It’s not guns. It’s us.

Rachel S

Given the audience of COTR, I doubt I’ll have to do much work to convince y’all that guns are not the problem and the second amendment matters a HELL of a lot, not so we can all go around shooting each other like the left seems to think, but so that we can protect ourselves from THE GOVERNMENT, should it exceed its constitutional bounds.

That being said, it’s clear that America has a mass shooting (and in particular, a school shooting) problem. We agree that it’s not because of our guns– even countries with comparable gun laws or more instances of gun violence don’t have the numbers of mass shootings that the US has, and when it comes to school shootings, the US gets its very own wikipedia list broken down by decade, while the entire rest of the world shares an article.

What’s the deal?

I’ll tell you a few things it’s not.

First of all, it’s NOT. VIDEO GAMES. Please oh please, can we stop it with this narrative? First person shooter games are valued as an outlet for strategic thinking and having the lolz with friends, not because you get to kill other people that you confuse with real humans (source: an avid and skilled fan of first person shooter games). Oh, what, violent video games lead to violent outbursts? Well, I used to have the most aggressive of temper tantrums on freaking Webkinz when I wasn’t emotionally developed, so if Counterstrike is to blame for school shootings, so is Ms. Birdy.

It’s also not mental health– at least, not completely. OBVIOUSLY people who are willing to murder innocent civilians are effed up in the head. But it’s not the whole story, and we know this because of several things. First of all, most mentally ill people are not violent. Of course, some are, and that minority may be inclined to shoot up a school, but that leads me to my next point: mental healthcare in the US, while far from perfect, is leagues ahead of, dare I say, most of the world. So, again, that doesn’t explain why mass shootings disproportionately affect America, unless we’re prepared to concede that only (or at least primarily) Americans get the mental illness that makes you a mass shooter. Of course, environment has an ENORMOUS role to play in mental faculties, and America is drastically different from even our closest neighbors.

So, if there’s a unique mental condition that makes Americans into mass shooters, then it must come from American culture. Whether we diagnose it as a mental illness to be included in the DSM-6 or call it a cultural byproduct, the reality is inescapable. Mass shootings come from the culture. Guns, video games, untreated mental illness– these are scapegoats, and we turn to them because we don’t want to face the real culprit: us.

I’m not saying that you personally have behaved in a way that has led or will lead to an individual committing a heinous act of mass murder. And I do believe that the only person responsible for mass shootings is the shooter. But, generally speaking, people aren’t born killers. They are made that way. I recently read a really fascinating book which talked a lot about the gigantic role culture plays in shaping a person, and we all create and influence culture by participating it, as much as we are influenced by it. I think we need to acknowledge this demonstrable psychological reality when we think about how to reduce gun violence– because we all want fewer gun-related deaths.

I also don’t mean to suggest that I have all the answers. I don’t. All I know is that a) the current conversations we’re having are getting absolutely nowhere and b) we. need. a solution. And I do have a few ideas about where to start looking for one.

The first is Columbine. The Conversation has a succinct and valuable article outlining not only what “The Columbine Effect” is, but also how to counteract it. They write,

Before Columbine, there was no script for how school shooters should behave, dress and speak. Columbine created “common knowledge,” the foundation of coordination in the absence of a standardized playbook. Timing was everything. The massacre was one of the first to take place after the advent of 24-hour cable news and during the “the year of the net.” This was the dawn of the digital age of perfect remembering, where words and deeds live online forever. Columbine became the pilot for future episodes of fame-seeking violence.

Then they suggest as an antidote:

It starts with no names, no photos and no notoriety for mass shooters in media coverage – which is why we don’t indulge here. The next step is a paradigm shift from homeroom security to holistic violence prevention in schools – mental health, supportive environments, strong relationships and crisis intervention and deescalation. Teachers should feel as comfortable asking a student about suicide as they feel going into lockdown; empowered to spend as much time teaching empathy and resilience as they do now training to run, hide, fight.

While the treatment of mass shooters by the media is something entirely out of our hands, we can control ourselves, and the information we absorb and disseminate. With the rise of social media, it’s impossible to prevent these murderers’ manifestos and videos and ramblings from making it to the internet. But we can refuse to acknowledge it. We can refuse to share it. We can play our small part in denying these monsters the notoriety they seek and offer only kindness and support to the victims and their families. We need to reframe the narrative so that the shooter is not the protagonist.

We also need to demand more accountability from government and law enforcement. We all know that the FBI had received a tip about the Parkland gunman which they failed to follow up on; the Dayton shooter and El Paso shooter were both known to police before they attacked. We cannot ask for more laws until it’s proven that the powers that be can handle enforcing the ones we already have– and they have yet to do so.

That being said, these stories all center around heroes that were vigilant and proactive. They saw warning signs, and they acted to the extent of their capability. For that, they are heroes, and we should take a lesson from them. By now, we have dozens of examples of mass shooter profiles; we know what to look for. If we see something, we need to say something.

More than anything, though, we have a responsibility to be kind to each other. No, kindness is not the answer to everything, but it’s an answer to a lot. I was once told by a virtual stranger that the fact that I stopped to have a conversation with him at a high school extracurricular event after he paid a passing compliment stopped him from killing himself. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here, I’m just trying to make the point that something that was entirely inconsequential to me, something I considered good manners and basic friendliness, can literally be the difference between life and death. And I’m so glad it was.

Not every act of patience or every kind word will change the world. Most of them probably won’t. But we owe it to ourselves, each other, and the world to act like they all will. We can’t magically make everyone good, decent, law abiding citizens. We can’t erase violence from this universe. But we can be kind, we can look and listen, we can do the right thing. And it may just be enough.