On Friday, October 14th, a 15-year-old boy opened fire, killing five and injuring four on a suburban walking trail in Raleigh, North Carolina. Once again, a community is grieving unnecessary losses and asking themselves why did yet another young male choose to take other people’s lives? This type of tragic news is becoming more common in the United States society while we are hearing less about how we can prevent such events. It feels like everyday activities like school, the mall, a concert, or the cinema are not safe anymore. Schools have become a place of fear as they are becoming less of a haven and more of a target. It is past due for The United States to asses why these active shootings are taking place to better understand and prevent them from happening in the future.
The United States History Of Mass Killings
The United States Congress defines mass shootings as “mass killing,” with “three or more people killed in a single incident, not including the perpetrator.” The Gun Violence Archive defines mass killings as “four or more people killed that do not include the shooter.” Unfortunately, there is not one entity or one government agency that keeps track and has a database of all the mass shootings in United States history. Some government entities, many non-profits, and psychologists have attempted to maintain some consensus throughout the years.
Research tells us that mass shootings were prevalent in the United States as early as 1891. In August of 1903, Gilbert Twig killed nine people and wounded 25 in a shooting in Kansas. In August 1966, Charles Whitman shot 14 people with a rifle and injured 31 at the University of Texas. In April 1999, Eric Harris killed 15 people and injured 24 at Columbine highschool. This particular mass killing is often what people remember and where many believe mass killings began even though they had already been occurring. This makes sense as the way we receive and collect information has drastically changed. As time goes on, we gain more technology that allows more communication giving us access to more information. Plus, people alive in the early 19th century are not alive now, which can make the memories of these mass shootings less prevalent today. Since 1966 the United States has seen an increase in mass killings that has shown no signs of slowing down. Sometimes it is hard to remember how many mass killings have occurred because so many take place. The latest will usually stay at the forefront of people’s minds. There has also been some desensitization from the number of mass killings. The Gun Violence Archive reports that in 2022 thus far, there have been 531 mass killings through mid-October.
The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines Social Contagion as “the spread of behaviors, attitudes, and affect through crowds and other social aggregates from one member to another.” Unfortunately, when a mass killing occurs, our society can expect more…especially if it is a vast mass killing with lots of media attention. It is not necessarily the media, the news, or the act to blame. Instead, these acts can trigger or encourage someone thinking of doing something similar. Perhaps that individual thought process is not specifically about killing someone; it could be revenge or contemplating how to get back at someone. These mass killings can plant a seed in someone’s troubled mind causing the act to make sense to them and, therefore, inadvertently encouraging them to perform a similar act of violence. Even the amount of media coverage of the suspect can be alluring to someone who is having similar thoughts.
When someone is desperate to be heard, having that amount of media coverage can seem attractive to them. There is a sense of notoriety when it comes to why people choose to mass kill. The United States is known for glamorizing true crime, and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer would even receive love letters while in jail for murdering multiple people, cannibalism, and many other heinous crimes. Dahmer is not someone the average person would think to idolize or write to. This is the culture that has been created. There is not one specific reason we see a chain reaction effect in our society, and we know that this phenomenon is occurring. The fact that we know this and do not implement immediate change is disheartening. News outlets need to focus less on the perpetrator and more on the victims and education. It can also be triggering for survivors to continue to hear about the subject of a mass killing and cause re-traumatization. Not much of how the United States navigates these events is particularly correct.
What Happened During Covid-19
During the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic, America experienced a decrease in active shooters. The decrease is due to isolation, and people stopped gathering in crowds or masses. Even school was not in session. This added an extra layer of protection from any large shootings. It has also been theorized that people’s stress levels were different. Although it was a stressful time for most, it was more of collective stress, and people were not alone in their struggles. Often events such as bullying can be isolated incidents that are against just one person or one group. Covid-19 affected the entire world, and the dynamic was less personal.
Why Is There a Disproportionate Amount of Male Shooters?
Research on why males make up a more significant percentage than women when committing these crimes can be conflicting. Some research states that men are more violent by nature than women. Upon first reading this, it can feel like a cop-out, like men are just violent simply because they are born violent. On the contrary, men have more violent tendencies, and it is essential to make this distinction.
