There have been 307 mass shootings in the US thus far this year.
But not all them have made headlines– at least not on a national scale. Many of them did not even warrant a comment from a government official. Nevertheless, in each case, innocent people were killed and families were devastated forever.
I raise the topic of gun violence at a time when clinical depression is most likely to increase due to the holiday season. Typically, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year celebrations intensify the incidence of personal depression which can trigger impulsive actions with very negative consequences. Domestic violence, child abuse, suicide and criminal behavior spike during the holidays. Common denominators for these maladies include poverty, isolation, loneliness, and hopelessness.
The attacks in Fort Lauderdale and New York were committed by men professing to be Muslims and prompted statements from high-ranking government officials who stressed the need to build Trump’s famous wall and ban all immigration from several countries with large Muslim populations. But the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Texas, committed by American-born citizens, were described as events caused by mental illness. In the end, lives were cut short, families were destroyed, and the nation mourned.
We talk a lot about gun violence, but we know very little about it.
What we do know is that terrorists and mass murderers do not have a genetic defect and they don’t necessarily have a mental illness. In fact, mental illness, per se, does not drive a person to commit acts of extreme violence.
So, is banning firearms the solution? Will encouraging more people to arm themselves make a real difference? Or should we spend more time and resources identifying and treating people with mental illness?
The real problem is not access to weapons, but the ease with which the perpetrators of gun violence are thrust into the national spotlight by infinite news coverage. From the internet to newspapers, TV and radio– the media continually feeds this frenzy. Being recognized, whether positively or negatively, is and has always been, the most powerful weapon for the otherwise meek, weak, and forgotten.
It happens in the case of bullies as much as in the case of criminals of every kind, including terrorists and mass killers. Contributing factors include severely dysfunctional families, domestic violence, egregious abuse, neglect, culture clashes, and bland morals and values. Low self-esteem, lack of guidance, lack of strong social support from peers and the community, educational failures, and job troubles are culprits as well.
It’s true that some perpetrators aim for gun violence, while others choose drugs. But, in the end, one fact remains: they all feel they have nothing to lose.
That is not a genetic issue. It is a societal problem.
And it is here we should stop, reflect, and analyze the effect of certain things when combined. When we join triggers like rage, pain, hopelessness, a lack of intimacy and respect for the elderly and those in authority with a profound erosion of ethical principles, a lack of social services, and the glorification of violence in popular culture, and add to that toxic mix– easy access to weapons– the results are guaranteed to be deadly.
No– that is not mental illness, nor is it terrorism. It is social collapse. And don’t forget the implicit approval given through, if nothing else, silence, at the highest levels of our country’s leadership.
When you work in the mental health environment like I do, where one must deal with bullying in schools, children as young as 18-months-old with both arms broken due to egregious abuse, dozens of young individuals overdosing on drugs every day, and children as young as 9-years-old committing suicide, one sees the problem from a completely different perspective. A weapon alone does not make a person a killer. Nor does mental illness. But paired together, they certainly make the task much easier.
And how are we confronting these issues? We make each case viral!
Please, let’s be serious. Who is more responsible– the person who commits the crime or the person who posts it so thousands can access it?
We are becoming completely desensitized and the perpetrators end up glorified and excused by a myriad of excuses and explanations. Arguments about the culprit’s motives become incendiary and divisive.
Let’s face it– we are all responsible in one way or another. From the individual who looks away while someone is being bullied, to the one who posts salacious details about a suicide on the internet, we all are responsible.
Let’s end the labeling, the categorizing, the analyzing, and the diagnosing. We need to become human again. Let’s face the pain of others as if it were our own. Let’s accept that there are others less fortunate. Let’s acknowledge there are people in pain, people who have been hurt, rejected, neglected, and abused in ways that we cannot comprehend.
Let’s welcome those who have come to this country to prosper and are struggling. Let’s knock on doors and get to know our neighbors. Let’s show empathy for those suffering from domestic violence and substance abuse. And yes, of course, let’s start investing in our human potential by widening access to all kinds of services– especially those dealing with substance abuse and mental illness.
No, banning weapons will not ease the pain. Labeling aberrant behavior will not end the violence. Only opening our hearts and embracing our brothers and sisters will bring the desired outcome. It is that time of year when we give thanks, we share, and we get together. Let’s make this year the best year ever to change our views and engage in making the lives of others worthy of preservation and love.