Redundant to say the least, reading headline after headline of schools, churches and other public places being overtaken by yet another mass shooting is becoming too commonplace in the United States today. Most recently, there was a shooting in downtown Fort Myers this past weekend which hit a little close to home because well, that’s where I currently live. These devastating acts of terrorism are taking the lives of innocent people and wreaking general chaos on the populous. A few weeks ago, it was at a community college in Oregon. Of the 12 deadliest shootings in U.S. history, six have taken place since 2007. At this point, there have been so many shootings across the country in the last 20 years that to discuss each one at length in this article would take the entire day. Still, I felt compelled to dig deeper into the underlying issues contributing to this epidemic. The question still remains: Where and when is it going to happen next?
Based on several articles I’ve read and conversations I’ve had with many people on this issue, including those from previous generations, the rate of mass shootings have increased in frequency from 1.1 a year to 4.5 a year since the 1970’s. A report done by the Congressional Research Service earlier this year found that in the 1970’s, mass public shootings killed roughly six people a year and injured two. From 2010-2013, there were an average of 33 deaths per year with an additional 28 people injured. According to the FBI and other related sources, mass shootings appear to be on the rise—even as other types of homicides and violent crimes are becoming less frequent. There have been over 60 mass shootings in the past three decades with 25 plus in the last seven years alone.
I generally refrain from sharing personal stories in my articles but in this case, I feel is it relevant to the topic at hand. I can remember hearing about the Columbine High School shooting as a child, the Virginia Tech shooting just a few years ago along with several others, and feeling sad about the devastation but it had never really struck me in an up close and personal manner until the school shooting in Chardon, OH in February 2012. T.J. Lane’s murderous rampage killed three students and took the lives of three others inside Chardon High School. My friend and I, who both worked for a local community mental health agency in Cleveland at the time, were personally asked to provide grief counselling and support to the victims, their families, and the student body alike. This experience was amazing and changed my life, but I would give it all back in a second if it meant I could wipe their tears and take away any and all fear and pain associated with this tragedy. Growing up, I always took an interest in all facets of mental health and human behavior including the study of the sociopathic mind. As I grew older, I began to study all of it professionally. In my time in this field thus far, I have come across quite a few things: horrific child abuse, serious mental illness, depraved and volatile life situations that I could barely hear about let alone witness, and yet I have somehow been able to remain strong for others while helping them to overcome whatever crises they were facing. However, it didn’t matter how many papers I wrote on Abnormal Psychology or episodes of Criminal Minds and Law and Order SVU I watched, nothing prepared me to hear T.J. Lane’s vile words in response to the cold, calculated, and premeditated murders he committed which I could never repeat. (But it is public record so feel free to look it up if you can stomach it.) Ever since then, I have found that my patience for these kind of events has worn thin and it is much more difficult for me to turn the other cheek in the midst of the suffering and continue to walk in faith.
So what is causing this? There have been many theories thrown around on this trend of mass shootings. The “copycat” or contagious theory which presents that each shooting influences the next in a number of ways, often spanning across many years and across continents. This idea has inspired many opinions on whether or not it is a good idea to give these murders too much public notoriety in the media. Although incidences of mass murder have gained considerable media attention, they are not well understood in the behavioral sciences. Our current understanding of them includes a ton of politically and/or ideologically motivated phenomenon. Mental Illness is another theory that is thrown around extensively. Although this is a likely contributing factor, many argue that it is not valid to blame this entirely on mental illness as there are millions of people who walk around with mental illness every day in this country who don’t pick up guns and go on a rampage. Many people are also pushing the issue of gun control and that if the country got rid of the constitutional right to bear arms, the problem would somehow diminish. In the wake of these tragedies; particularly the Sandy Hook massacre and the murders this past June at the Charleston, SC church, a whirlwind of statistics and gun control proposals have sparked public policy conversation
So how do we stop these mass shootings from happening? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this. However, if we can become more unified as a country, practice better preventative measures and take safety precautions, we might be able to reduce them. In the mental health profession, it is difficult to foresee potential murderers and certainly just because someone with anger issues owns a gun, does not give us the right to have them arrested by default. Research does typically show that with mass murderers, there are red flags present which are often ignored. Often times, these could have been identified through a more comprehensive screening process and possibly early intervention. This responsibility also rests on parents and family members as well. Many signs of a budding sociopath are evident from childhood and should not be ignored. These include fire setting, animal abuse, bed wetting and conning others just to name a few. If you are a parent and notice any of these or feel as though something isn’t quite right in your child’s attitude, demeanor or connection with his/her environment, please consult with a mental health professional immediately. Again, we come back to glorifying the shooter. Although their motives vary, personality disorders are most often associated with these individuals meaning that they often feel ignored by society and crave the media attention that goes along with committing such heinous crimes, as it provides them with even a brief moment of omnipotent control and domination over others. They often lack empathy and therefore show no remorse for what they have done, however catastrophic. There is much speculation that reducing the media attention these criminals receive may lessen the continued appeal for these types of people to engage in homicidal behaviors. On the side of gun control, millions of law-abiding American citizens have made it known that they feel safer owning a gun to protect themselves and their families. Conversely, a study done in 2011 did find that states with stricter gun control laws do have fewer deaths from gun-related violence. I’m sure these are all debates that will carry on for years to come.
Remaining a controversial hot button in our society today, mass shootings are devastating to the human race no matter how we tirelessly analyze them. Conspiracy theorists, policymakers, political advocates, governing bodies, and the American people alike continue to grieve, discuss, and attempt to change the likelihood of these violent killing sprees to no avail. Will this epidemic ever come to a halt? Will we ever obtain true freedom as a country from unspeakable, inexcusable mass murder? The answers to these questions remain to be seen. I just hope that we never become so jaded as a nation that we stop standing up for what we know to be right and for what truly matters.