Why The Most Sane People Commit the Worst Atrocities

“The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it for the first time with a sense of hope. Because a machine, a terminator, can learn the value of human life. Maybe we can, too.”

– Sarah Connor, Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Right now, the question on everyone’s minds is, “How can we prevent the next mass shooting?” But no one seems to have come up with a concrete answer to it yet.

The question of mass shootings and what we should do (or could do) to prevent them became evident, once more, on the afternoon of February 14, 2018. It was on this Valentine’s Day that 19 year old Nikolas Cruz, a former student with a history of disciplinary issues, walked into a Florida high school and opened fire with an AR-15 style rifle, killing fourteen students and three staff members. Cruz was subsequently arrested on sight and detained without bail, his motives still under investigation. The massacre has since been deemed the ninth deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, trailing behind the other three school shootings Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Columbine.

I’d like to preface my opinion by saying mass shootings like this have become so commonplace, yet so unpredictable, that it doesn’t matter whether you’re going to casually watch a movie at the theater, listen to music at a concert, practice religious beliefs at church, or take an exam at school. You’re taking a risk wherever you go now. It might be a very slim risk, but it’s a risk nonetheless. At the same time, no one should have to feel afraid to leave the house on the off chance that he or she will take a bullet to the back of the head just for shopping for groceries or living life normally. But that is the grim reality in which we live. And so I ask again: How can we, not as Democrats or Republicans or even American citizens, but as decent people with an inherent regard for the value of all human life, prevent the next mass shooting?

Well, any time a mass shooting transpires, it is almost immediately turned into a political issue, as if a lack of sufficient gun control was the one and only precondition to it. And while I do believe that it is time for the government to vigilantly crack down on gun control, in particular by banning assault rifles and making handguns, shotguns, and hunting rifles that much harder to obtain, I think that banning all guns outright would be a horrendous mistake. Doing so would lead to a large number of unintended consequences, the most severe of which would be inadvertently creating a black market where the obtainment of high-powered guns is not only imminent, but made easier and more streamlined for psychopaths intent on wreaking havoc. Thus, to prevent mass shootings by repealing the Second Amendment would be like, and to use the cliché, treating the symptom but not the disease. You can’t hack away at a tree’s branch and expect to chop it down indefinitely.       

So what can be done? Unfortunately, I cannot propose a quick fix that would in effect deter mass murderers and the senseless acts of violence they are known to carry out, because I am not an answer man, nor am I all-knowing. What I will say is that mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and the like go beyond issues of gun control and even mental health – yes, I said it. Obviously mental disorders such as depression play a role in unforeseen assaults on innocent people (Nikolas Cruz was depressed over the death of his mother in November), but I think that to dismiss a mass murderer on the condition that he or she was just a “wack job” or a “nut so” is a fundamental miscalculation in judgement and does a huge disservice to the victims of the violence.

Ordinary people, who are not always psychotic by nature, yield a demonstrable capacity for evil. It is the responsibility of you and me, then, to understand that there are multiple, often interlocking dimensions characterizing the minds of madness apart from simply being crazy. And we can carry out this responsibility by asking all of the important questions whose answers could shed some much-needed insight that has eluded humankind time and again. We should ask, for instance, was this person who committed this unspeakable atrocity a victim of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse? Was this person radicalized by an extremist religious group? Have the social institutions with which this person was associated failed him or her? If so, how? Or, put more bluntly, had this person exceeded his or her tolerance levels for emotional distress? Finally, what preventative, practical measures can the government and law enforcement agencies take to save lives?  

It’s time to internalize the notion that mass shootings don’t have to be enigmatic if we don’t let them be. The alternative would be to get entrenched in the same old ways of thinking that haven’t gotten us anywhere.

Categories: Society & Culture

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