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 principles, 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 was 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 killers 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 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 individuals psyche.
Few perpetrators have verified histories of been in 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.
Syria: Once a Pivotal Actor in The Regional Power Struggle, Now a Failed State. What Happened?
While Syria has taken center stage in recent years as one of the many strongholds for Islamic Extremism, the prospect of a brighter future could be seen just a few short years ago. After citizens sought to peacefully protest and shape outcomes for a more inclusive partnership between modernizers and the local opposition, it seemed as though Syria was on the cusp of making way for Westernization in the Middle East. With a new leader in charge, Bashar Al-Assad was said to have created a lot of optimism among the people due to his ideas of modernizing Syria.
Perhaps some of the biggest challenges that faced Assad upon his coming into power was providing economic reform, stimulating growth, and combating the dwindling oil revenues seen in the early 2000’s. However, his short lived promises and influx of Arab investments stabilizing the region would soon dwindle down to nothing. Further, mismanagement of peaceful protest that shortly thereafter turned violent would cause a deadly civil war resulting in a failed State. This ultimately left a vacuum for extremism that would lead to yet another ISIS controlled region.
Bashar Al-Assad assumed power in 2000. With the Damascus Spring of 2000-2001 it was thought that a partnership could take place. Many exercising peacefully their protest of the current system, it wasn’t long before Assad shut down his idea of political reform. Claiming that social and economic reform needed to take place first before liberalization could happen. Assad attempted to keep the Middle Class under wraps by allowing for certain political decompressions. By encouraging an increased consciousness of abuse without allowing for proper institutionalized channels of retribution, Assad inadvertently paved the way for the 2011 Uprising.
Moving in conjunction with the peoples growing consciousness and disdain for current policy, another advancement made way that would forever alter the the destabilizing nature of the Middle East… smart phones and social media.
The Arab Uprising, stretching across various countries of the Middle East, started as peaceful protest documented via social media that quickly turned violent. It wasn’t until after the detaining of 15 young boys for graffiti as well as the torture and killing of one 13 year old that violent protests erupted. Despite the mobilizing nature of these mass protests, momentum wasn’t strong enough to successfully overthrow Assad due to the geographical nature and dispersions away from the Capital.
Conflict quickly broke out between the regime and opposition. However, as democracy activists that led the initial protest withdrew from Syria, the only thing remaining were Islamic hardliners. These remaining individuals had two things that proved momentous in times of an emerging war economy: money and guns. Between Assad’s polarizing nature and increased use of violence, Syria found itself on the precipice of a major Civil War. One that we’ve seen play out in recent years… One that has taken more than 465,000 lives, injured over 1 million, and left nearly 12 million displaced. The odd nature of Syria as a key actor in the Arab Uprising is that, despite conflict and civil war, the overthrow of power has still not yet been seen. Both the President and the regime are still at large, how?
Alongside the dispersive nature of the initial protests away from the capitol, we also see the conflict framed in sectarian terms, in a way so that the opposition could better appeal to the Sunni majority. Add a president with a backing army willing to defend against the opposition, all with ties to the Ba’ath party, and you have a force to be reckoned with that differs insurmoutnably from Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya; all of which either led peaceful protests or successfully overthrew the current president.
Another intricate part to the system at play can be seen through external forces. One of which was the United States. By placing sanctions on the regimes source of oil , the U.S. by default rid the region of any sort of stability that could have benefited from its supply. Despite our efforts to sanction, the United States further failed to halt regime operations. What started as an internal conflict quickly found external forces that would use the sight of a failing State to regain momentum lost in the original Arab Uprising. Fast forward to three years after the initial Uprising, the State was divided between regime and opposition with much of the Northern and Eastern regions of Syria out of government control. The lack of structure created a domino effect that would result in extremist factions using the region in an attempt to set the tone for regional balances of power in the Middle East.
With the emergence of a war economy, extremist groups were given a stake in the continuance of conflict as a three way struggle for power between the regime, “moderate” opposition, and Jihadists.
Fast forward to today and we are still bearing witness to regions of Syria under attack i.e., Eastern Ghouta. Under Siege by the Syrian government since 2013, Turkey, Russia and Iran labeled it a “de-escalation zone,” in which a strict no fly zone had been enacted. However, on Sunday February 19th 2018, backed by Russian planes, relentless bombings killed hundreds by Syrian forces. With no end in sight, it’s hard to imagine an ending that doesn’t involve the entire Country self-imploding. Even if the constant state of war was to subside there’s still the rebuilding phase which, judging by arial views, could take anywhere from 15-20 years at least. Children have been deprived of any sort of education, which leaves yet another vacuum for radicalization.
It is to my belief that in order for the deescalation of the Middle East to happen three major factors must be present: a rebuild of infrastructure and education, distribution of wealth to create a strong Middle Class, and access to resources. We must also encourage modernization for Syria and surrounding regions, as striving for such is a key component in restoring structure to a destabilized region. Will this ever be possible, it’s hard to say.
I used to think we could change the world when I was younger. Perhaps it was flawed thinking then, or maybe the problem just wasn’t as bad. Either way, we’ve been in a constant state of war with an ideology for over twenty years. I’ve had conversation after conversation discussing the future of Islam and the Middle East. The question I continue to ask myself is “when will it ever stop?” I want to believe in our government, that we truly do look out for the better interest of the world. It’s hard however, to ignore a region such as the Middle East when each extremist group is more radical and militarily sophisticated than the last. Is it just a part of life? I hope not. I hope we can find common ground. I hope my kids can grow up in a world different than this one. Call it wishful thinking, call it being naive.. I call it hope for the greater good.