinionated debate in the United States current social and political arenas. People literally discontinue friendships over this one issue. The issue over guns seems to divide us more than the issues of abortion, civil rights and tax reform. Due to the moral and ethical aspects of gun control and gun rights, which at times seem to be complete opposites in certain facets of the argument, logical fallacies of all sorts run rampant. And all sides are guilty of them.  For example; I have heard the plea from many different people and groups to “listen to the kids” (the kids who were survivors of the school shootings) when it comes to what to do about gun reform. Though it is a romantic, well-intentioned idea–laden with emotion–it’s almost an “appeal to authority” in its nature. Although someone may have been the unfortunate victim of a tragedy, it does not mean they miraculously become an expert of that tragedy. They do, however, naturally become a voice of love and empathy for others who have experienced similar events, but they cannot effectively become the voice of authority regarding a solution of their tragedy. Bad things happen to everyone. Though bad things happen to us, it doesn’t make us an expert in how to solve that bad thing in the future. I also see a glaring paradox and contradiction of logic in trying to bolster that argument. We want to raise the age of people getting guns because they are less responsible, immature and have no real life experience. In the same breathe, we want to lean on teenagers’ opinions about gun control and expect congress to bow down and implement their demands because they were involved in a school shooting? That is contradictory reasoning. That’s comparable to, expecting our veterans who have experienced the horrors of combat, all of the sudden have the solution(s) that will end all war. Also, raising the age doesn’t fix the issue: many of the mass shooters were well over the age of 21. Age hasn’t been a factor in the mass shootings we’ve experienced. The ages of the shooters have ranged from teenage adolescents (Columbine) to 65 years old (Vegas Shooting). Regardless and as a general rule, I would happily endorse the age of purchasing a firearm for any untrained civilian.

To be honest with you, and in a perfect world, I wish firearms never existed. Look at the amounts of death they’ve invoked since their conception. I would be thrilled if our world was rid of them completely. But, the sad reality is that they do exist. My wishful thinking will not miraculously make them disappear. And the wishful thinking of stricter gun control won’t either. We’ve all heard it before as a loaded phrase, but it has a lot of truth to it; “Bad guys don’t obey the law”. STOP signs don’t stop people from running them. Shoplifting laws don’t stop people from stealing. Hell, security systems don’t prevent home robberies. As studies have shown, gun laws do not stop people from using them illegally. So, when marshal law is declared, and America is robbed of all it’s guns (or guns sufficient enough to defend), what then? Guns will still exist. Just not in the hands of good people. In contrast, can the cherished and protective “rights” of the 2nd amendment be taken too far?  Of course. To be dramatic and to illustrate my point, I wouldn’t feel comfortable if my neighbor had a tank parked in their driveway—or an arsenal of grenades and rocket launchers in their basement. There is obvious room for reform and for certain measures to be taken. There is room for certain guidelines to be implemented into the 2nd amendment which would prohibit the free-for-all mentality that “anything goes”. I support those measures being taken. We all should.

If there was anything that experiencing cognitive dissonance taught me, when peering through the objective lenses at my own personal philosophical ideologies, was the value in being objective. To step back from my own biases and emotions and look at all arguments. To strive to do unbiased research and come to sound conclusions utilizing logic that came to fruition due to objectivity. I’ve learned that feelings and emotion are not the best indicator of truth or in coming to correct conclusions. Critical thinking, sound reasoning and logic are the tools that are needed.

I see on the far left a very emotionally-charged, reactionary response to this passionate issue of gun control and to the mass shootings that have devastated our nation. And from the right, a response lacking a certain brand of empathy; because, “my rights” and “God’s will” seem to be treasured more than “innocent peoples lives” and “logical solutions”. I believe our answer is somewhere in the middle. We need to be emotionally connected enough to care, and show empathy, but with enough logical restraint as to not throw out our critical thinking and reasoning abilities. Be outraged. I am. But, in the history of–ever, when has it been a good idea to make a decision amidst any kind of negative-emotional turmoil? I’ll go ahead and answer: never. At the same time, I personally, find it disingenuous to be so disconnected from reality and moral responsibility by brushing these issues off by simply sending “thoughts and prayers”.

