It’s sadly no surprise to see another mass shooting on the news, and we have to ask ourselves if we’re really doing all that we can to minimize these horrific episodes from happening? There’s always various distinguished sides to this debate and we’ve grown pretty familiar to the agendas. It seems as though the Country is at a crucial divide, in a climate where political control within the media is at an all-time high. We must seek to find the answers outside of mainstream media and that’s exactly what I aimed to do when starting this post.
My question today is this, “how do we ensure the safety of our Nation?” Putting all politically charged issues to the side, I want to dive into the facts… the most unbiased way to hone in on what triggers an act of violence such as the Florida School shooting and others alike. I’ll be pulling from various sources, The American Psychiatric Association, the FBI’s Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013, and the LA Times.
Let’s Look at the Facts: US Gun Deaths Broken Down
Between 2000 and 2013 160 incidents have occurred.
In 37 incidents (23.1%) the shooters committed suicide at the scene before police arrived.
In 21 incidents (13.1%) the situation ended after unarmed citizens safely and successfully restrained the shooter. Two of these were off duty law enforcement officers and eleven were unarmed principals, teachers, other school staff and students.
In 5 Incidents (3.1%) the shooting ended after armed individuals who were not law enforcement exchanged gunfire with the shooter. Of these 5, 3 perpetrators were killed, 1 was wounded, and 1 committed suicide.
In 64 of the 160 (40%) committed suicide.
The FBI reported that areas of commerce held the highest likelihood of a mass shooting with 73 out of 160 (45.6%) incidents. Educational Environments were the second largest location grouping, with 29 incidents out of the 160 (24.4%).
Weapon of Choice
Of the 143 guns used, more than three quarters were obtained legally. Most mass shootings were from Assault and Semi-Automatic weapons with high capacity magazines. Gun related killings as a percentage of total homicides in the U.S. was 64% as of 2016. It’s safe to say this number has only increased in recent years. All together it’s estimated that about 68% of perpetrators acquired guns from their own or relatives home.
44 of the killers were White Males and 1 was Female. The youngest age starts at 11 and the average is 35. A majority were mentally troubled, many displaying signs of mental health problems prior to the incident. Common factors seen are feelings of anger or revenge, social isolation, and most have at some point been bullied or isolated from peers. Other common trends that often are seen by others as red flags are violent pre-engagements prior to the incident resulting in behaviors that cause for concern. Often times the perpetrator will leak malicious intent to fellow peers. Unfortunately, these leaks are rarely reported to authorities until after an incident occurs. With the most recent Florida shooting, the police were in fact notified of the killer’s odd behaviors and social media presence. He was reported at one point to have posted on a YouTube video that he was going to shoot up his school and yet was never taken seriously until it was too late.
With the facts thus far, it’s easy to see why people are so quick to jump on gun control. It’s a lot easier to place blame on a type of weapon that contributes to such a high volume of deaths within the United States than to dig deeper into the psychosocial characteristics of a mass shooter. However, the issue alone cannot be determined by one variable. There’s no simple preventative measure as we will see in following findings. The first step in pinpointing a call to action is to realize that the nature of these incidents is multi-determined and circumstantially different on a case by case basis.
Mental Health: How Interconnected Does the Relationship with Gun Violence Get?
Mental Health problems as they relate to mass shootings can be seen in over 60% of cases stemming from the early 1980’s and leading all the way to 2018. This rate is substantially higher than what can be observably found in the general population. This statistic is also 15x higher than the rate of serious mental illnesses found among American Adults according to the LA Times. Among the 60%, only 1/3 of mass shooters sought or received mental health care prior to the attack. This treatment gap can be seen at an even larger rate for Males, who make up 99% of the total mass shooter population.
There is often an association between mass shooters and a sort of paranoid cognition as well. While the paranoia may not rise to a level of psychosis, many are driven by social persecution… often rooted in bullying and social alienation, most perpetrators have at one point considered suicide. According to The American Psychiatric Association, most mass shootings are Homicide-Suicide, or an event where an individual commits a homicide and subsequently commits suicide. This particular shooter undergoes a two stage sequential act of identifying the specific relationship along with a motive.
