What to do about mass shootings?
Updated: May 30
As you well know, there's been several high profile mass shootings in the country recently, and many of us are questioning what we can do.
Some folks are for hardening schools, other folks, as you can see with the current administration are pushing for tighter gun control laws, banning of certain guns (again,) etc. in an attempt to somehow deal with the problem.
so , we have to ask ourselves some questions:
1) Do strict gun control laws work?
According to statista, which bases it's numbers on a database of ongoing research of mass shootings by mother jones (a left leaning organization by the way, that has a more restrictive view of data,) California actually tops the list of mass shootings in the country, despite having some of the toughest gun control laws. texas and florida trailed by approximately 10 mass shootings, according to statista's list despite having lesser controls. according to world population review, illinois, shows up as having the second highest, depending on the metric, despite having requirements for firearm ownership that are akin to California's laws. these numbers vary from source to source as there's no defined definition of what a mass shooting actually is , so depending on the source we use, they're either happening all the time , or they're rare.
In light of this, some folks will come out and say 'well mass shootings are like a lightning strike, and are very rare,' which automatically defeats their argument, which then becomes, why are we talking about gun control when these events are very rare? while California's overall mortality rate for firearms deaths has gone down, that mortality rate isn't necessarily relevant to the topic of mass shootings, because the mortality rate itself pertains to other factors, versus the topic of whether or not those laws stop mass shootings. According to the data, they haven't, and in fact, California is the most prevalent for school shootings.
2) "ban certain guns, and have background checks!"
Then the topic might shift to, 'well, military hardware, we have to ban this certain type of gun', but we can point to the fact that , in terms of guns used, handguns actually tops the list in terms of mass shootings (i.e. 4 or more people shot,) while so called 'assault weapons' account for a percentage of a percent of a category.
It's based on perceived severity and a bludgeoning by the media which tends to create trauma, and the illusion of how bad this is. why? because the guns used themselves are iconic and burned into our brains, not from war, but rather Hollywood for the past 40+ years. A handgun simply won't get the attention the rifle will. they call for banning military hardware despite the gun itself never actually being used by the military (it's a semi-auto version, that was modified internally 6 different ways before it was released to the public.)
So, then, in our struggle to deal with the horror of what happened, we start stating gun control laws are the answer, if we had a law, this wouldn't have happened. background checks, we need background checks. Right? I recently I read a comment on a local paper's message board which stated that in Texas, not only could the shooter go out and buy 2 AR-15s for his birthday (which cost him over 3,000 combined by the way,) and there was no background check, because it's Texas, and they have lax laws.
This is blatantly ignorant and false. The shooter went through the legal process. By law, ever gun dealer, federally, must conduct a background check on a purchaser. Depending on the state, the dealer will either interface with an intermediary, which runs the background check on behalf of the dealer (as we do in CA,) or the dealer will directly interface with the NICS system and either do so via a phone call or online.
For those who don't know, the NICS system is run by the FBI, and when a dealer calls, it's the FBI that gives the approval. Data is transmitted, including but not limited to: name, age, height, weight, SSN (optional), street address, county you live in, and where you were born. the FBI has 3 days to give an approval, and after that time frame, a dealer can release the firearm, should the FBI not find anything. sometimes, this is a fallible process, as was the case with the Charleston shooter, where the FBI dropped the ball, or the southerland Texas shooting, where the military did not give the FBI the data, that would have flagged and denied the shooter. the same can be said for the shooter in new york, who the state police didn't flag for their red flag laws, which would have prevented his ability to purchase.
Simply put, regardless of the state, a background check is needed to purchase a firearm from a dealer, and by and large, most of these shooters purchased their firearms legally, so when they do happen, it's indicative of a systemic failure, because either there's no information which would preclude a purchase, or there's missing data that would have. While the dealers are the first line of defense, we're heavily reliant on the second line, our partners, the DOJ/FBI to tell us yes or no, an make that determination that it is okay to release the firearm. So those politicians pushing universal background checks after incidents like these, are really pushing an agenda, versus looking at the reality of the situation, namely, dealers do not release guns to people without authorization. according to data from the violence project, 34% of the guns used in mass shootings, came from federally licensed dealers, while only 6% came from private sales, further, 26% were illegal non-purchases. So, of that 34%, which is the highest metric, how exactly would expanded background checks help, other than to maybe cover that 6% figure? it doesn't address, at all, the quarter of the guns, roughly, used which were gotten illegally. unless it boosts funding to do the job, better, it doesn't really help.
what do I mean by that? the CA DOJ, as well as the ATF, and FBI are understaffed and underfunded as it pertains to dealing with firearms sales. ideally, allowing these places to be funded to do their jobs better, on a state or federal level, would be good, however, in the case of CA, expanding the DROS fees we pay for background checks, hasn't really fixed the problem, as there's roughly 10 inspectors covering 1900 dealers +/- in the entire state, and often not as many as needed to efficiently run the other departmental areas, which caused a slow down on both the federal and local processing level during the height of the pandemic buying of 2020.
