A close look at the history, key contributing factors, mental health-related issues, and needed changes
Gun violence has been a major issue in the U.S. for too long. I felt it worthwhile to examine the historical context, key contributing factors, and critical mental health-related issues. My goal? To increase awareness and perspective and develop a reasonable discussion about reducing gun deaths. Join me in exploring a subject of critical concern for the safety and well-being of our community.
The Discordant Debate on Mass Shootings, Clarity, and Sensible Choices
So many unanswered questions
In the recent gun violence and murder of vulnerable and innocent children, anger and questioning come after the shock and grief. Were we misled, gaslighted? Who is the blame? Why again, who is responsible or who was irresponsible? Why is our country the world’s leader in possession of deadly firearms, with little regulation or safety requirements? Another mass shooting has occurred, this time of nineteen innocent and vulnerable elementary school children and two adults killed by an 18-year-old with a military-like assault gun. How do the murderers and perpetrators of gun violence slip through all detection and become so twisted and radicalized to carry out their horrendous actions as in recent mass shootings?
I remember the day I first experienced tragedy as if it were yesterday. What happened left a deep sense of sadness within me. My best friend, Tony, and I met on the school bus. It was on the first morning of our 6th-grade year in rural Maryland and we were both wary of the bigger kids. We hit it off immediately and as the year progressed, we took to hanging out at each other’s house. I used to enjoy visiting his house, as his mother used to make us peanut butter cookies and lemonade. It was the happiest of times.
Memory is short for some people for past tragedies.
Facts can become an inconvenient truth. Claims of not knowing and denial of the truth, happen when individuals or groups devolve to ignorance, hatred, and violence. The anecdote is for more intense education and accurate teaching of history to avoid the repeat of any societal drift towards division, atrocities, and war.. Several poignant poems by a Holocaust survivor and family member are shared to personalize this tragic part of our collective history and its relevance for today.
“In this postmodern age we find ourselves enmeshed in civil wars, tribal prejudices that we thought we had outgrown long ago. We can dare to counter the spirit of hate and separation with the romantic view of connectedness”.
Hate crimes have been growing in this country, against minorities and other vulnerable groups.
Many factors have been blamed as the growing and heated partisan divide in our country’s politics. It is essential to look at any underlying contributors to hatred and violence. One is the prevalent use of divisive rhetoric in public discourse that leads to conflict rather than peaceful coexistence and inclusiveness.
Are the issues with guns, mental health, or current politics?
The standoff between powerful and influential groups with conflicting positions continues while there seems to be little change or constructive action taking place in public discourse or government. Perhaps a fresh overview of this tragedy would be helpful, along with the examination of possible contributing factors. Getting caught up in debate or dialog can polarize people. Rigid positions or ideologies interfere with meaningful action or needed change – a type of “insanity” in itself. How can our outrage and “position taking” channel itself into an effective dialog and constructive actions?
The senseless killing of worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburg leaves many unanswered, perplexing questions.
A senseless killing of innocent and vulnerable students has occurred again.
Although the U.S. has about 5% of the world’s population, an estimated 31% of mass public shootings occur in this country. Read More & Additional Info. A mass shooting, gun violence and murder of multiple victims are occurring with increasing frequency in the U.S.. A violent act against the innocent is not supposed to occur in a rational society of laws where there is the supposed respect for the rights and beliefs of others. While compassion and support for the victims and their family are coming forth from the local and worldwide community, there continues to be little movement in public policy to help remedy the situation.
Are the issues with guns or mental health? The standoff between powerful and influential groups with conflicting positions continues while there seems to be little change or constructive action taking place. Perhaps a fresh overview of this tragedy, along with the examination of possible contributing factors, would be helpful. Getting caught up in a “this or that” dialog often locks people into rigid positions or ideologies that interfere with meaningful action or needed change – a type of “insanity” in itself. How can our outrage and “position taking” channel itself into effective dialog and constructive actions?
Is the shooter a terrorist or a mental health deviant?
Many point at guns and lack of gun control as the main problem while others look at mental health issues – such as the lack of services, non-adequate screening and/or poor identification of an individual who is at risk for acting out in an irrational, violent or deadly way. Some will relate the violence to the lack of mental health services due to a broken or poorly functioning political system in this country or from the indifference of large profit driven corporations.
Many strong opinions get expressed and argued with the recurrence of these irrational, violent acts. While the debate and discussion go on, the victims and their families are left with the emptiness and darkness of loss and despair, from the senseless and merciless act against their loved ones.
Mental health and related societal issues, stand prominently in the center of the controversy.
Even though lethal weapons – guns – were obviously involved, the recurrent acts of horrific violence towards unprotected populations certainly appear to be insane behavior. People wait for more information about the shooter to be released – with the expectation that there will be something in the mental health history to explain the murderer’s behavior. Significant elements in a mental health history as noted above may contribute to the development of non-normative, dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors that can have tragic outcomes if not recognized and addressed.
