I wish the world could be safe for everyone. Our reality has lately consisted of mass shootings in malls, grocery stores, temples, movie theaters and schools, leaving the impression that nowhere is off limits. What has caused this trend and what can we do about it?
I believe the answers are complex and varied, ranging from gun accessibility to mental health to diet. Based on my personal experience and information that I have looked up, several things need to happen.
1. Gun accessibility.
While growing up in a small gun toting community, I saw a decent number of tragedies that could have been avoided without guns. The first one that comes to mind are two suicides from the same high school class of thirty people in a single year. Both spur of the moment irrational behavior, both with a gun at these kid’s fingertips. Another was a man in my apartment complex whose friend killed him and went on a cross state attack. One night I saw dozens of officers creeping through the high school lawn with assault rifles up and ready. After getting yelled at to get down by them, I found out a man was doing sniper attacks. By the end, he killed three, injured others and took his own life. My younger sister’s then-boyfriend is currently serving time after a blackout argument where he shot and killed a family friend. A college professor from my campus staked out and killed one of his students, then himself. The sad thing is, I know I am forgetting a few. (Correction- I did forget about a kid in my town of 500 who was playing with his dad’s gun and accidentally killed himself…in front of his friend)
One thing all these stories have in common is the ease in which the person got a gun. It is part of the culture, and I don’t know how people don’t see the correlation with accessibility. Wait! I hear a far cry from the right yelling that a motivated person will find another way! Guns don’t kill people, people kill people! Well, let’s consider. A blast from a gun at close range (depending on where it hits) has a high probability of fatality. But the thing with a gun is that it can be fatal from a distance. Knives require physical contact and less likelihood of mortality. December 14, 2012 saw two attacks on school children- one with guns, one with a knife. Which one made news for devastating fatalities? Yep. Also, the amount of time it takes to go through a room to stab people is far greater than popping off a shot every second.
I hear that guns are necessary to protect against attacks! Actually, a victim is about four times more likely to die when a gun is introduced into the situation. Also, guns in the house are much more likely to be used on another member of the house for either intimidation or injury (and that member is usually going to be female). Remember that sniper attack I just mentioned? A college student rushed over with his gun to take action and help. He was shot several times, including the neck. He thankfully lived to tell the tale, but it goes to show that even good intentions are dangerous.
But Switzerland has tons of guns and they don’t have the problems we do! This is correct, but if you also look at Switzerland, they spend a great deal of money on mental health care every year. This probably makes a huge difference in preventing mass assaults by catching the issue beforehand. One could also argue for the steps that Australia has made after a massacre in April 1996. The government swiftly acted after that attack with visible results in the years that followed.
I think it’s important to note that gun regulation does not mean no guns. I know that guns serve a purpose and can be used responsibly. I also know that not everyone should have a gun. Background checks should always be done, as well as a mental health evaluation. There should not be high capacity magazines. I’ve also read about safety features that gun manufacturers are opting not to use, such as owner recognition (the gun will not fire without fingerprint or grip identification). I know guns are part of our culture, so why not take steps to limit the damage they can do? Can’t people recognize the beneficial safety changes that have taken place after tragedies? Airports now have people take off their shoes and go through a body scanner because of failed bomb attempts. Things changed in the face of these events, so I ask: how many more gun attacks before we see the need for change?
2. Mental health
Obviously there are some mental health issues with shooters in these recent high profile killings. I think everyone agrees that these people should not have had guns. Mental health problems in our country carry a lot of stigma, making it difficult to diagnose and treat those in need. Getting access to treatment is also difficult, and many don’t even receive treatment until they are deemed dangerous and eventually jailed. We have basically criminalized it. Parents are left to feel alone while caring for a child with problems, the outside wondering what they did wrong.
My friends in mental health fields are better suited to discussing what positive actions could tangibly make a difference, but I think our country has to begin looking at the importance of mental health services. Hopefully good care will be available to those who need it. Hopefully families will not be afraid to send their child to a therapist or psychiatrist if they see disturbing behavior. It isn’t one person’s problem to face alone. If these events have done anything, they should open our eyes to the impacts of letting others fall through the cracks.
This will be a topic that has two segments- the desensitizing nature of violent movies and video games plus the role models we revere.
I’ve heard it said that violent video games and movies are no excuse for mass killings, and I actually agree with that. I don’t believe that Marilyn Manson’s music is an excuse to kill others. However, I think there is something about losing innocence to bloody scenes that have grown increasingly realistic. The idea of carnage and violence are not unimaginable because it’s right there on the TV every night. It may still seem wrong, but it isn’t as scary. Shooting another person isn’t so far fetched when one sees themselves doing it in war reenactment games. This is not a full coverage excuse for the terrible actions we have seen, but how can it be helping? Consider this- these are the images we are putting out as ENTERTAINMENT.
I also wonder how role models play a role. Who says that their teacher is their role model, or the fireman, or Ghandi or Mandela? How many teenagers want to be like Taylor Swift, Justin Beiber or (god forbid) Lindsay Lohan? The people who get the most time on the TV and Internet are the ones doing ridiculous things. Even taking mass shootings into account, whose name do you remember? The victims are forgotten while the killer lives in infamy. Take the Australia shooting again. While the exact motive has not been established, his lawyer discussed the impact of the Dunblane massacre the month before.
Parents are vital for not only being a good role model for their children, but also pointing out other good role models. Focus on the wonderful achievements of world leaders and past figures rather than discussing who is getting divorced, who is wearing something ugly, who had another crotch shot photo, etc.
I am not vegan or even vegetarian. I don’t even eat the healthiest things. However, I can’t rule out that the ingredients in our food are causing an impact on our brains (you are what you eat, right?). How are pesticides and chemicals reacting in our bodies? How about sugary processed foods? It is clear that obesity has been skyrocketing, which has a huge set of issues on its own. Girls are reaching puberty at younger ages. What else is our food doing to us?
Our society has many issues. It is terrible when tragedy makes us confront these problems directly, but hopefully in the face of sadness we can create a better future. Tons of people resent change, but how many more kids need to die needlessly before it happens? I know this conversation is far from over, so expect more to come.