There have been, as of this writing, 68 mass shootings this year and the year is young. It’s a safe bet that the record for mass shootings will be set this year and that the United States will once again lead the world in that category. What will we do about it? Well, the usual things, of course. The media will write and talk about it for days. There will be photos of sobbing survivors, makeshift monuments, candlelight vigils and grieving parents.

Politicians and relatives will demand justice for the victims but it would come too late for those who have been slain. The media will keep the story alive with the ritual search for answers. Each search, like previous ones, will yield the same causes such as easy access to firearms, lack of attention to warning signals, mental disease, etc. The usual suspects will be blamed, i.e., gun manufacturers, assault rifles, gun owners, violence in the media, etc. There will be additions to the growing body of statistics but little will change because we are, as with most major problems facing our nation, deeply divided over the causes and the solutions.

A mass shooting is generally defined as one involving multiple victims, excluding robberies and family violence, resulting in four or more deaths. While widely publicized, they account for just slightly over 1% of all firearm deaths. However, 90% of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. have occurred since 2007. Between 2019 and 2022, the number of gun-related deaths increased by nearly one third. The increase in shooting deaths have been accompanied by an increase in dangerous road rage incidents.

A National Institute of Justice study of mass shootings from 1966-2017 found that half occurred after 2000 and one-fifth in the last five years of the study, so obviously the problem is growing. Psychosis played a minor role in a quarter of the cases but a major role in only 10%. Nearly half of the assailants leaked their plans in advance and many also displayed suicidal tendencies. Over one-fifth studied other mass shooters. 64.5% had a prior criminal record and 62.8% had a history of violence. The mean average age was 34 but ages ranged from a low of 11. Nearly 98% were male. The common perception that most perpetrators of mass shootings suffer from mental diseases is not supported by the statistics. Neither is the notion that so-called assault rifles are the weapons of choice in most cases. Most weapons used were purchased legally.

Mass shootings are uniquely American although the problem is spreading. It is true, of course, that relatively easier access to guns in the United States is a contributing factor. Still, U.S. cities with the most stringent restrictions on firearms, like Chicago, have the highest rate of gun violence. Gun ownership has been part of the American culture since before the west was won and has been constitutionally protected since the nation’s birth. Yet mass shootings, other than those involved in military operations, are a fairly recent phenomenon.

Nor is there much evidence that poverty or financial stress are causal factors. Those few of us who grew up during the Great Depression in the 1930s and are still alive recall that nearly everyone was suffering financial distress to put it mildly but mass shootings were rare and confined mostly to organized crime activities. We never even locked the doors to our homes or our autos, if you were affluent enough to own one, in our working-class neighborhood. Neither was access to guns a problem. We really never thought we needed them, though. The beat policemen did a pretty good job maintaining peace in the neighborhood and they were respected and welcomed.

Obviously then, something has changed and, having lived long enough to have seen how things used to be, it’s the culture that has changed and it has spawned a rise in lethal violence, particularly among young males. The culture has produced a growing class of victims whose members have been socialized to blame society for their own failures or lack of achievement. This has been facilitated by the breakdown of the family unit and an alarming decrease in parenting skills, especially in single-parent families headed by a working female too busy just trying to put food on the table to learn, without a resident male parent to model appropriate male behavior. It is left, therefore, to the schools, or street gangs, to instill values.

Calls for tougher gun control come too late. The police are demonized, demoralized and often underfunded and repurposed. No longer willing to risk acting pro-actively to prevent crime and protect people, their role is reduced mainly to taking reports. People understand this and are buying guns to protect their families and themselves because they know that the police no longer can.

The nation is suffering from an epidemic of violence caused mainly by young males with an exalted sense of their importance and rights who are quick to act out their rage against others for their own failures or because they feel that they have been disrespected. It won’t change until the culture changes again and parents and teachers learn how to re-instill respect for all laws and those charged with enforcing them. Meanwhile, we might try actually holding parents and guardians legally responsible for the criminal behavior of their minor children.

Vol. 39, No. 8 - Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023

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