According to the 10/3/15 USA Today article, Official: Oregon gunman left angry note glorifying mass killers, the 26-year old school shooter who killed nine students and himself at the junior college in Southern Oregon was believed to have left behind a rambling statement that glorified mass killing. He talked about his lonely existence with few human contacts outside of the Internet. He also complained about his “isolated life having little promise” and told of an online support group who glorified violence. His note suggested a “bitter and hate-filled” life. If any given individual or groups with these issues or problems are inadequately helped, served, protected or supported – again tragedy can ensue.
The combination of vulnerability; low self-esteem; poor social skills; being a loner; exposure to radical ideas by negative, radical thinking peers or significant others; the media or internet; and so on – is a formula for violent beliefs, perhaps delusional thinking, and the consequences of a person acting on them. The seduction and capture of vulnerable minds do occur when exposed to radical ideology. The results can be the fixation on sets of a non-normative ideas with the development of an inflexible anti-social mindset. The above ideas may give some perspective; however, more is needed to gain a fuller picture of the issues, and importantly – how to move towards some action and resolution.
Guns of course make it easier to inflict harm or kill larger numbers of victims.
If the shooter had more powerful, rapid fire assault weapons with him, there would have been a greater number wounded or killed. Gun laws, access to guns, improving gun control laws and enforcement would certainly be a helpful direction for lawmakers to take with the support of our citizenry, gun owners and the gun industry.
Increasing awareness of mental health issues needs to happen in all sectors of our society including individuals, our government, companies, and corporations that have much influence on our ideas, consumption patterns and behaviors.
Ideas for change will hopefully be constructive, adaptive and flexible in order to foster more cooperation, as well as the ability to compromise to bring about new solutions and change. However, when rigidity of ideas set in, strong position-taking happens, and the value of ideas as an adaptive and flexible mechanism of change is lost.
A vulnerable or impaired individuals’ ideas can easily go from being concepts, to becoming an ideology or a fixed rigid belief. There is then the potential for acting on these beliefs, which could result in violent behavior or killing. Our society has drifted towards more radical ideologies – with their propaganda and message – being more easy accessed via media and the internet. Their message has the growing potential to captivate the minds of more of our most vulnerable citizens who often feel unsupported, disenfranchised and left out of mainstream society. There is more appearing of “homegrown” terrorist than ever before.
The influence of ideas and ideologies is similar to what occurs in negative peer groups and gangs violence. The radical Islam and terrorist groups are an example of the same phenomena on an international scale. Our society’s fascination with guns and violence, the notoriety of prior mass shooters and attention given to extreme radical groups in our media has been a definite influence on the radicalization and seduction of the most vulnerable individual in our society.
When mental health issues exist and go unheeded, there can be attachment and adoption of radical, rigid ideas and ideologies.
Vulnerability to radicalization or violent behavior may more likely exist if:
insufficient support in a dysfunctional family or community
overly influenced by media, their personal social network and culture especially when there is a glorification of violence, guns and exposure to an extremist ideology
growing up with rejection, low self-esteem, and social isolation (especially with developmental handicaps and lack of socialization skills as seen in Asperger Syndrome)
marginalized – with the perception that one lacks the ability to fit in or to cope
feelings of being oppressed, bullied or victimized by others
depression with the expressions of hopelessness and helplessness
chronic resentment and anger
exposure to violence
sexual or physical abuse
dysfunctional personality problems with paranoid or anti-social features
paranoid type schizophrenic illness or related impairments
To the vulnerable, the seductive message is often about revolution, retribution or violence against the perceived perpetrators of suppression or oppression. The message also supports the idea of the indifference and rejection of authority or significant other. There is the promise of gaining notoriety, fame or importance in serving some perceived higher cause.
What moves the young women terrorist to put on an explosive vest, to do a mass killing when she knows that her death is imminent? With the Internet, vulnerable people can find support and encouragement in online forums for radical ideologies. In the past, the extreme and radical ideology of the Nazis regime, for example, captured the support of an entire nation. The silence and indifference of a majority of the world population at that time contributed to the mass murder of over six million Jews.
So put all these elements together, we have a current growing number of these tragic incidents with the societal problems, mental health and gun issues – persisting.
What to do?
Everyone needs to be in the conversation, including some the rather strongly opinionated, or those who put monetary profits above people. There needs to be a greater awareness that some of our individual, corporate or government actions may inadvertently foster the climate for growth of more violent ideologies, and further victimization of both vulnerable and actual victims of violence. There are many elements of this crisis to be considered. If you have personal concerns for someone in your life, reach out to a qualified mental health provider – get involved.
Written by Ron Parks, MD and edited by Shan Parks
Where would you focus your ideas and energy to help make a difference? I would be interested in your comments.
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