14 April 2023 ~
If it seems that every day there is a mass shooting in America – well – it is because there is. The Gun Violence Archive has documented 155 mass shootings in 2023, and we are only 104 days into the year. In fact, on Monday, 10 April, there were two shootings in Louisville, Kentucky within a mile of each other, a few hours apart, in which seven people were killed and ten were injured.
The FBI defines a mass shooting (also called an active shooter incident) as an event in which “one or more individuals are actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area, with a firearm.” Although the FBI has not set a minimum number of fatalities to qualify as a mass shooting, the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012, defines a mass killing as three or more killed or injured in a single event.
Inevitably, when there is a mass shooting in America, the reaction is almost always the same. Two topics dominate the conversation: gun reform and mental health. The incidents are habitually followed by the sentiment of “thoughts and prayers.” However, when the subject of gun reform is pushed, many lawmakers and those opposed to any reform insist that it is “too soon” to discuss viable outcomes and solutions to prevent the next mass shooting. Note to whoever is postponing the discussion… please let us know when it is a good time to meet, and the part of America that is tired of this senseless tragedy will show up. If we continue to say that gun reform is not worth the number of deaths – or if we fail to take steps to change the dynamics of this issue, one thing is certain… there will continue to be mass shootings in America.
A Deeply Divided Nation
In a nation with a constitutionally protected right to bear arms, there are some 400 million firearms, to its 331 million population. To say that the US loves its guns would be an understatement and one that comes at a cost. Over the last fifty years, the number of people killed by firearms in the US exceeded the number of soldiers killed in combat in all of our wars combined. If we were to list the names of those killed by gun violence in this century, the monument would be twelve times longer than the Vietnam War Memorial. Some, 2.5 million people have been injured by firearms in the United States – 750,000 of them have died in the first 23 years of the 21st century.
The call for gun reform includes an increase in the age to purchase a firearm, a requirement for deeper background checks, a renewed ban on assault-style weapons, and the implementation of red flag laws. Red flag laws are a preventative measure used by law enforcement regarding persons who are at risk for using a firearm to harm. However, the person does not have a criminal background, and there is no mental health hold against them. It basically prevents that individual from having legal access to a firearm for a year. Basic prevention efforts could help stop future violent events involving firearms.
Calls to renew the ban on assault-style weapons began in 2012 after Sandy Hook. Calls have been echoed this year in the midst of 155 mass shootings, and have increasingly become louder in the wake of the Nashville school shooting on 28 March and the Louisville bank shooting on 10 April. Meanwhile, those opposed, such as the National Rifle Association, resist any gun restrictions as an unacceptable violation of the Second Amendment and refuse any sort of compromise.
Mental Health, or Something More?
The stigma surrounding mental health and gun violence has been discussed ad nauseam. After a mass shooting, it is a basic impulse to blame one or the other, and it is not uncommon to hear the masses point to mental health as the culprit. Mental health has become the “go-to” for blame after a mass shooting because let’s face it… would a person who takes a gun to a school and kills children, teachers, and custodians, do that if they were mentally sound? The answer to that may surprise you.
FACT: mental illness is very common in our country, and the statistics surrounding mental illnesses are sobering. Some 53 million people – about twenty percent of the population – meet the standards for at least one psychiatric diagnosis. And yet the vast majority, some 98 percent, never have been, and likely never will be, violent. Further, according to an FBI analysis of 63 active shooters, only 17 of them – less than twenty-five percent – had a diagnosis of mental illness.
What’s more… even if there were no mental illnesses, mass violence would only decrease by about three percent. That means, 97 percent of gun violence and mass shootings in America, would still happen. So, if mental illness is taken out of the equation, as a logical explanation for mass shootings, then what? FBI analysis indicates the majority of active shooters are acting from deep grievances and rage, and suggests that a life crisis is a clearer indicator that the individual could be at risk for a violent event.
It is a misconception that people enter some altered state of consciousness – “go crazy” – and start shooting. The fact is that the vast majority of mass shootings are planned out weeks or months in advance. In most cases, the shooter leaves behind detailed notes, diagrams, drawings, and some type of “manifesto”. Considering the amount of ammunition and weapons used in mass shootings take times to acquire, it makes the idea of a spontaneous incident less likely. The idea that someone just “snaps” and goes to a school and starts shooting, is difficult to support.
Lessons in Mass Shootings
Crisis, trauma, and loss are more likely to be the trigger for an active shooter incident. Other triggers include vengeance, racism and bigotry, and dehumanization or “othering”. Dehumanization is the idea that falsely identifies a group or individuals as less than human, as enemies, or as “others” who need to be eliminated. It may be rage against a group, or location, and may have nothing to do with the people targeted in the incident. Dehumanization is actually the fourth stage of genocide.
In 2012, Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty of the victims were children between the ages of six and seven years old. When he finished his spree, he took his own life.
