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Shooting as a Key Word

Courtesy of The Associated Press

Type in the word, “shooting” into a google search bar and you will get approximately 503,000,000 results. At any given time, in some part of the world, a country or state is “reeling from the effects” of a mass shooting. When did it get this bad? How did it get this bad? Why are we still arguing about gun control? All three of these questions bounce around my brain often, but I don’t know the answer and honestly, I am not sure that anyone else does either.

Right now, the world is still dealing with the Paris terrorists attacks of November 13th as well as the Charlie Hebdo attacks of January this same year. Meanwhile, two mass shootings have taken place in Colorado. I listen to NPR every morning and I learn of a new shooting or more insidious details of the most recent one. I open my CNN or NYT app while I drink my coffee and nearly every morning there is a headline containing the word, “shooting.” All four of the most recent cases have different speculative motives, but the same outcome: people are dead or seriously injured and all we can do is fight about whether or not every single person in the world should be allowed to carry a gun.

I do not know where I stand on this issue.  The only thing that I can equate the “self defense argument” to is this: I have lived in the two largest cities in West Virginia. I work late nights and I do not feel safe walking to my car without my mace, which I have had to pull out a two times. But here is the thing about my mace: I didn’t kill anyone with it. In fact, just seeing me pull it out in conjunction with my phone dialing 911 has scared both predators away. Now, this is WV, and perhaps these predators would have backed off either way. I do not know, and I hope that I never have to find out, but I do know that had I been holding a gun, and they wouldn’t have backed off, I may have fired. Had a fired my mace, they may not be incapacitated enough to leave me alone. This would not have been the case with a gun. In the moment, in a setting of high adrenaline, my judgement may have been foggy. Here is another difference between those situations and these mass shootings: mass shootings are pre-meditated attacks on specific groups of people. My experience has been purely self defense, which is most everyone’s argument in favor of the second amendment. Like I said earlier, I am torn in many directions, have no personal experience, and so, I continue to research for answers to why mass shootings continue to happen more frequently at an alarming rate. 

Since I do not know where I stand on the issue, I would like to outline reasons for the increasing rate of mass shootings and allow my audience to decide their stance on gun control, based only upon what I have outlined. I hope that by deciding the cause, we can search for a solution. This type of research is integral to my job in the world as a journalist. I must be informed, in order to report fairly and justly. Look at this blog as a practice run for laying out the facts as an impartial party in a very controversial issue. I will not be including terrorism as a reason, because that is a different topic entirely and requires it’s own conversation. 

Here are the most convincing reasons, in my opinion:

Mental Illness and Media Coverage

Mental illness is the determined culprit for many mass shootings. However, in an article by Stephanie Pappas on LiveScience.com, she argues that many times we blame mental illness, when in reality, it is a desire for fame that spurs the shootings. She also argues that America makes guns too accessible, but that is another argument in itself. In the article, published on August 26, 2015, she said:

“The possible association between mass shootings and a desire for fame is particularly eerie, given the nation’s latest high-profile killing. Early this morning (Aug. 26), a former employee at a local news station in Virginia allegedly killed a reporter and a cameraman on-air, while filming the shooting with a GoPro camera. He later posted the film to social media. Because there were fewer than four victims, the event does not qualify as a mass shooting, according to most definitions. But the apparent desire to broadcast the crime places the killer in the same company as many notorious mass shooters of the past decade.”

This argument holds a punch in today’s society because of accessibility to this type of media. The first high profile shooting took place in 1999 at Columbine High School. Since that time, a type of underground cult following has formed around its perpetrators, so much so that Eric Harris, the architect of the Columbine shootings has become a hero to this subculture. To understand this idea, many compare mass shootings to a theory developed about riots by Mark Granovetter and cited by Malcolm Gladwell in a recent New Yorker article. In an interview with Gladwell by NPR’s Steve Inskeep, he said, “The first person who throws the rock is a lot more radical than the 100th person.” He says that the earlier shooters were “textbook psychopaths” and that they have made the behavior seem normal to certain people in the population who aren’t nearly as psychopathic as these original shooters were. According to the interview, after a shooting in Seattle last year, the shooter told police that “Eric Harris was in his head, talking him through it.” This statement itself makes the idea of mental illness immediately come to mind. Gladwell also said that yes, limiting access to guns could help the problem, but the problem is much much deeper than that in our society and that the availability of guns is a small part of the larger picture. This metaphor of riots to shootings, helps us understand a bit of why the incidents may be increasing, but it does not explain the motives. Those are, of course, for the police to decide, but it would help to prevent them if we knew more about the perpetrators’ motives and an argument could be made to monitor their mental health in relation to their access to guns. But, as Gladwell said, it may just be a small part in a larger picture.

