In the discussion regarding mass shootings in America that has become so unfortunately relevant, blame has been placed all across the board. There is without a doubt a problem that has gotten worse as of late; just in the last month, shootings in Isla Vista, Portland, Seattle and Las Vegas have left Americans justifiably looking for a cause. Relaxed gun laws, violent video games and the proliferation of social media have all come into the spotlight. In a recent op ed, Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday even tried to connect the popularity of Judd Apatow movies to the Isla Vista shooting, blaming “escapist fantasies” of “mass entertainment … overwhelmingly controlled by white men.”
Looking to these factors, whether or not they are correlated to the issue, distracts from the root of the problem: mental illness and its mishandled treatment. As long as we are looking for a source of violence that is anything other than the aggressors themselves, these tragedies will continue. Americans need to view these killers for what they are — confused, lonely and aggressive people suffering from mental health issues that have gone unaddressed — rather than the products of whatever social evil is trendy for the news to sully that week.
For every gun owner who uses their gun to harm, there are thousands of others who own them responsibly. For every mass shooter who has played a violent video game, there are thousands of gamers who would never even consider such an act. For every killer who uses social estrangement as an excuse to open fire, there are thousands of self-perceived “outcasts” who would never think to harm another human.
These external scapegoats for mass shootings are simply a convenient way for media outlets to capitalize on and profit from these tragic events — it allows them to publish more and more articles about mass shootings, tying them to unrelated “evils.” They also allow individuals to make sense of the shootings, allowing them to ignore the possibility of random acts of violence and place blame on something tangible and separate from them.
Sure, increased gun control and background checks could make it more difficult for someone planning a shooting to follow through on their plan. But as long as guns exist in America, people will be able to get a
hold of them somehow. Besides, there are plenty of countries that have created effective and safe gun cultures: Switzerland, for example, ranks extremely high for gun ownership but has a much lower homicide rate than most countries.
To truly turn this trend of mass shootings in America, we should be focusing on providing adequate care to those suffering from mental illness, and recognizing the signs that someone might be in danger of harming themselves and others. Granted, much is unknown about mental health issues, and these “signs” might not be so easily spotted. But by improving access to care, reducing the stigmas associated with mental illness and educating the public on mental health issues, America would be striking at the heart of the issue. Instead, so far we have been largely ignoring it, choosing to blame unsubstantiated influences on the shooters.
In fact, focusing on potentially unrelated “causes” is insulting and unfair to those affected by mass shootings, warping tragedies into media frenzies and shifting focus away from providing help to those who need it. Tuesday’s Portland shooting should not be regarded as “proof” to back a political agenda against guns or media. It was a terrible event for the families and friends of victims and the gunman alike, and our focus should be on helping them.
Looking forward, we should be attempting to create a culture of professional and responsible care for mentally ill individuals. Elliot Rodger, for example, had been treated for mental health issues from the time he was eight years old, but was able to legally buy and store three handguns. Given his determination to carry out his plan, it is likely he would have found a way even without them — his history of mental illness, however, should have been taken into consideration. In this case, it was not the guns that were the root of the problem, but Rodger himself.
Until we as a society extend sympathy and understanding toward individuals facing these kinds of issues, we will continue facing the same problems — an unacceptable possibility given their increasing frequency in the past year. I’m not an expert who can make scientific suggestions to improve mental health care, and the institution as a whole has a way to go in America. Blaming external factors, however, dangerously ignores the cause of a terrible pattern of events that are becoming all too frequent.
Burke Gibson is a senior majoring in economics and is the editorial director of the Daily Trojan.