You can see the process broken down in the above chart, where the perpetrator identifies the type of incident, i.e. a School-Resentful or Workplace-Resentful and further identifies the motive. Almost all of which hold some sort of resentment and/or revenge element. Another key piece of information here is the paranoid cognitions column. We can see that the positive results of paranoia take place in all types of incidents. Further, serious mental illness can be seen as a primary component in all types as well. However, the assumption that all individuals with mental illnesses are a high risk is not only fundamentally incorrect, but an oversimplified notion that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the complexities within an individual’s psyche.
Few perpetrators have verified histories of receiving psychiatric treatment. Most of these individuals who commit shootings in such a magnitude are often angry, aggravated, and have nurtured fantasies of violent revenge (Knoll 2010). It is said that “most of these individuals function (marginally) in society and don’t seek treatment.” This being the case, it is nearly impossible to insinuate that professionals within the mental health setting could ever catch a person capable of such violence.
Cultural Shift Within the Media and the Effects of Expansive News Coverage
There’s something to be said about the increasingly glorified nature of our mainstream news today. It’s become a convoluted, agenda driven, machine that most people look to for accurate reporting. This cultural shift that we’ve seen could play a heavy role in the influence of one mass shooter to the next. Most perpetrators who either failed to commit suicide or were arrested on scene expressed a heavy amount of influence by previous mass killers that received significant media attention.
There’s a phenomenon known as the Narcissism Logic commonly expressed by mass shooters. Also known as an obsessive rumination with the mindset that “I am right and I’ve been treated badly or wronged by people or life.” The narcissistic mindset seeks a “reverse specialness” by fighting the unjust reality and seeking a victim role. Rather than burdening their rejections from society they instead plan an attack to prove their “worth” (Knoll & Annas, p. 93).
Narcissism and social rejection work together to cause aggressive behavior (Twinge & Campbell 2009, p. 199).
Between the glorification of these mass shootings and the lack of empathy from all sides of the news spectrum, it’s no wonder our Nation has become desensitized to these tragedies and therein lies the problem. With an increased reliance on social media as our primary source of news, media errors may easily exacerbate the problem of “sensationalizing tragedies (Berkowitz and Liu 2014).”
All things considered, we see that the way to minimize mass shootings is not a simple, one solution fix. It will take a multi-faceted approach to tackle the complexities of driving forces that cause someone to carry out such an attack. Several propositions have been brought to the forefront in light of recent events. In concluding my research, I feel as though several preventative measures could combat these outbursts from happening in the future.
One proposal would be to focus policies and law on individuals who we have deemed at risk for gun violence. All of the signs are there, we just have to hold ourselves more accountable. That means, if you find yourself near an individual who has expressed some sort of narration of violence, killing, etc. you should immediately report said conversation to the local authorities. This sort of preventative measure could save so many lives. As we discussed, most perpetrators disclose or leak their plans with others.
Another suggestion would be to create a unit that specializes in these particular calls and complaints. With the most recent incident, we actually witnessed numerous individuals report the perpetrators odd behaviors to local authorities who never relayed the message to the proper channels. It’s safe to say the sheer call volume could have a lot to do with this sort of slipping through the cracks. For these reasons I think campaigning for a special unit would be deemed beneficial.
Lastly, we should integrate a discussion of mental health issues within our school systems, as well as the dangers of bullying. As we’ve seen in recent years, and as the FBI pointed out in their analysis, the second most likely place for an incident to occur is within an educational environment. If we can incorporate some discussion from an early age, we may better combat the symptoms of mental illness in a constructive and educational way.
It goes without saying that kids can often times be mean, and we’ve all been on the bad end of bullying at one point or another. I would strongly encourage parents and school staff to cultivate a society of exercising kindness, especially when seeing an individual who appears to be isolated from the social norms. That also means you Teachers! While we’d love to find a quick fix, the problem really is a societal one. Our youth have continued distancing themselves from anyone who goes against the status quo for fear that they, themselves, will be ostracized by peers. And with social media on the rise, cyber bullying is as real of a threat as any.
Starting on a micro level, we all must hold ourselves accountable. Keep an eye on those in your circle and challenge your children to do the same. It’s time we come together as a Nation instead of using such a divisive rhetoric. Don’t let the media control the conversation. If you want social change, start looking to the person next to you and be the change you want to see! It is my hope, for the sake of preserving the fundamental core beliefs that our Nation was built on, that we can rise up and come together now more than ever.