What Should America Do About Mass Shootings?


By Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA (High school students protest for gun law reform) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Today marks the passing of one month since Marjory Stoneman Douglas Highschool in Parkland, Florida lost seventeen of its students and faculty to a teen shooter.

It was a tragic day for the victims’ families and for the school community, but also for America as a whole as she realized that there was yet another mass shooting to be added to an already long list. Defined as an incident in which four or more people are shot (not including the shooter), data from the Gun Violence Archive shows that there have been 45 mass shootings in 2018 alone. And this is no surprise.

In fact, 31% of all mass shootings in the world happen in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the children under age 14 who are killed by guns in high-income countries, 90% of them are killed in the U.S. The CDC has also concluded that gun violence is the third leading cause of death for children (aged 1-17 years old). What’s interesting is that despite this growing crisis, Congress refuses to allow the CDC to use their research to advocate for gun control.

Might that have anything to do with the fact that our federal government currently receives millions of dollars in funding from the National Rifle Association? I think yes.

The NRA recently sued the state of Florida for passing a bill in response to Parkland. The legislation effectively raises the minimum age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21, in addition to banning the sale and possession of bump stocks, giving more power to law enforcement to seize the guns of those labeled mentally unfit, and better funding armed school resource officers. Furthermore, it also includes a provision which allows teachers to carry guns at school. The NRA’s lawsuit specifically targets the new minimum age requirement, claiming that it violates the 2nd and 14th Amendments of the Constitution.

Personally, it does not make sense that a person can legally own a gun before they are old enough to drink. Although I recognize that eighteen is also the age one can enter the military, it only furthers my opinion that guns should not be in the hands of any civilian who receives only a simple background check. Instead, like those who choose to join the military, people should have to undergo training. Through different conversations with people, I’ve heard opinions from both sides of the debate, and often guns are compared to cars in the sense of individual ownership, responsibility, and posing a possible danger: For those in opposition to gun control, they uphold the idea that when a person gets into a car accident, the driver is at fault, not the car. By this logic, gun owners should not have to give up their guns when it’s specific individuals who are responsible for gun violence (It’s the person, not the gun). On the other hand, people argue that similar to driving a car, a person who desires to use/own a gun must go through an educational and safety program, pass a test in order to obtain a license, etc.

Many are now calling for mental health assessments to be part of background checks, something President Donald Trump as well as the NRA have agreed on (Click here to see how buying a gun in the U.S. compares to other countries). But a look at the psychological and demographic profiles of mass shooters indicate that their only shared characteristic is that they are male; ergo, there is not a specific mental illness to be considered a trigger. However, there are some patterns evident in people who are inclined to kill strangers, such as having paranoia, resentment, or narcissism. In a study conducted by New York forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone on 200 mass murderers, while depression and psychopathy were apparent in nearly a fourth of them, there was no clear relationship between mental illness (to the extent of a disorder) and their actions. So in that respect it’s not entirely certain that mental health care could have prevented violence. Read more about profiling mass shooters: https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map/

Professors from several universities across the nation worked together to create an eight-point Call for Action to Prevent Gun Violence in The United States as a way of solving the issue from a different angle – public health. Anya Kamenetz in her article on npr.org, “Here’s How To Prevent the Next School Shooting, Experts Say”, summarizes:

Don’t harden schools. Make them softer, by improving social and emotional health…

Instead of waiting for people to, again, be rushed into emergency rooms, you go into the community with preventive resources. You do your best to lower the background levels of bullying and discrimination. You track the data and perform what is called “threat assessments” on potential risks.

And, these experts say, you remove the major “environmental hazard” that contributes to gun violence: the guns. The eight-point plan calls for universal background checks, a ban on assault-style weapons, and something called Gun Violence Protection Orders: a type of emergency order that would allow police to seize a gun when there is an imminent threat.

What sets this call to action apart from other policy proposals is not gun control, however, but the research-based approach to violence prevention and response. This is a long haul, say the experts, not a quick fix.

Whatever the case, the most important thing we can do right now is to not let this issue die out. As a country, I fear that we have become so emotionally numb to these violent attacks. We see the stories flash across the news and are saddened for a moment, but then we do the unspeakable: We forget. By detaching ourselves, we let the victims and the shootings fade away from our minds after a time. But it’s now, more than ever, when we must take control of our power as people and speak on behalf of those who lost their lives, take action to protect against future victims, and continue relentlessly until we see change.

Students: Things To Think About

  • Why do you support or oppose gun reform?
  • Should teachers be armed in case of an active shooter at school?
  • How should our government address mass shootings? Through a public health approach? Stricter regulations on guns?
  • What do you think gun control should look like?