Conclusion

Amidst this passionate debate of gun control, I believe it is crucial in finding common ground. I believe it is imperative that we all acknowledge and agree that no one wants these mass shootings to continue and that the loss of innocent life is horrific and utterly unacceptable. Once we can collectively establish the fact that these events are inexcusable, and that we all would like to find a solution—-let’s move onward from there in discovering the solutions that will be realistic, logical and most of all, effective.

I will readily admit; this topic is and has been difficult for me to adequately expound upon within the bounds of this academic structure. I strongly believe the causes for these atrocities are much more complex and nuanced than the binary, black and white solutions presented. “Guns are bad so let’s get rid of ‘em” isn’t realistic to me, but “Guns are awesome and are my ‘God-given right’ so they stay” is just as problematic. As far as the deeply-seeded “cause” (the people) for these mass shootings, I do not have a detailed solution to confidently suggest implementing. With that being said, I do acknowledge the strong correlation of “fatherless boys” being a potential cause. I do see the strong correlation that anti-depressants can have on the shooters mental well-being. I’m just not willing to bet the lives of high school children that these correlations are, in fact, causation. As far as the “tool” (the weapons), I have some suggestions; 1) I am all for restricting certain calibers and magazine capacities to an untrained civilian 2) I am in favor of raising the age of purchase to 21 years old 3) I would highly suggest mental evaluations on all first time buyers as a requirement in getting a conceal carry permit—and annual evaluations as a part of the CCW renewal process 4) I would feel more comfortable knowing that private sales are set to the same standard as public, gun dealership sales 5) I am all for veterans being given the opportunity of employment as armed security at our schools (if armed security is good enough for our politicians and state and federal buildings, then armed security is good enough for our children and public schools)–and for teachers who are thoroughly trained and willing, let them carry.

As I’ve mentioned previously, tightening the reigns of gun control is, ultimately, a temporary fix. It’s like giving a person Tylenol for a headache.  The Tylenol alleviates the pain of the headache, without realizing it’s a temporary solution because the real issue is the brain tumor they are unaware of. After researching both sides, I do feel that the deeper issue is the people. I understand a solution for “fixing people” is more complex an undertaking than “fixing the tool”. So, until we can confidentially say we have fixed the underlying causes, issues and motives (or removed the brain tumor) as to why people do what they do, I am one who supports the “prescription of Tylenol” to alleviate the pounding and relentless headache in the meantime.

 

 

 

References

Broyhill, Shaun, (2016). “No Mass Shootings: The Myth of Australia’s Gun Control Policy”. Source: http://www.caffeinatedthoughts.com

Bump, Philip 2015. “Gun-control opponents love to cite Chicago. So how does it compare to the rest of America?”. Source: The Washington Post

Cobb-Clark, Deborah A., Erdal Tekin. (2011): “Fathers and Youth’s Delinquent Behavior”. Melbourne Institute Working Paper No. 23/11

Demuth, Stephen & Brown, Susan L. (February 2004): “Family Structure, Family Processes, and Adolescent Delinquency: The Significance of Parental Absence Versus Parental Gender”. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 41, No. 58-81.

Kellermann, Arthur L. et al.,(1993): “Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide; Suicide in the Home in Relation to Gun Ownership“. New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 327, No. 7

Kleck, Gary & Gertz, Marc. (Fall 1995): “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun”. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol 86, No. 1.

Hemenway, David & Solnick, Sara J. (2007-2011). “The Epidemiology of Self-Defense Gun Use: Evidence from the National Crime Victimization Surveys”. Preventive Medicine, Vol. 79; October 2015

Hofferth, S. L. (2006). “Residential father family type and child well-being: investment versus selection”. Demography, 43, 53-78.

Wiebe, Douglas J. (June 2003): “Homicide and Suicide Risks Associated with Firearms in the Home: A National Case-Control Study”. Annals of Emergency Medicine, Vol 41, No. 6.

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