5 Things to Remember after Any Mass Shooting
Monday morning I woke up to the news that history had yet again been made with the mass shooting in Las Vegas on 10/1/17. The feelings that came over me were confusing and familiar. I spent most of the day in contemplative silence, trying to make sense of the many thoughts that were running through my mind. I was trying to figure out what to say in response to the shooting. I wanted to choose my words wisely and not act on impulse as so many others were. I lost a lot of respect for a lot of people that day because of things they said. I was not in any way involved with the shooting in Las Vegas and yet its occurrence changed me and my relationship with others in ways that will last forever. Strange how that happens.
Many of Sunday's victims were still passing away as social media lit up with hate and blame. I knew what was to come. The same things that follow all mass shootings. Calls for "gun control" and "take down the terrorists" and "why didn't local law enforcement do more" and "who knew this was coming and why didn't they say anything". On and on the rage goes until the story fizzles out and life in America returns to normal for the vast majority of the population. We forget these things until the next mass shooting occurs. More lives will be taken. Another "message" will be sent. Responses and blame will spread like wildfire fueled by the same hatred that caused the shooting in the first place. And so the cycle continues because things in America do not change fast enough. The structure of our government and the inability of our politicians to agree or compromise will interfere with our ability to learn from this tragedy as a nation.
So I wanted to write this post to the people of this nation. There are things we can do. Things we can learn. Things we can remember. We the people can prevent as many "next times" as we can through our interactions with one another. We have that power. Unfortunately it sometimes takes events like this for us to see just how powerful we can be.
1. The media sensationalizes and controls what we know.
It is really hard to live in a day and age where we can't trust the "news" that broadcasters send to us and yet here we are. When any tragedy occurs that is big enough to garner the attention of the whole country, all news stations mobilize. It is a race to get the story first. Not the facts. Moments after a mass shooting happens, reporters are on the phone with their bosses and they're being told, "We have to be the first to get this story. Go investigate. Get back to me in an hour, we're going live". So in an hour these reporters are expected to completely uncover the who, what, when, where, why and how of this massively complex tragedy. Not only do they need to identify who the perpetrator is, we need to know their background, their upbringing, influences, religious affiliations and most importantly what weapons were used and how they came about getting those weapons. It will take experienced law enforcement weeks or months to discover the information that these reporters are going to give you in an hour. Why does the news work this way? Because money. There is a small window of time to make a story big and to get the largest amount of viewers. After the window passes the amount of viewers drops drastically and at that point, is it really worth months of salaries paid to produce investigative reports to give you the whole story of an event that occurred earlier in the year? No. Not really. With the exception of the one year anniversary, when people again remember the events of the day. We might get a more accurate report at that point as a tribute and memorial.
2. There is no ONE solution that will stop these killings.
I'm sure I'll get a lot of hate mail for saying this. But let me be clear. I am saying that these events will not stop completely. They can be reduced, but there is not a singular approach that will get us there. Many people are adamant that GUN CONTROL is THE answer. Man, that's a big one. The truth behind gun control is that it is our constitutional right to bear arms. Our country believes we the people should have the ability to defend ourselves against any terrorists or wars we may encounter on our own land. I believe in that right. We are a country of 323 million people (as of 2016). The most current data I could find on the number of police officers employed in the US is from 2008. At that time "state and local law enforcement agencies employed more than 1.1 million officers, including those sworn in and those with arresting powers" ( U.S. Department of Justice, Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2008) Even if we tripled the number of officers employed since 2008, officers only make up about 1% of our citizens. Bottom line: The government cannot protect everyone. Now that I defended our constitutional right, let me add an additional comment: I don't think people should be allowed to carry weapons that could elicit mass casualties in small amounts of time. I don't think people should have automatic weapons and anything else that falls into this category. Banning access to these weapons will make it more difficult for criminals to plan and execute mass killings and therefore reduce the numbers of mass killings that will happen.
With that being said...It will not stop the killings. Someone will always slip through the cracks. They will break laws and find ways to use their resources to amass weapons of any kind to kill a lot of people if that is their end game. They will get creative. Iraq and Syria may not have mass shootings but they do have mass car bombings with death numbers that are 5 times higher than Sunday's death toll. Mental illness and blind rage know no limits.