3. "it's not a mental health issue it's a gun issue!, this doesn't happen in other countries."
now , certain folks, in their desperation, and lack of knowledge, will point to it being that our country has easy access to guns, and not the declining state of our quality of life that's the problem. It's not the growing amount of suicides, bullying, blaming, shaming, assaulting, the despondency, the lack of empathy from folks, it's the guns right? it can't possibly be the exposure people have to all of that, where folks are treated unethically and horribly, that's the problem, right?
Don't be so sure. According to the Violence Project, which was undertaken by two psychologists in an attempt to understand the underlying causes of mass shootings and what we can do to address them, by directly interviewing those mass shooters who had survived, Over 80% of mass shooters were in a noticeable crisis prior to their shooting, 40% of that percentage had been that way for years, 29.7% were like that way for months leading to the shootings, 15% were that way for weeks, and about 13% were that way for days leading up to the shootings they committed.
OF the data compiled, only 18.8% of the shooters showed no signs of there being a problem, while 37.7% showed 5+ of the following signs:
increased agitation (66.9%)
abusive behavior (41.9%)
losing reality (33.1%)
depressed mood (29.7%)
mood swings (27.3%)
inability to complete daily tasks (24.4%)
Now, sometimes we'll see folks saying, well they just went crazy, but in the data the Violence project looks at, 70% of shootings involved no psychosis. however, because of some of the felt things above, they found that many times, shooters had experience feelings of suicide , both before and during the events, with shooters dying on the scene 59% of the time.
Of the shootings , overwhelmingly, mass shootings occurred in the workplace, while school shootings, only account for 6% of these events. of these occurrences, folks committing these acts were employees at the place they worked 91% of the time, or students where they attended the school 85% of the time.
If we step back and look at the shooter from Texas, he was reportedly prone to violent outbursts, made inappropriate or threatening remarks to coworkers; he was known to take boxing gloves around with him in an attempt to fight people at random; his former best friend had stated that he saw once saw him with cuts all over his face , and when confronted, stated he'd done it to himself, and did it for fun; he'd left his mother's home over a fight regarding the wifi password of all things, in which police were called, and became more and more detached prior to that; his father wasn't in the picture, and had to stay away due to the pandemic and his mother having cancer, which the shooter didn't like; he was bullied in town for looking different, in a town that is predominantly his own race, and the mother supposedly had drug issues. He was effectively beat up by his life's circumstances, and shut down, and nobody intervened- not the schools, not his family, not his friends. this may seem like blaming, but it's not. it's just reality, he effectively by all accounts, felt very alone, and became very angry.
All of these things, when looked at through the lense of setting somebody up to be in crisis, should be huge red flags, as he likely felt alone, rejected, misunderstood, and un-noteworthy, and over time, became more and more angry, and wished to hurt others in some way, because of the pain he felt in his own life, and with little or no support system that could step in, his mind went in a direction that told him he needed to hurt people, to get whatever he thought he needed, whether it be revenge, notoriety, which he got after the fact, as we all saw his face, and know his name.
But it's not a uniquely american problem. other countries, such as venezuala, mexico, jamaica and brazil, for instance, are higher, however we tend to use metrics like rich and developed countries, for why we're somehow exceptional.
In mexico, gun ownership is even more tightly regulated by the government for instance, and has extremely restrictive laws regarding gun possession. from wikipedia "There are only two stores in the entire country, DCAM near the capital, and OTCA, in Apodaca, Nuevo León. It also takes months of paperwork to have a chance at purchasing one legally. That said, there is a common misconception that firearms are illegal in Mexico and that no person may possess them. This belief originates from the general perception that only members of law enforcement, the armed forces, or those in armed security protection are authorized to have them. While it is true that Mexico possesses strict gun laws, where most types and calibers are reserved to military and law enforcement, the acquisition and ownership of certain firearms and ammunition remains a constitutional right to all Mexican citizens and foreign legal residents; given the requirements and conditions to exercise such right are fulfilled in accordance to the law.[
The right to keep and bear arms was first recognized as a constitutional right under Article 10 of the Mexican Constitution of 1857. However, as part of the Mexican Constitution of 1917, Article 10 was changed[ where-by the right to keep and bear arms was given two separate definitions: the right to keep (derecho a poseer in Spanish) and the right to bear (derecho a portar in Spanish). The new version of Article 10 specified that citizens were entitled to keep arms (own them) but may only bear them (carry them) among the population in accordance to police regulation. This modification to Article 10 also introduced the so-called ...[arms] for exclusive use of the [military]... (in Spanish: ...de uso exclusivo del Ejército...), dictating that the law would stipulate which weapons were reserved for the armed forces, including law enforcement agencies, for being considered weapons of war.
