Yesterday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon has my social media feeds full of calls for gun control. They are also full of statements about people with varying mental health statuses. Psychos, sociopaths. “Your prayers aren’t enough,” many are saying. I wholeheartedly agree.
In the U.S., this pretty much happens all the time. That’s what everyone has been saying and it’s so true. As President Obama said in his statement on the mass shooting, this shouldn’t be routine, but it is. Well, if we really want to prevent this, and I’m not so sure we do, we have to consider the following:
This isn’t just a shooting.
This is murder. Targeted murder.
This isn’t all about mental health.
That’s the easy answer. Yes, mental health plays a role. Of course it does. It plays a role in all behavior. But that’s an excuse that makes us feel better. It’s also a way to stigmatize those with different mental health statuses and make this all less threatening. Just like we rush to call rapists psychopaths, we use these terms to protect ourselves. To make ourselves feel safe. “That’s not me. I could never do that.” “That’s not anyone I know. They would never do that.” In studying jury bias, psychologists point out a common cognitive flaw, they call it the Just-World Hypothesis. Simply put, we have to believe the world is fair and those who experience something bad deserve it. It won’t happen to us because we are good people. I think the same fallacy can be applied to perpetration.
This is about culture
Men are the most likely to commit mass shootings. Usually white men. Here come a thousand more threatening comments from my Men’s Rights Advocate (MRA) trolls. Sorry dudes, it’s a fact. And what do we hear in story after story? Entitlement, if we pay attention. This is about the messages we send regarding who has a right to hold power. This is how some of those who are told they deserve power use it. These shootings are manifestations of that power being threatened.
We are culpable.
We all create culture. We all shape the environments in which we live, work, play…what have you. Yet there’s this thing called cognitive dissonance. Essentially, our goal is to feel good and it doesn’t feel good when our beliefs and our behaviors conflict. So I believe that I’m a good, nonviolent person yet I behave in ways that, even subtly, promote ideas that may actually lead to violence. Yeah, that feels terrible and I want to get back to a state of equilibrium, to consistency and comfort. To do that, I must change either my belief or my behavior. This is when we start blaming guns and psychopaths. Sure, guns facilitate violence, can be the tools of violence, but do they cause violence? Is “mental illness” to blame for so many mass shootings? The majority of them? These are indeed the causes…when we don’t want to or can’t face up to the fact that we’ve created a culture allowing these murderers to target certain people – allowing all sorts of harmful behavior. We can’t be to blame, we won’t be to blame, because we’re “normal” and we don’t have guns and/or use them irresponsibly. It’s an easy answer, but it’s an unrealistic one with which we do more harm than good.
Prevention is possible.
We can address root causes of violence. Those easy answers are not root causes and some of them aren’t causes at all. All we have to do is take a critical look at our culture, at ourselves, and endure the uncomfortable truth that we’ve created and upheld the social norms, the biases, the beliefs that cause violence. Because we can change culture to promote healthy, thriving communities and people. All it takes is willingness and work. I have to believe that.