In the past few weeks we have seen some horrid shootings in our country. In fact, in the last five years there have been 29 shootings with four or more fatalities. In our own City of Philadelphia our daily shootings are occurring at an alarming rate. What is more disturbing is how many children, teenagers and young adults are losing their lives due to gun violence. I recently read of a story where a mother of six was killed on an anniversary trip with her husband through North Carolina by another driver with a gun because of a road rage incident. The list of tragedies goes on to the point that it is difficult to go into public places without some fear about what could possibly happen.
When we try to assess why America has such a gun violence problem the answer is very complex. Although we see evidences of dysfunction in the personal histories of those who shoot others there is really no specific pattern that seems consistent. The research does not necessarily connect mental illness as a primary cause. There is usually some kind of legal issue, or some kind of involvement with alcohol or drugs. Yes, we have more guns than the rest of the world which is a contributing factor, but most gun owners do not shoot other people.
Our health professionals are overwhelmed by how many cases they are dealing with each day, particularly in a post-COVID environment. Mental health professionals, drug and alcohol counselors and other professionals are dealing with complex decisions and problems that are greater than they have capacity to find services for. In that kind of environment, how can we possibly know what some individuals may do when they are severely dysregulated?
We also do not have an effective system of reporting that can be used to predict who will use guns inappropriately. We can ask questions about past criminal behavior (i.e. convictions) or mental health diagnosis but there isn’t a national registry that can be utilized to diagnose or effectively predict a potential mass shooter. State police checks are helpful for significant criminal behavior but beyond that we really do not have good criteria to utilize.
We can work on records in our systems; that is mental health, drug and alcohol and legal but that kind of undertaking is significant and will take a great deal of time and money to implement. Our systems of care for our societal ills have been underfunded and over-stressed. We need to improve them as a part of a strong health infrastructure. However that will also take a significant amount of time and money to resolve.
We need to join together to be vigilant as a society. Evidence suggests that there are early warning signs of most shooters that family, friends, schools, work peers or social media could detect. For those individuals who are promoting hate, anger, racism, violence, threats, dark practices, severe depression, suicide and related behaviors and philosophies, red flags ought to be going up for us all. We need to raise our awareness when we see or hear about the potential for violence and report that to the appropriate professionals in order to intervene and potentially prevent a tragic event.
Also we can teach and support anti-violence training that will promote positive ways to resolve our difficult life circumstances and conflicts. This starts in families in the young years. Dealing positively with life problems and resolving them peacefully may set the tone for better ways to resolve our issues without resorting to violence. Like any family core belief we have the opportunity to instill healthy and non-violent practices in our homes and communities. In the complexity of these issues the best way to help our society is to start with what we teach our children.
These are few answers that will immediately rectify the serious issues of shootings because it is very complex. It will take all of us to be mindful, alert, aware and assertive when we see the potential for someone who may be violent. It starts by providing a healthy life environment for those we have influence with in each of our communities.