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Mass shootings: two good questions

I know people on both sides of the gun control debate with respect to mass shootings.  There are two questions that come up that are asked by one side and seem to be avoided by the other. Having thought it over for awhile, I believe that both questions are worth asking and exploring:

  1. What sets apart the United States from other Western countries? – This question is usually asked by me and other people favoring stronger gun and ammo regulation.
  2. How is today different from 30 years ago (1988)? – This question is asked by people who don’t feel the availability of guns is a major factor in mass shootings. Also by others want desperately want to talk about ANYTHING besides new restrictions on guns or ammo.

What sets apart the United States from other Western countries?

A few months ago, I thought only the first question mattered. I still think it is the most important. Given that we’re the only Western country that has nearly monthly mass shootings, it seems likely something is different about us. One explanation is that we are uniquely violent and bloodthirsty. That no matter the availability of lethal weapons, we’d find some way to kill each other in comparable numbers. I’m not willing to accept that.

The various explanations I’ve heard offered for the prevalence of mass shootings – mental illness, bullied children, bad parenting, video games, turning away from God, etc don’t satisfy me either. You can find these things in all other Western countries. If religion kept people from shooting each other, the United States should have the lowest rate of mass shootings since we have the highest level of church attendance of any Western country. But it’s the opposite.

For me personally, that leaves the easy availability of semiautomatic weapons and large capacity ammo magazines. We can get practically unlimited guns and ammo in this and there are a number of ways to get around background checks. But I’m open to the idea that there are protective factors in other countries that we don’t have. If you know of some, leave a comment.

But, I’ve come to believe that as important as the question “What sets apart the United States from other Western countries?” is the question that my more zealous gun rights friends and relatives ask:

How is today different from 30 years ago (1988)?

It is a fact that the US experiences more mass shootings than other Western countries. But it also seems to be true that we experience more mass shootings (and especially school shootings) today than we did 30 years or even 20 years. The era of school shootings is usually dated to 1999 with the Columbine Colorado shooting. So what’s changed since then?

Because I grew up in an alcoholic family where my father often beat my siblings, I don’t think I have enough objectivity to evaluate some of the answers offered by people such as “Kids had fathers”, “Parents weren’t afraid to smack their disrespectful children”, “Kids in school had to fear the principal’s belt.” I invite others to do so, especially if they can bring research instead of anecdotes. HOWEVER there are plenty of other differences between 1988 and 2018 we might consider. Do you think any of the following might have contributed to the rise of mass shootings (not just school shootings)?:

  • Loss of the American Dream – stagnating wages, widespread disbelief in the idea that people’s children will be better off than they are.
  • Rise of Social Media – 30 years ago frustrated people live in isolation. Now there is a group for every grievance.
    • Young men who can’t get laid reinforce the UNFAIRNESS OF IT ALL online and spend lots of time figuring out how to MAKE THE WIMMIN PAY.
    • Older men can get together and reinforce each other on conspiracy theories.
    • Skinheads, militia groups and other neo-nazi, racist types have open recruitment forums.
  • Loss of personal interaction – How many lunchrooms are filled with people staring quietly at their phones? How many people go to work, come home, watch videos, go to sleep and start all over again without seeing another person in the flesh?
  • Fox News – I’m not kidding. It started in 1996 and has been grievance TV and radio ever since, promoting any number of conspiracy theories.
  • Another 30 years of a culture of violence, amplified by TV and internet – Watch almost any movie or TV program, like ever, in this country and you’ll see that nine times out of ten to resolve a problem, you have to shoot someone. Or beat them to a pulp. Listen to politicians talk about being tough, strong and ready to completely overwhelm any potential opponent. This was true in 1988, but we’ve had another 30 years of entertainment and political culture assuring us us that violence is the best way to cure our problems.
  • It was harder to gets guns and large ammo clips back in 1988. You didn’t have WalMart SuperCenters  to get guns from till 1988. You didn’t have internet sales and there were probably fewer gun shows back then (I could be wrong – if you have stats, comment). We probably had less than 260 million guns in 1988.

Like most human beings, it’s easier for me to think of bad things than good things. But I think some of the factors below might have protected us from mass shootings 30 years back:

  • More, closer friendships
  • Less opportunity for social comparisons
  • Less 24/7 news of all kinds

Feel free to suggest others in comments.

Going back to the two questions – one is focused on guns and ammo, the other is focused on culture and social factors. I believe that we’ll need answers in both areas before we make real progress in breaking our epidemic of mass shootings. That’s why I think the best place to start is to fully fund gun violence research by the CDC. Then we can stop making policy in a vacuum.

If you haven’t commented on Eclectic Alaskan before, review my comments policy before posting. It might save you from writing a long tirade that won’t be published here. If you’re willing to debate the message instead of the messenger, you’ll probably be fine.

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