In 1971, Article 10 of the present Constitution was changed to limit the right to keep arms within the home only (in Spanish: ...derecho a poseer armas en su domicilio...) and reserved the right to bear arms outside the home only to those explicitly authorized by law (i.e. police, military, armed security officers). The following year, the Federal Law of Firearms and Explosives came into force and gave the federal government complete jurisdiction and control to the legal proliferation of firearms in the country; at the same time, heavily limiting and restricting the legal access to firearms by civilians.
As a result of the changes to Article 10 of the Mexican Constitution and the enactment of the Federal Law of Firearms and Explosives, openly carrying a firearm or carrying a concealed weapon in public is virtually forbidden to private citizens, unless explicitly authorized by the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA). For purposes of personal protection, firearms are only permitted within the place of residence and of the type and caliber permitted by law. "
Yet despite those extremely tight controls, they still have a higher rate of death.
in terms of deaths in rich countries, finland is comprarable to the US in suicides, even though it's much smaller, and over all, by population, other countries are much higher in intentional gun deaths.
so what can we do about it as a culture?
1) first, we need to stop playing the naming shaming blaming game and assign accountability to where it belongs, namely, the criminal and the shooter. often times we're looking for somebody to blame and take our outrage and anger out on because the shooter is dead, and often times, that is directed at those we disagree with. lately, it's had to do with gun owners, politicians, the 'gun lobby' , when these things happen, but none of these people control or have control of the shooter, nor is it any of their responsibility to take. simply put, we have to acknowledge that the shooter / criminal did these things, and stop blaming. why? because it shuts down any conversation that could be had on the matter or common ground.
2) Educate ourselves. the media, for a long time now, has one goal in mind: ratings, and as such, they'll put anything out there they can in order to garner readership or viewership. politicians do similar in order to get themselves reelected or political points for higher office. Very seldomly do they do something without an intent. case in point, a candidate for governor of Texas grand standing during a press conference about the shooting.
further, it's important to educate ourselves on the topics that cause these issues, but also as to why we have the bill of rights in the first place. many times, folks will attribute it to hunting or a need of some sort, but the bill of rights has nothing to do with hunting, and is not defined by any other need than the right of the people to keep and bear arms is tied to the security of the free state, precisely because that right, and many others were effectively stripped from the colonists during british rule where the colonies had become a way out after the English crown had bankrupted itself during the french and indian war . That said, while we have that right, we should actively exercise that right and train frequently and often, as it's a perishable skill- one that shouldn't be taught to youngsters by video games or movies, nor should it be demonized.
3) teach social and emotional skills in school , build a stronger social safety net with adequate jobs, childcare, healthcare and access to education. very often, we're taught not to have conflict, not to deal with things, not to feel things, and our needs go unmet. as a society, we should endeavor to change that, so that ultimately, we as human beings can insure our needs are met to become functional and health adults, which would reduce stress. the media will say , often that's these are about hate, but it's not always the case .
4) reduce the stigma of seeking mental health care and on top of it, make access to said care readily available, fund counselors in school, and make sure that we have access to high quality healthcare. far too often our governmental programs are such that the quality of care, if available, is not so great. departments, such as our own here in sonoma county, frequently reduce funding to health care services , despite bloated administratively heavy organizations, and so folks become just another number, and what care they do receive isn't the best- counselors become over worked, and their own needs go unmet.
5) as the violence project outlines, have a no-notoriety protocol within the media and hold media organizations accountable for the content they provide. many times shooters do these things specifically to gain notoriety, even when in death, and those who watch and copycat these things often become inspired because of the attention it may bring them. the media also has contribited to the stress we feel by pitting us against ourselves, particularly due to politics, and very rarely in those circles, do you see people being able to have a rational, and respectful conversation when there's a disagreement. it's also important to limit consumption of media, as there is a tendency to consume in such a way that is unhealthy, and with no ability to look outside of that consumption, however it may appeal to you.
