There have been 256 mass shootings to date in 2019 alone. In just this past week, there were two mass shootings in two days: one in El Paso, Texas and one in Dayton, Ohio. Combined, there were a total of 29 people killed and dozens more wounded. What is happening?
There is a debate going on regarding the cause of mass shootings. Some believe these shootings are the result of mental illness, others believe the problem is about gun access and still, others contend the problem is hate. The unspoken fourth factor is being male. The likely truth, though, is that mass shootings aren’t caused by any one single factor, but rather by a series of factors—such as those mentioned above.
Sadly, we live in a society right now where access to guns is easy, hate is spewed on a daily basis, countless people are anxious, and many people struggle with some form of mental illness or emotional stressors. We also live in a society that teaches males to be aggressive and emotionally shut down. While all of these factors may, in fact, contribute to mass shootings, each of these factors in and of itself is not enough to cause someone to shoot down multiple innocent strangers.
Regarding the hate, we live in a nation where calling people stupid, condemning whole groups of people, such as immigrants and gays, and making racist and misogynistic comments are done and publicized on a daily basis. These behaviors start at the very top and trickle down to every level in our society. The President of the United States incites his base to chant “Lock her up,” “Send her back” and “Build a wall” and his base dutifully picks up the torch and excitedly continues the chants—as far down as middle school kids in cafeterias. The alt-right praises the hate, white nationalists cheer it, and mass shooters are charged up by it. Hate alone, though, is unlikely to cause a mass shooting. There are numerous hate groups consisting of hundreds and thousands of members who are not shooting up places. Hate is certainly a factor, but hate alone is unlikely to lead to a mass shooting.
The claims that mental illness is the culprit ignore the fact that mental illness strikes males and females alike, however, female mass shooters are very rare. Mental illness isn’t causing mass shootings. Countless men and women all over the world struggle with mental illness, but they are not shooting up schools, churches, malls, bars, synagogues, movie theaters and everywhere in between. In fact, it’s more common for those struggling with mental illness to take it out on themselves instead of on others. Mental illness is not “the” problem leading to mass shootings.
Regarding the fourth factor—being male—96% of mass shooters are men. Many recent shooters have been predominantly white men with issues of anger and hate. Not surprisingly, domestic violence is also common with these men. Ignoring these facts about males or being offended by this statement is harmful to the future safety of our country. Although being male certainly increases the chances of a person engaging in this type of behavior, there are countless males all over the world who will never be mass shooters.
But . . . combine several of the above factors together and you have the makings of a mass shooting. Males filled with hate and/or anger certainly have higher odds of becoming mass shooters, but that can’t happen unless they have access to guns. Add insecurity and isolation to the hate and give them access to guns and you now have all the components needed to make a mass shooter—with or without any mental illness in the mix. The odds increase even more if the male has a history of domestic violence.
Mass shootings, like so many other serious issues in our world today, are a complex problem that will not be solved by a simple fragmented solution. It’s time we all stop thinking simplistically and start tackling this issue—and so many others like it—from a systemic perspective. It’s time we stop arguing about which factor is “the” factor and instead start getting more nuanced in our approaches to solving this tragedy. The truth is, we have to reduce access to guns just as much as we have to explore and address the problem of violence in men. The atmosphere of hate in our country is inciting more hatred, fear and mental illness across the board. This hostility needs to be drastically curtailed and replaced with compassion and acceptance for all mankind—from the top down. Until we address mass shootings from this systemic perspective, everyone would be wise to brace themselves for many more mass shootings. Making gun control a priority is necessary to slow this trend down and provide the time necessary to address the other pieces to this equation, but gun control alone will not solve the problem. The bottom line is that mass shooting is a complex problem that requires complex solutions.
Challenge: Start tackling hate in your home, your schools and your places of work. Notice it, call it out and don’t cheer it on, excuse it or incite it in any way. Raise your boys with compassion, not stoicism and indifference. Raise your girls to be strong and confident rather than “nice” and beautiful. In the workplace, mentor, don’t shame. Create an environment of acceptance and inclusion rather than entitlement and exclusion.