Jillian Peterson and James Densley published a book called The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic, where they found that the self-hate that a mass shooter might have becomes external. They are looking for some external factor to place fault. Men tend to look for blame externally and do not internalize issues as much as others. Men also tend to be more violent regarding the nature of crimes and weapons used. For example, when it comes to committing suicide, women are less likely to use a gun than men.
When we deep dive into why mass killings occur, none of the theories or research is that much of a surprise. It makes sense that the two most significant issues contributing to mass killings are mental health and gun control. Both of which the United States does not have. Much research points to mental health being a significant culprit to why someone would choose to mass kill. While this makes much sense, mental health issues seem to be pushed away as a cause of the stigma on mental health in the United States. It has been found that there is a connection between mass killings and early childhood trauma that can include sexual assault, violence in the home, death, suicides, and so much more. Many mental health disorders and issues stem from childhood trauma or poor experiences. The informative years are called such for a reason; they are critical and will shape how the child views themselves and the world.
The Second Amendment states, “A well-regulated militia, necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep, and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This means all persons have the right to own firearms in the United States. The specific rules vary from State to State. In Florida, it is required to be 21 years old to purchase a gun unless you are a law enforcement officer or service member who would allow you to buy a rifle or shotgun at 18 years old. Florida does not require a firearm permit, and those purchasing will be subjected to a background check.
If you have no experience with a firearm and are wondering how easy it is to get a gun in Florida, it is painfully and inappropriately easy. After the mass shooting in Uvalde, many parents and youth took to social media to create videos exposing how easy it is to get a firearm in the United States. One young man under 18 walked into a firearm store and purchased a rifle like he was purchasing candy. No questions asked, no background check, and no ID required. Everyone has a different opinion on gun control and gun laws, and no matter what side you are on, it is evident we need more restrictions that are actually followed. No child should be able to walk in and purchase a gun and go through no questioning or screening.
All persons should be required to have a background check to screen for felonies and mental health issues which would exclude them from being able to purchase. This is not to say that people with mental health issues would have any rights violated, such as HIPPA. Everyone deserves for their private health information to stay private.
I had a friend check themselves into a hospital for psychiatric care in South Florida afyer experiencing a mental health crisis. She explained that she had to sign a form upon her arrival, forfeiting her right to purchase and have a firearm in the house. This makes sense, and if you have been experiencing a mental health crisis and you are a risk to yourself, there should be some protection against being around firearms. She signed the form and never heard another word about it. She is unsure if that form went anywhere or if she tried to purchase a firearm if she would be denied or stopped. Like when someone fails a background check, per the law, someone institutionalized for a mental health crisis should not have access to a firearm for six months to 12 months. It is just not clear if this is implemented.
Evidence points to it not being effective either way when it needs to be. No health information needs to be provided, just a system that alerts anyone processing a firearms request that this person is not a candidate to purchase at that time. We have to have more fails safes to not only protect individual people but to protect others from being harmed.
Gun owners also have an enormous responsibility to keep their guns safely. It does not matter if you live alone or with a family of ten; guns must be kept safely and securely. Guns should be locked away with limited accessibility.
What Else Can be Done
There are so many factors that can contribute to violence in our society. It is not just one thing, entity, person, or institution that needs to change; it is everything. First and foremost, Checking in with children, friends, and family members is imperative. Our mental health system needs a total rebuild, and there needs to be more support for children, free of cost. Mental health should not be contingent on financial stability, primarily when much stress, pain, and mental health issues stem from economic instability. It is just a paradox that makes no sense and does not serve our society.
Women also need the right to safe and effective abortions and birth control. Forcing women to have children that do not want them or are unable to care for one is setting up the child for failure. The system is not built to support unwanted children, and many, if not most mental health issues and violent behavior come from neglect. Research tells us that we as a society continue to ignore the magnitude of a child’s upbringing and how it will shape them for the future. We need stricter gun control and more accessible mental health aids freely available. School systems need to make mental health a top priority, and more funding needs to go to these areas. The United States will more than likely continue to see these tragedies unless a change is implemented. Why would we expect change if we are doing nothing to make it? That is the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
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