So I probably did not fail my exam today. That’s as certain as I can be. Only a few more weeks before we launch into Anatomy, where I anticipate that things will start to get a little crazier. Good news: the anatomy course is “streamlined” and “redesigned” this year. I should hope so, since the last time they “updated” it was back in the 1990′s.
This is the follow up to “The World is Hilarious and Sad”. I talked about a few current events, but left out a glaring one that had happened not a day before. This is (probably) old news by now (three days later), but I will use it to make a few points. In an effort to keep this post both trendy and technologically advanced(ha!), here’s a iPhone pic of USA Today’s cover the day after the shooting.
Mass shootings like this are just about guaranteed to get people actively all wound up about guns, violence, drugs, religion, “kids these days” or whatever else they see as the main factor involved in the shooting. In every single case, they are wrong. This is an instance of over-simplification, people seeing what they want in an issue and using it to further their cause. As tragic as all of these shootings are, they will be used shortly afterwards for political/economic/social gain. Anyone who claims to have a “magic bullet” solution for these mass shootings is seriously misinformed.
So let’s look at some of these silly ideas. The most obvious fight is the “guns are the problem” people versus the “everyone should have guns” people. One side believes guns to be the very tools of Satan, and the other side carries their gun EVERYWHERE because they can and they like to. So here’s the funny thing about guns and violence. Ready? It’s been decreasing a lot. Since 1995.
Yup. Weird. My observant readers will notice that this graph cuts off at 2005, and argue that it goes up after the graph ends. Not true. It’s down even more after 2005. That same data shows that gun violence accounts for 5-8% of all violent crime. I should point out that the more violent crimes are often shootings, but they are not alone in that category. Bombings and mass stabbings are also capable of producing large numbers of fatalities. What those numbers mean is that if we could somehow eliminate every gun from the world, we would see a 5-8% reduction in violent crime. Lame. Hence the problem with gun control support. What do you do with the millions of existing guns? Why impose new laws on people intent on breaking them anyway? Another strong point against that argument is the fact that these events are often stopped/averted by other people with guns, and these events are less prominently reported. Also, guns are pretty cool.
So the guns aren’t the problem. The next thing people will talk about with our latest shooting is probably violent video games. This most recent shooter played Call of Duty, because he was a guy with an Xbox. It is very tempting to correlate violent video games with violent behavior, but it’s lazy and ill-founded to do so. Why? Here’s one reason. In a recent presentation, the CEO of Activision boasted that around 10 million people per day play Call of Duty. That number jumps up to 40 million people who play it once a month. That’s a ton of people playing a video game (or doing anything, really). If a hundredth of a percent of those daily gamers (a fantastically small portion, .01%) ended up being violent shooters, that’s like 1,000 people. There haven’t been that many mass shootings in the last few decades put together. Video games didn’t really exist until the early to mid-1990′s, when the industry really took off. Does that correlate with increased gun violence? Nope. In fact, the graph above shows that gun violence drops hard right at that same time. Weird. I think a better assumption is that Call of Duty (or video games in general) helps stop these events from happening by giving people a virtual outlet for real world problems. Also, non-gamers would probably be surprised at the extend to which video game skill does NOT cross over to firing an actual weapon(full disclosure: I’m quite good at Call of Duty, and lucky to hit the earth in real life).
What about religion? That’s another hot topic. Terrorist attacks have brought attention to Islamic fundamentalists. The Columbine shooters were not religious (as far as I know), and the Naval Yard shooter was Buddhist. Yup. While commonly seen as a peaceful religion (most people think of the fat Buddha statue meditating), some Buddhists just wrapped up a decade long civil war in 2009. No one would suspect Buddhism of turning out shooters, however.
Those are a few of the issues that stir the greatest controversy, but we are still missing some factors that make a huge difference. Here’s a common thread no one wants to talk about: mental illness. In nearly every shooting I can think of, the shooter exhibited a form of depression, substance abuse, or personality disorder. Our public health system is underfunded and poorly equipped to take care of the Adam Lanzas in this country. What about the link with drugs and medication? How about the fact that the perpetrator often gets a temporary spotlight? That may be a motivating factor for those who are trying to make a point. What if we shifted coverage from documenting every aspect of the shooters life and motivation to extensive reporting on the victims, their families, and those who survived? What about all of the “almost shootings”, like this and this and this? Let’s learn from these cases that could have happened and figure out how to stop the next one.
There will be a next one. It may happen in the next few weeks, and it will certainly happen again in the next year. When it does, all of these issues will raise their ugly heads. The news will get it wrong, but hopefully we continue to learn and improve our efforts to stop these events from happening.
If you’re reading this, maybe I earned a like? As always, I welcome your feedback in the comments or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading!