The massacre that occurred in Las Vegas on Sunday evening at the Route 91 Harvest Festival killed 58 people and injured 489 others. In and of itself, it is tragic. Placed in the larger context of violence in America, it is even more tragic. These instances trigger heated debates and finger pointing around gun control and mental illness. This debate is fruitless. It’s time for an overhaul of the conversation.
Here are some data and questions that expand the dialogue and may help us find more lasting solutions.
1. Members of the N.R.A. do not want to see innocent people killed. But they do engage in heinous dissembling when they fail to acknowledge that easily-accessible firearms, assault weapons, rapid-fire devices and the like increase risk for such horrific slaughter of innocent people.
2. Mass shootings are not about individuals with mental illness. Consider that rates of serious mental illness are comparable around much of the globe – much more similar, in fact, than rates of mass shootings. Individuals with severe mental illness are ten times more likely to be victims of violent crimes than the general population. And the overwhelming majority of individuals with mental health problems have no history of violence at all. That being said, a very small percentage (3%-5%) of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness.
3. Mass shootings are just the tip of the iceberg. They are dramatic and horrific but they represent only a small part of the overall homicidal violence in America. Mass shootings arise in a larger societal context of rampant violence. Until we take head-on the core culture of violence in America, we will have no chance of halting the carnage of the relatively rare mass shootings that make for tragic news headlines.
4. How come no one ever asks about the gender of the mass shooter? It is not necessary. Just take a look at the data. Mass shootings are a gender issue, and given that men in other societies are less likely to engage in such acts, we have to examine the societal factors that constitute the seedbed for the exorbitant rates of violent acts perpetrated by men throughout our culture – from sexual assault to interpersonal violence to mass shootings.
5. Say No to the “War on Guns”. I can only hope that we will heed the lessons learned from the gargantuan failure of the “War on Drugs” and not repeat history with a top down “War on Guns.” The rhetoric narrowly focused on locking up guns and/or institutionalizing “crazy” people is deafening and distracting from the larger issues that are eating away at the fabric of our humanity.
The reality is that we are a society riddled with and addicted to violence. It is time to shine a light on the outsized and gendered story. Trying to contain this reality with law-enforcement strategies is like asking friends to join hands across the mouth of Mount Vesuvius to contain the volcanic eruption that destroyed an entire society. Guaranteed to fail, and guaranteed to kill a lot of people in the act.