Dylan Roof is a white supremacist who killed nine African Americans while attending a Bible study class in a Charleston, South Carolina church. Roof’s actions are those of a racist ideology and not a mental illness.
In 2016, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old male entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and began firing. Mateen had radical Muslim views and an intense hatred of the LGBTQ+ community. He killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. Mateen’s mass shooting was racist and a hate crime, but not necessarily mental illness.
Stephen Paddock fired more than 1000 rounds into a crowd at the Las Vegas Harvest Festival in 2017, killing 60 and injuring 867 others. Paddock used bump stocks to increase his ability to fire rapid rounds. The shooter used fourteen AR-15 weapons (some equipped with bump stocks), eight AR-10 firearms, and twelve 100-round magazines. The intent was to kill. Paddock was killed by police officers.
The Uvalde school shooting at Robb Elementary in May 2022 had similarities to Sandy Hook. Nineteen children and two adults were killed, and seventeen were injured, by Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old former student at the school. Reports indicated that Ramos had been bullied at the school. Uvalde is especially tragic because law enforcement waited 77 minutes because they were afraid of the AR-15 that the shooter was using.
Some shooters have a grievance or are trying to correct an injustice and use an ideology of vengeance and retaliation as a motive to carry out a mass shooting. In Nashville, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, a transgender identifying as a male, entered the Covenant School and fired 152 rounds from two AR-15 weapons and a handgun, killing six people, three of whom were 9-year-old children. The shooter had previously attended the school. A manifesto revealed that she had planned the attack for months and had planned to hit several locations that day. The manifesto included a detailed map of the school.
Just days after the Covenant School shooting, a former student of Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs was arrested after allegedly planning a mass shooting at the school. William Whitworth, who identifies as a transgender female, had instructions on how to build homemade bombs. Whitworth’s sister reported him to authorities. saying they were behaving violently and planned to carry out a school shooting.
This is not to say that some mass shootings are not carried out by seriously mentally ill persons. In Aurora Colorado, James Holmes killed twelve people and injured seventy others in a theater shooting in 2012. He had no criminal background; however, Holmes was seen by several psychiatrists; at least one, a few days before he carried out the theatre shooting. One of the psychiatrists said his mental condition was dangerous. They considered placing Holmes on an involuntary commitment but declined, stating that Holmes was ‘borderline’, and that the hold would anger him. The doctor was afraid of Holmes.
Common Ground Solutions
The common thread in the majority of the crimes listed here and many more not listed (Stoneman Douglass and Columbine) – are easy access to guns, the type of weapon used in mass shootings, influence from extremist views and writings, the rise in domestic terrorism, the failure to act by police and medical professionals once made aware of “red flags”, and the failure to act by our elected officials. In every single case, someone knows that something is not “right” with the shooter, but they either brush it aside or fail to act or report their concerns.
Some believe that guns in classrooms are a better idea. Seriously, arming teachers is not a solution, not even on a voluntary basis. Seven out of ten students, eight out of ten teachers, and seven out of ten parents oppose arming teachers. There are hundreds of reports where guns were left accessible to children in a classroom. Having served in the classroom, I can tell you firsthand that there are many distractions, and the curiosity of students – at any grade level – is a recipe for tragedy.
Similarly, civilians should not have access to automatic weapons or weapons used in combat. The nature of combat weapons is to kill as many people, as quickly as possible. It is not intended for sport. Ammunition that is fired by an AR-15 makes a small bullet entry hole and expands as it goes through the body, leaving a gaping exit hole the size of a large orange or small grapefruit. The victims who suffer headshots with that style of weapon – quite literally have half their head’s removed. For the parents of children killed by an AR-15, those were the last images they will ever see of their children. No one should have to experience that.
Now tell me again why you need that – as a civilian? The short answer is that you don’t. I’ve spent a lot of time in countries where these weapons are used in armed conflict in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq… and I was shot by one of them – if not for a vest… On the battlefield, in the hands of trained service members, these weapons are appropriate, but not on American streets, on school campuses, in shopping centers, in churches…. and now, in a bank in Louisville, Kentucky.
My gun enthusiast friends tell me that they enjoy firing an AR-15 at a gun range, or in a controlled environment. They certainly cannot take it deer hunting. Yet, not one of them, aside from my friends who have actually served in armed combat… will agree that the streets of America are no place for a weapon intended to be used in war.
My gun enthusiast friends argue that it is their right to own a weapon that is used by military service members in armed conflict. But for what purpose? Just because you can… doesn’t mean you should.
Can we not be sensible about this?
With gratitude… Lara
Photo Credit: Bystanders and mourners cast shadows on the walls and the memorial at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on 18 June 2015, a day after a mass shooting left nine dead during a Bible study at the church. “Image” by zackcarlson1 is marked with Public Domain 1.0
#thinkingoutloud #larakajs #TOL #massshootingsinAmerica #gunviolence #gunreform #mentalhealth #mentalillness