Access to Guns in America

At this point in the argument, it is difficult for even the biggest gun enthusiasts to argue against a certain amount of control in who is able to obtain a gun. America is one of the only 1st world countries where a majority of its citizens are still in favor of gun rights, according to a Washington Post Article. In this Washington Post graphic, you can see that most guns used in these shootings were obtained legally, through the current pathways required by the government:

Washington Post Infographic displaying how guns used in violent crimes were obtained by the perpetrators.

In a study done by the Pew Research Center, cited by Max Ehrenfreund and Zachary A. Goldfarb, authors of the Washington Post article, 11 essential facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States, they said, “Pew found that gun ownership is concentrated among older adults, rural residents, and whites, especially white Southerners. Whites in the South are more likely to own guns than whites in other regions.” Citing another study, the article said, “The Harvard Injury Control Research Center assessed the literature on guns and homicide and found that there’s substantial evidence that indicates more guns means more murders.” So what do all of these facts have to do with mass shootings? They help us have a greater understanding of how the shooters are obtaining their weapons, and how law enforcement may be able to predict and prevent future attacks based on where the guns are. So, where is the argument against more restrictive gun laws? It lies in the self defense argument. Most in favor of the second amendment say they want their guns because they want to be able to protect themselves and their families. They also argue that other countries with more strict gun laws like the UK and Germany, still have their fair share of crime and mass shootings according to this article. The last argument most commonly cited is that even if we eliminated the right to own a gun, criminals do not follow laws, so why should they start once owning a gun is outlawed. This argument can be quickly dismissed by the above chart which demonstrates that most mass shootings that occur are carried out with weapons that were legally obtained.

Violence in the Media

The public is quick to dismiss this theory: increasing violence portrayed in the media has direct correlation with violence being enacted in real life. However, in a New York Times article debating this theory, they, after citing eight scientific studies conducted on this topic, made this statement:

“The bottom line: The weight of the studies supports the position that exposure to media violence leads to aggression, desensitization toward violence and lack of sympathy for victims of violence, particularly in children.”

This conclusion is supported by the trends of violence in the media increasing directly coordinate to the findings in the last decade, as demonstrated by this Washington Post graph:

Washington Post Graph depicting the rate of increase in violence over more than a decade.

We, as a country, appear to be on a steady increase in active shooter situations, according to the above study. According to studies by psychologists George Comstock, Haejung Paik, Craig A. Anderson and Brad J. Bushman, researchers Lindsay A. Robertson, Helena M. McAnally and Robert J. Hancox, the National Institute of Mental Health, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, all conclude that media violence exposure a risk factor for actual violence. So, with this overwhelming finding of research, how can we stop the influx of violence? According to a position paper by the AAFP,

“Children and adolescents in the U.S. spend an average of about seven and a half hours a day using various forms of entertainment media, such as television, video games, the Internet, and recorded music. Research suggests that the time they spend interacting with various media surpasses all other activities except sleep…Moreover, studies have shown that by the time young people living today reach their 70s, they will have spent the equivalent of 7 to 10 years of their lives watching television.

This much exposure, with this amount of facts backing the idea that said is exposure could be in part responsible could be part of the problem.

The title of this essay is “shooting as a keyword.” By breaking down step by step, facts about mass shootings, the media and statistics I hope to have made the word shooting less than a key word, and more about the victims of the crimes and what we, as a society can do to deter them. I also hope that I have helped those, like me understand the meaning behind the headlines and take a critical look at this worldwide issue.