6) build a relationship and mentor young people so that they have positive influences, and do not feel as alone, allowing them to feel love and compassion, even if they're not receiving it at home. treating their experience as valid also goes a long way towards helping them feel this way.
also restoring some semblance of respect for firearms within young people would be in order. in some parts of the country, the only exposure kids have to firearms is through violent movies, video games, and violent street culture. in Sonoma County for instance, it's hard to find a good program for kids to safely learn about guns, and in other parts of the country, you may even see those from parts of the country where programs don't exist, chastise and express horrors about youngsters learning something like marksmanship in school. here's the rub though: those programs facilitate safety training and healthy respect and a healthy relationship with firearms that is devoid of the nuances of violent culture. when you do that, and expose kids and even adults to the shooting sports in a healthy and controlled way, such as how the NRA does with it's basic courses, it becomes less likely a thing that even is an option, because that respect has been created, and those seeds end up being planted.
7) develop strong programs crisis intervention and suicide prevention. actually talk about these things. develop them, and fund them.
8) safe storage of firearms is another facet of the above. parents should have their firearms safely stored, and their children need to be taught that firearms are not toys, and they are not a game, and very real and deadly tools. further, if you see something is not right with someone, we have to be willing to speak up and say something. far too often people have said they didn't want to get involved or 'narc' on their friend. people attribute speaking up to be an uncaring or disloyal thing, when in fact it's the most loyal and loving thing you can do for somebody by stopping them before they're no longer able to be stopped.
9) create warm environments which are conducive to helping look for and heal trauma. far too often people and kids go overlooked, when the signs were all there. being willing to look for and help heal trauma can make a difference in somebody's life, whether it be to help them recover from addiction, to stopping them from having suicidal thoughts and tendencies, which they mistakenly think is a way out, when in reality , those thoughts are related to the mind's desire to change whatever needs to be changed. it's often misrepresented by the ego as the person needs to die, however, really, it's related to the circumstances.
10) re-configuring redflag laws, and do so in a way that can actually work. in California, we infamously have redflag laws that can and are sometimes abused, where the burden of proof falls on the accused to prove their innocence. one thing we can do is look at how these laws work, and what about them works to prevent abuse, and in the enacting of those laws, actually make it something that is mandatory to be used if there's probable cause to use them, while at the same time, putting safeguards in place so they're not abused.
case in point, the shooter in buffalo made threats before he graduated high school and was held for evaluation for 2 days. the state police, at that time should have put them on new yorks list, which would immediately prevented his legal purchase of a firearm from the gun store he purchased his guns at. the need for this is very simply that if there is no known record that would preclude a person, the FBI will approve the gun to be 'delivered' or disposed to the purchaser. while it's easy to blame dealers, it's important to realize that we cannot simply legally give the guns to who we choose, and sales, while there are a lot of them, are tightly regulated by federal and in some cases, state protocols. having cool off periods may also be helpful, but don't make them excessive. california has a cool off period which initially was 15 days, but was reduced to 10.
while they advocate for banning "assault weapons" and having magazine restrictions, I differ from the violence project as these are not necessarily indicative of danger , as assault weapons can readily be configured to no longer meet the definition of what an AW supposedly is, even though the lethality of the gun doesn't change, while magazine capacity , in the vast majority of the country, hasn't necessarily contributed to more or less violent death, outside of the rare mass event.
the NSSF and the NRA have done a lot to promote safety and do something about the problems we face. the NSSF itself has common sense solutions, such as expanding mental health information into the nics program through it's fixnics act, but often times these bills have been defeated by political foes in congress. it cannot be said that either organization hasn't tried, it's just that the political types and people who are scared dislike the organizations from pumping the brakes on people wanting to restrict, strip, or rescind rights out of fear.
anyways. I don't have all the answers, but I do know that having family members who have had mental health issues, and who have received compassion and care, including myself when I was younger, have gone on to become productive members of society without having to be stripped of rights, or the ability to excercise them under the guise of lack of safety, but it took willingness for people to step in and make affect that change in order to do so. not everyone has that in their life, and as such, we in our society need to do better about doing that, looking the facts, and move towards helping prevent these things by facilitating an environment where it doesn't even occur to us to do these things with a gun, or any other device.
if you've read this far, thanks for reading, as this is extremely personal in terms of substance, and topic for me, both as a dealer, but also as somebody who has had to pull himself out of that darkness, and become somebody able to cope with life in a healthy way.