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Guns are not the problem. We are the problem.
If you look at the Wikipedia page about mass shootings in the US, you will find that five out of the seven accepted causes are psychological and cultural. Five. Out of Seven. Even they recognize that gun accessibility is only worth two points of discussion.
Let’s address the other five:
- Mental illness and its treatment (or the lack thereof) with psychiatric drugs. This is controversial. Many of the mass shooters in the U.S. suffered from mental illness, but the estimated number of mental illness cases has not increased as significantly as the number of mass shootings. Under 5% of violent behaviors in the U.S. are committed by persons with mental health diagnoses.
- The desire to seek revenge for a long history of being bullied at school. In recent years, citizens calling themselves “targeted individual” have cited adult bullying campaigns as a reason for their deadly violence.
- The widespread chronic gap between people’s expectations for themselves and their actual achievement, and individualistic culture.
- Desire for fame and notoriety. Also, mass shooters learn from one another through “media contagion,” that is, “the mass media coverage of them and the proliferation of social media sites that tend to glorify the shooters and downplay the victims.”
- The copycat phenomenon.
The United States and Europe are largely very liberal when it comes to mental illness. After the reforms of the 1960s and ’70s which prohibited involuntary admission to psych units without adjudicated evidence of being a danger to oneself, others, or gravely disabled, the US has seen an increase in violent crimes. Why? This population is largely homeless, transient, and incapable of holding down a job. However, these people can answer questions correctly and care for their basic needs. Because our standards have ensured a maximum amount of freedom, people who act actively psychotic are on the streets. They are violent and they have the right to refuse medication, even in prison. They can, then, continue to be mentally ill.
Is this freedom?
On one hand, yes it is. People have the right to refuse treatment. Even if that treatment ensures some amount of awareness and sanity. Just like drug abuse, one may choose to remain disoriented and incapable of approaching reality. This is your right.
But is it really?
Please take a moment and consider where your freedom ends.
Let’s be honest. Given the means to exact revenge, most of us would not exact it. We wouldn’t. We have the ability to go out and buy a gun. We could publish terrible things online. We could “swat” someone. But we do not. We have a cultural push not to do these things. They do not benefit us because we are group participants and doing so would make us outsiders in a larger group. Getting our revenge, whether or not deserved, would stigmatize us from our groups. So we wallow. We complain, we bellyache, we whine. But we simply do not go and exact our revenge! More often than not, we realize that our offenses are not mortal insults. They are terrible, they are life-ruining sometimes. But even then, we realize that one life (still lived) is better than a life ended in violence. This is a cultural understanding.
Somewhere along the line, these people have decided that revenge is more valuable than group living.
We used to ostracize those people.
Achievement is Everything
I should clarify this, as should Wikipedia: the appearance of achievement is everything. Social media is really antisocial media. People are using this to taunt one another and tailor a specific view of their lives. They do not post every time they fail at something; only when their successes are interesting or dramatic. This leads to a certain fallacy that everything that is observed is representative of that which is done in one’s life. This is obviously not true, but the brain does not always lend itself to logic. The important thing is that mom said I’d make something of myself and everyone else is. If I’m 19 and barely making it in community college and my peers are social media influencers and posting about all their friends and dates and excellent grades, I’m going to feel a bit out of my element. If everyone can (and apparently does!) do this, why am I so defective? Why can’t I do anything? Why am I so…not special?
This leads to the next.
Notoriety is the type of fame that these people crave. If you can’t be famous for a good reason, be famous for a bad reason. Guns are easy. Point and click. People? They’re just faces on a screen. They’re people you’ll never know. They mean nothing to you. If life only had a reason in context and morality is only true in context then lives only have meaning in context. Therefore strangers are nothing.
And nothing is something when you’re trying to be famous.
If you could use nothing, literally nothingness, in order to gain yourself fame, fortune, notoriety, attention, why wouldn’t you? There’s no value on human life. In relation to yourself, it is nothing. So why not?
This is where I am at my failing, to be honest. I think this wraps up and has a component in the narcissism and mental illness. There is a certain reactionary, “Fine! Do that! I’ll beat you!” This leads us into game ideas. The idea is to “one up” your opponent. The idea is that really life is meaningless anyway, so it is a competition to see who can get the most kills. The idea is that notoriety can only be achieved by being the best. The best, in this case, is the most deadly. By seeing these killings, people with psychotic tendencies get anxious. It is not just that they see their ideas playing out (though this is certainly part of it), but it is a certain type of restless agitation. They can see their ideas. They can see how they can improve upon the previous before anyone can stop them then, and only then, they can be *the best*.
I know most of this is preaching to the choir about gun control. Ultimately guns are tools in the way that cars are tools. But we need to understand that there is something that is very sick in this country and it isn’t just about moms and dads and too many guns. It is about media and appearances and feeling a need to be an individual stamp in a world where everything gets attention but you. We need to examine our policies on mental illness very carefully and though I’m wary of government control of anything, we need to sincerely examine the freedoms we give people who are actively psychotic.
These people live with us and they are valuable parts our society when they can function within it. When they can’t, they need to be subject to the same restrictions as others.