3. Mental health education and access is always a factor.
I remember the weeks after the Sandy Hook shootings. It was horrible and heartbreaking in most part because it was a senseless slaughter of precious innocence by someone who was not linked to his victims (unlike the Columbine and Jonesboro shootings which we wrote off as the results of bullying). Sandy Hook reminded the current generation and educated a new generation that mass murderers will target anyone, anywhere to get their message across. Sandy Hook was also confusing because no one knew Adam Lanza. It took 2 years for officials to release a mental health profile on Adam Lanza. TWO YEARS. The official report didn't tell us anything we didn't already know: there were red flags. He was a loner, he had mental health issues from an early age, an event occurred that "pushed him over the edge", he was preoccupied with violence, he had impulse control issues. The list goes on and it's very similar to the lists of other mass killers. Let me repeat: there are red flags.
Every individual who commits a crime has a mental health disorder. Be it depression, anxiety, antisocial personality, schizophrenia...it doesn't matter. A mental health disorder requires treatment just like any other disease and should never be dismissed. Anyone who has been close to a murderer knows in hindsight that something was wrong. It just never occurred to them that the individual was capable of actually killing people. Statistically speaking, the odds of an individual with mental health disorders becoming a mass murderer are more than 1 in a million (for more statistics on mass shootings check out this interesting read: Calculating My Odds). So I can empathize when people say "I didn't know". It is not the responsibility of associates of mass murderers to diagnose and treat the individual. It is their responsibility, however, to find them help. And by their I really mean our. Because we do not know who the next Adam Lanza will be. Early intervention including counseling, behavioral therapy, medication and even hospitalization can all be effective deterrents on crimes against humanity. Education is the responsibility of citizens. The list of "red flags" is rather long but I encourage every single individual on this planet to know them and to teach them to your children. Start your education here: Psychiatry.org Warning Signs of Mental Illness. When in doubt ask for help. Tell someone. As a side note: businesses and government need to create more facilities where interventions can be carried out. That is a rant for another time.
With that being said...Even if every person knows the "red flags", there will still be an individual who slips by and doesn't fit the profile (much like the man who committed Sunday's murders). Or, an individual may be reported as a threat and nothing will happen because the government cannot interfere with an individual's possible intents without proof. And that proof is damn hard to get. Watch a few crime shows, you’ll see.
4. We will never know the motive. It doesn't matter anyway.
Again, people will disagree with me. We truly believe that finding out the motive will lead to prevention of such issues in the future! For example, if the individual carries out a mass shooting on behalf of ISIS then we must defeat ISIS and these shootings will no longer happen! Well... yes and no. Seeking out the motive and defeating that motive will only prevent this one particular type of mass killing. Every individual who commits a mass killing has a different motive, yet the motives all have one common theme: the individual sought revenge for something. The message they send in merely the vehicle they use to exact that revenge. To understand the need for revenge one needs to understand the individual. The profile of an individual who commits a mass killing is a complicated mixture of biology, upbringing, mental illness, life experiences, lack of coping skills and resources (or ability to acquire weapons). Therefore I say; it does not matter what the message says, it matters where the message began. See point 3 for ideas on how to understand that beginning.
5. People died. And people survived.
As you sit on your social media, filled with rage and confusion, remember this: human beings died and their loved ones are devastated. Before you share posts and engage in arguments over government, gun control and blame, think about how they are figuring out how to retrieve their loved one's body and get them home to bury. You plan your day, they plan a funeral. You finish your day and move on to the next with the knowledge of the shooting. Someone else finishes their day having survived the shooting and now must move on with the rest of their life unsure of what to do with this experience. They have been traumatized and likely don't realize it. You will occasionally think about the shooting while they will think about it every day. Every time they walk into an open space. Every time they hear a loud "pop". Every time they encounter something that triggers the actions and emotions of that event. It will haunt their dreams. They will try to understand why they survived and others didn't. The trauma is real and it is life changing. Think about them.
They do not need your hate or your political uproar right now. They need your love and compassion. Maybe even your financial donation. A change in gun laws won't bring their loved ones back. Prevention of the next shooting won't make the memories of this shooting go away. They need time to process. They need a lifetime to grieve.
So what do we do with ourselves when these things happen? How do we channel the anger and drive?
Reach out and tell people you love them.
Seek to understand those that are struggling.
Send help when someone needs it. Resources are within reach.
Do everything out of love. Love, love, love. Love will overcome hate. It is the one thing that we can do right now and it will change everything.