In the last two weeks, three colleges in the United States have been the victims of shootings. Mass shootings, school shootings, are happening far too frequently, and the response of politicians, the media, and the general public is always the same. Everyone expresses outrage and sorrow over the shooting (as they should). The media goes into great detail about the shooting and the shooter. Security precautions are discussed. Politicians and one segment of the population starts pushing for gun control. Another segment of the population is afraid the government will take away their constitutional right to own firearms. Gun sales go up. People starting talking about the need to improve mental health care and reporting of those with mental illness. Then all the talk dies down, gun sales go back to normal, and nothing changes.
The predictability is disturbing, as is the complete avoidance of the real issue. These shootings are not a gun control problem. They are not a mental health problem. They are a societal problem. Tightening regulations on the sale of guns or banning them all together won’t solve the issue. Increasing access to mental health care and improving diagnostic techniques, while an excellent and much needed step forward, won’t solve the issue.
The real issue is that somehow people in this country have come to believe that violence is an acceptable response to anger. All the regulations and laws in the world won’t solve that. It’s something that must be solved at the community level, at the family and individual level.
Mass shootings make headlines because of their horrific nature, but all the focus on the big shootings distracts people from the reality of violence that occurs each and every day across this nation. Somewhere in the United States on any given day, someone is a victim of gun violence. Even more people are victims of other kinds of violence, whether through domestic violence, bullying, or a fight. People solve their fights with fists, knives, and violent words, not just guns. Violence is a pervasive problem, affecting every person in this country at some point in their lives.
The majority of the people perpetrating violence through words or actions are probably not mentally ill. In fact, the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Improving access to mental health care is an excellent goal, but it needs to be pursued for the right reasons. Do it to help those suffering in silence. To help those who want help but can’t find it due to a lack of availability or affordability in their area. Don’t do it in an effort to stop mass shootings. That puts the focus on identifying those who might commit a heinous crime at some point in the future rather than focusing on helping those with mental illness live successful, productive lives.
Tightening gun control might help slow the tide of gun violence, but it would only treat one symptom of a much larger illness. Many school shooters have been victims of bullying. Several weren’t old enough to legally buy guns, so gun control wouldn’t have made a difference in those situations. Preventing the bullying they suffered likely could have prevented the shootings as well. Tighter gun control wouldn’t have any effect at all on the people who choose to use a knife or build a bomb with common household items.
What we as a nation need to focus on is not knee-jerk reactions to tragic events, but combatting the pervasive anger and violence throughout our society. Many say parents need to teach their children to respect laws and not fight or bully others, but what if those parents haven’t been taught those same things? Would you expect a person who has never learned French to teach someone to speak it?
Instead of shifting blame from one place to another, we need to accept that we are all responsible for changing the culture of violence. We need to model healthy ways to deal with anger and disagreements, not just in person, but online as well. Diplomacy seems to be getting lost in the “us vs. them” world we live in. We can change that. Instead of looking to Washington to solve the problem of violence in this country, we need to look to ourselves and our families. If each of us works to change our own behaviors and model healthy ways to deal with anger and frustration to those around us, our communities would change. The violence and anger that are everywhere we turn would fade. The shootings, abuse, and bullying would become less frequent.
Society is what we make it. Instead of continuing to follow the predictable patterns of the past that do nothing to stop the violence, let’s work together to make this nation a friendlier, safer place to live. If you want to change the status quo, start making changes in your own homes and neighborhoods. All those small changes will work together to change the world.