A simple and un-spun discussion on mass shootings

At a congressional hearing in May, the FBI reported that the bureau was investigating 850 domestic terrorism cases and, of those, 40% involve racially motivated violent extremism and a majority of them involve white supremacists.

These massacres probably aren’t stopping anytime soon.

Two distinct idealogical camps emerged:

Camp One

Mass shootings result from a mentally deranged person who should’ve been banned from owning a weapon. The weapon itself wasn’t responsible. The President’s words (and those of like-minded media) did not cause the massacre. Cultural issues—like violence in video games—are contributors.

Camp Two

Mass shootings result from easy access to guns. The President’s words foment racism and, in some, the violence associated with it. Violence in video games has not been proven to contribute to violence in real life.

Let’s take a look…

President Trump’s words and the massacre

Our President’s words did not directly cause the massacre in El Paso. He didn’t say, “go out and kill Mexicans, and—if you don’t—I’ll do something bad to you.” Those words would make him prosecutable.

But, for a population of people who look for “trigger words” that–to them–signal a covert connection to our political leaders, the words from our President—even if they weren’t MEANT to be trigger works–may be taken wrongly.

For example, calling immigrants “invaders” echoes white nationalists that use the exact same word. These extremists believe that people that use these words are on the same page, that they are like-minded and have the same goals.

President Trump has used this word on numerous occasions.

Even if President Trump did not cause the massacre, or intend to connect with violent extremists, perhaps he could chose other language while pursuing immigration reform.

Worth remembering: following 9/11, President Bush called on Americans to not target Muslims, he said that they are good people who have contributed to our country. The first Sunday after 9/11, President Bush also attended a mosque for prayer service.

media’s contribution to the problem with words

Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham regularly use the word “replace” and “replacement” in association with immigration and immigrants. This video slices together footage from various Fox News shows that shows the use of these words. check it out.

why using “replace” matters

White nationalist ideology is about the belief that whiteness is under attack from enemies like Democrats, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, and black people who conspire to destroy the white race, through things like interracial marriage and immigration.

The fear is that this attack can result in a kind of “genocide” or a “great replacement” of one people with another. In other words, “replacement” is central to white nationalists. “You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!” they chanted in Charlottesville, Virginia. It has also been written in the manifestos of mass shooters.

If “replaced” or “replacement” is a trigger word for a violent nationalist should the media consider the impact of its use, that it could validate a fringe violent group?

What about the rest of us? If we know that these words–in the ears of people who are violent and itching for a reason to step up to a cause–can trigger a reaction… should we turn them off, refuse to watch those shows, make more informed, responsible choices in the words that are allowed into our homes?

Two companies have decided to remove their ads from Tucker Carlson’s shows as a result of his recent rant following the El Paso shooting.

gun laws

Lackadaisical gun laws did not CAUSE the massacre. Guns don’t pull their own triggers.

But the highest number of gun fatalities across all developed countries is right here, in the US, and we have the least restrictive gun laws.

The El Paso shooter purchased his AK-47 legally.

mental health and gun ownership

background checks for criminal record

Increased background checks may help to flag some wanna-be gun owners who have been convicted of certain crimes. It’s hard to imagine how this legislation is a bad idea.

However, if you haven’t been convicted of a crime, and you think–or even express–bad thoughts you can’t be arrested, and you probably can’t be prohibited from owning a gun. In most cases, a crime is linked to an act, not a thought.

The El Paso shooter had no prior criminal record.

mental health

The characteristics of a mass shooter (isolated, angry, disaffected, white male) apply to so many people who will never commit a violent crime that it’s hard to imagine a system that can predict the future of an unhappy white male–and therefore a system that doesn’t violate his second amendment rights.

Mental health professionals diagnose mental illness by using guidelines established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Revision (DSM-5). The DSM requires the professional to determine, among other things, if there are significant impairments in functioning and if those are stable over time and situations; if the impairments aren’t related to the socio-cultural world or the result of substance use or medical condition. It’s a highly specific diagnosis that’s meant to withstand the scrutiny of the court system, for example.

The idea that “if he shot a bunch of people he must be mentally ill” doesn’t necessarily hold up because the individual could have been “normal” and “functional” (and not diagnosable) up until the moment he pulled the trigger. In other words, “isolated, angry, disaffected white men” can’t simply be assumed to be mentally ill.

The El Paso shooter had no history of mental health issues, but was described as a “loner.”

social media

Social media giants like Facebook have been working toward purging sites with violent content. At the same time, President Trump held a media summit during which he complained about shutdowns of sites with conservative content.

The President’s complaints are emblematic of the core conflict between censorship by social media and free speech.

However, increased oversight of social media is being considered by governments worldwide as various platforms have been used to draw dark communities together and even to publicize their violent actions. A recent example is the attempt during the Christchurch shootings in New Zealand to live-stream the massacre.

The El Paso shooter posted his manifesto on 8chan prior to his attack.

video games and violence

There is an excellent article in the Atlantic about the history of the connection drawn between video games and violence.

The connection between video games and violent behavior is still defended by some prominent experts in psychology.However,  while the relationship was established in the 1990’s, many of the studies that supported that view were widely criticized as flawed and several important data sets were retracted.

More recent studies don’t indicate a lasting link to violence for gamers.

The history of these studies is complicated and fascinating. Geek out on it here.

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