The politicization of death in recent mass shootings and killings and the circular debate around gun control indicates we are both reporting on shootings and addressing them in an ineffective way.

 

The unfortunate reality of today’s world is that mass shootings aren’t a rare freak occurrence. You could be walking down the street on any given day, in any city, minding your own business, and be shot down by a lunatic. It’s become that mundane.

I’d initially written this piece after the Danforth Shooting in Toronto, but I never went through with publishing it, likely because I hadn’t yet fully come to terms with my thoughts on the topic. But shootings have been all the rage in news this week, with three workplace shootings in a single day, the recent Jacksonville Mall shooting still reeling, and newspapers and politicians back to playing the blame game.

With an increase in the occurrence of shootings has come the increase in sensationalized news coverage. This isn’t particularly new either. The boom of the Internet has brought with it an era of clickbait journalism. Integrity is out the window and shock-factor is in. 

What’s come to shock me particularly about the recent coverage of shootings in North America has been the incessant politicization of death. There’s barely time to mourn, to take in all the facts, to check in with loved ones, before being bombarded with political arguments from every spot on the spectrum – each side putting the blame on the other.

Stop turning human life, and human loss, into a bargaining chip for your party. 

In every fatal shooting, a parent loses a child, a family loses a loved one, people lose their friends. In the mass scale of things, this may not seem as striking of a detail. But really think that through. We should never let ourselves get to a point where we see casualties as statistics. We shouldn’t hear of the Toronto shooting and immediately think “ha! How’s gun control working out for Canadians?” or whatever other political conclusions people were quick to jump to justify their party’s policies after the Danforth Shooting. 

I know there’s going to be people arguing that politicizing death is important because it can be a powerful source of activism and ultimately provide political change. 

To those people I say, 1) this political argument (namely guns vs. no guns) has been going on for far too long and has yet to yield any results. 2) Guns aren’t the only problem.

Islam or terrorism isn’t the problem. Strict gun control isn’t the problem. Radicalization is the problem. Not addressing mental health issues when they arise is the problem. Our youth feeling isolated and being better targeted by terrorists than by health practitioners is the problem.

We are missing the mark here. It ultimately doesn’t boil down to an argument about gun control or stricter immigration laws. It comes down to providing troubled individuals with the care they need so they can heal rather than spiral into a senseless attack on innocent people. 

The problem, as I see it, is that we’ve gotten so caught up in the policy factors that contributed to whatever tragedy, that we’ve lost sight of the human factor. 

Ultimately, every single mass shooting boils down to one common, true, fact – a very troubled individual. And as much as we see a push from gun lobbyists on one side, from anti-gun advocates on the other, a push to shut down terrorism, whatever it is, no one, in the realm of politics at least, seems to care to point out the obvious – we need to be putting the most resources into figuring out what went wrong with these people and what could have been done to help them. 

I don’t think the solution is banning guns entirely. People intent enough will find a weapon somehow, as we’ve seen with the rise in van murders. I definitely don’t think the solution is making guns even easier to access. Gun laws, especially in the U.S. are unnecessarily lenient, and there’s really no reasonable argument against that. But this article isn’t a piece on gun laws. My point is – while everyone is busy shouting at each other over whether the problem is guns or it’s not guns, there’s a person out there growing increasingly isolated, radicalized, and planning another massacre. We are missing the target here. Big time. 

I’m not suggesting we victimize the perpetrators of these disgusting crimes. I’m suggesting we put aside the twitter wars for a second and look at the actual research that has been done on radicalization to try and address the problem from a different angle, to try and stop the tragedies before they even happen. 

One last thing I have to say on this topic. I saw a lot of posts about “fear” that the perpetrator of this attack was Muslim or an immigrant or from a Middle Eastern background. People fearing that another shooter being an immigrant would be an attack on their communities. I’m not going to say these fears aren’t valid. You see an increase in profiling and fear in these scenarios without a doubt. And marginalized communities tend to get more marginalized.

What I don’t understand is the reluctance or fear of labeling an attack when the motive is clear. I’ve written about this before, the refusal of pinning the blame for an attack on radical Islam for fear of painting Islam in a negative light. I just cannot fathom the logic behind this. Radical Islam, by definition, is a skewed interpretation of Islam that has been morphed to inspire terror and attack innocent people. 

Radical Islam has proven to not only appeal to Muslims or people from the Middle East.

I can cite the several cases of Caucasian, North American born and bred people who have been radicalized and committed acts of terror. So the people who still claim only Muslims can be terrorists are also blatantly wrong. Radical Islam is more likely to appeal to people who already practice Islam, that’s fair – but assuming radicalization only affects a specific race or religion is nothing more than idiocy. I don’t think we shouldn’t be scared of the motive behind any of these killings being terrorism. A motive of terrorism simply means we better understand the root cause of the problem and perhaps can better address its solutions. 

At the end of writing this piece, I’m no less confused. I can’t understand why people think radicalization only affects Muslims. I can’t understand why people are afraid of calling terrorists what they are. And I really can’t understand why building a political argument that ultimately fizzles out when it gets to the legislative level is more important than addressing the problem at its source. 

People on either side of the political spectrum hold strongly to their beliefs, some rightly so, but in being so deeply invested in debating and fighting the political fight, are overlooking the human factor. Shootings or mass killings of any kind are committed by a troubled individual, an individual who is often young, struggling with a mental illness, and has no avenue of support. One way to address the rise in mass killings is to try and take the weapon away from the killer. The alternative is to find and address the killer before they can even find a weapon – to save lives rather than politicize them.