mass murders

A vicious cycle of killing sprees is a uniquely American problem. We all knew it but failed to act.

It all started with Columbine massacre of 1999.

Since Columbine, we have seen a relentless pattern of senseless mass murders for nearly 20 years now.  

In 2014, a disturbed young man named Elliot Rodger killed 6 fellow students and injured many more.  4 were killed with a knife, 2 with a handgun.  Autistic people are actually not prone to violence, so this case was very unusual in that sense.  But Rodger had many other deep psychological problems.  He felt alone, he was rejected by women, he was obsessed with finding a pretty blonde girlfriend and deeply jealous of other guys.  His parents loved him and did everything they could for him, but it wasn’t enough.  His rage manifested in a tragic killing spree that ended in suicide.

In June of 2015, a very angry young man named Dylann Roof entered a small bible study group at an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston SC.  He couldn’t have picked a more innocent group of people to massacre.

Roof had spent years warping his own mind on the internet, studying white nationalist driven one-sided news that gave him the impression that the white race was under assault by everyone else, but especially by blacks.  

He was known to pose with Confederate Battle Flags, as well as the flag of the former Rhodesia, the once white dominated country that is not black dominated Zimbabwe.  Roof even said the people at the church were nice to him, and he almost didn’t want to do it.  But he did it.  He slaughtered 9 innocent churchgoers, including the pastor, in cold blood.  He’ll likely be in prison for the rest of his life.

Just days ago, a man named Nikolas Cruz, whose motives we are still figuring out, went on a high school shooting spree in Parkland, FL.  The facts are still coming in, but leading up to this tragedy, he had made a series of disturbing posts on social media. Yet, we failed to act in time to prevent his shooting spree.

We’ve known all along, but fail to act.

Everything we needed to know in order to prevent the problem and stop future mass murders was available from the Columbine massacre.  We know that these two young men had easy access to firearms (usually the go-to blame for these shootings.)  We know that they were into violent video games.  We know that they were severely bullied.  From there, we could have begun a rigorous set of policies to address all of the potential causes of that massacre.  We failed to try anything.

Lack of social solidarity and glorification of violence

Late 19th-century sociologist Emile Durkheim studied the causes of suicide and concluded that the largest number of suicides are caused by a lack of social solidarity.  More than any other factor, those who feel no connection to anyone around them, who feel insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant, are more prone to suicide.

Hyper-individualism and the glorification of violence have triggered something far more damaging.  A sickness that causes people to effectively end their lives (even if they don’t kill themselves in the process) in such a way that they are making one last desperate attempt to be relevant at any cost and in any possible way. They are lashing out at the society that rejects them.  

Mere suicide would only affect their immediate family and a few others who knew them.  But a violent mass killing is far more impactful. They do not commit these mass killings expecting to live on.  Many of them end the mass killing with suicide, and those who don’t know very well they’ll either face the death penalty or spend the rest of their “lives” in prison.  Those who don’t immediately commit suicide likely want to live to see the after-effects of their carnage.  They are lashing out at the society that rejects them.  

While the media needs to report the news, they unintentionally become a tool used by the shooters to achieve fame. It becomes a vicious cycle as when one angry, lonely person sees one killer going down in infamy, he decides to follow in that path.

Treatment: can gun control solve the problem of mass murders?

Any good doctor knows that you can’t cure a patient by treating symptoms.  You don’t cure a common cold with Afrin.  You don’t cure insomnia with sleeping pills.  And you don’t cure America’s killing sprees by solely banning guns as the gun control won’t fix everything.

Some type of gun control can be part of a larger treatment plan, much as a cough suppressant might be part of a treatment plan for the flu.  But we delude ourselves if we think that gun control alone will prevent even one of these mass murders.  

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is probably the biggest gun control advocate in the entire US Senate, yet even she admitted on Face the Nation that no law would have stopped the LA Massacre that killed 58 people back in October of last year.

Guns can be obtained illegally, and there are other ways to kill lots of people.  Many will refer to countries like Japan, and Australia when arguing for gun control.  But consider the cultures of these countries.  Japan, in particular, has strong social solidarity.  Australia at least has much better healthcare, including mental health care than the US.  Aside from that, Switzerland has liberal gun laws and takes a lot of pride in gun ownership, they don’t have these problems on a scale America does.

Following the Orlando Shooting in June 2016, Pavlovic Today’s Scott Benowitz offered a more comprehensive solution.  Gun control was only one part of this, and though he’s more favorable to gun control than I am, he is not naïve to think we can fix our problems with that alone.  He also discussed treatment of mental illness, which is important, and then touched on the much deeper problem – our society.

While Scott Benowitz (mentioned a few paragraphs above) recognized that the root of our problem is societal, he mostly focused on America’s violent culture.  

Since the late 1960s, American society has been moving down the path to social breakdown. Robert Putnam’s greatest work “Bowling Alone” discusses the breakdown of social solidarity in what he calls “civil society”.  Everything from church attendance to union membership, to clubs, bowling leagues, etc. is disintegrating.  These are examples of social solidarity, but it isn’t them, specifically, that can cure the gun violence phenomenon.

To treat this problem, we must treat it in all its complexity.  Gun control alone won’t do it.  Social solidarity alone won’t do it. We need a more comprehensive solution for mass murders, building on the kinds of ideas Benowitz expressed.  

While the federal government may play a part in this, it’s going to have to come from people at the local level, rebuilding America’s civil society.  Only by restoring a sense of belonging, and a sense of depending on each other; can we remove the very core reason why certain Americans decide to lash out at the very society that they feel rejects them.

Read also: Elephant In The Room: America’s Violent Culture

Read also: Why Not Close The Gun Shows Loophole?

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He conducts independent study on the American conservative movement and foreign policy. When he is...