The United States is an advanced industrial society. Yet we have the highest murder rate and the most frequent mass murders among this group of nations. Our normal response is shock followed by noise about gun control and mental illness. Then it is another day, unlike the ongoing conversation about sexual harassment following the misdeeds of Harvey Weinstein and others. We need a mass movement to curb mass murders in America.
The assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981 led to the Brady Bill for the prevention of handgun violence.It did little to reduce the free-market supply of handguns. A dozen or more mass murders occurred between the attack and the gunning down of Congresswoman Gabby Gifford in 2011. Heroic efforts by James Brady and his wife and Gifford and her husband have neither improved gun control nor reduced gun violence.
The problems are two fold: First, any attempt to control the supply of guns gets invariably marred between gun control and the “right to bear arms.” Second, and I hate to agree with the NRA on this, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Furthermore, “gun control” with millions of firearms already in circulation through private vendors is an oxymoron. However, guns in the hands of criminals and angry people do indeed exacerbate violence and should be restricted to the extent possible.
Another argument focuses on mental illness as the source of mass murders. The following statement by the National Alliance on Mental Illness is, however, instructive:
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Consistent evidence debunks the link between mental illness and gun violence. ... There is a lot of research on how that’s not a direct link as people have been let to believe. ... People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators of crime. (The News & Observer, Nov. 9, 2017).
Mass murderers are generally not sick. They are calculating planners; as the biographies of Stephan Paddock, Omar Mateen, Dylann Roof, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and others like them suggest.
The causes of interpersonal and public violence are social, cultural and behavioral. And that is where the problem should primarily be addressed. The typical mass murderer is an angry and violent male full of hate and powerlessness. He has learned to be violent by watching violent movies and comics and by playing violent video games; or by experiencing violence at home, school, in a gang or during military service. He plans to kill the perceived object(s) of his hate, anger and powerlessness.
Behavior modification through education offers promising leads. Even in the so-called “free societies,” don’t we learn to drive safely, follow traffic signs, and not walk in the middle of roads? And haven’t public and private campaigns successfully reduced smoking, alcoholism, drunken driving and eating unhealthy foods?
So why not use similar means to teach nonviolence and anger and hate management? Let us start at the kindergarten and go all the way up.
Parents and religious leaders must be encouraged to discuss these relationships at home and at places of worship. Public and social media could be mobilized to regularly communicate about these issues. Listening to the oft-repeated exhortations on TV for talking to “your children about underage drinking,” I have wondered why we couldn’t do the same for the problem of violence in our society.
Finally, who should pay for this campaign? That is where the top political, religious, and corporate leadership comes in. Starting at the top, the campaign should move down to the level of governors, mayors, and other community and religious leaders. There should be national, state, and city level conferences to start building political and economic capital for this endeavor. In the last presidential inaugural address something was said about stopping “this American carnage.” I am not sure which American carnage was intended. It certainly was not the carnage of mass murders.
Let us start the balling rolling now, before the next (mass) murderer strikes.
Aqueil Ahmad, a resident of Orange County, is a retired professor of sociology and management.