Opinion: America must rethink the aftermath of mass shootings

Paul Hazelton

After a mass shooting, a pit of paranoia always lumps up at the bottom of my stomach. People on campus relinquish the title of peers and assume the title of potential mass murders. I’m uneasy, vulnerable and unable to focus on anything but the door. I’m at the edge of my seat, waiting for the crack of a gun. In America, students shouldn’t feel this insecure, but they do.

I had assumed naively after the Sandy Hook massacre that Americans would address the issue of mass shootings in a mature and rational way. That did not happen, and yet another school shooting occurred this month in Roseburg, Oregon — the 10th such case since 2012.  

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Politicians and the public argue ad nauseum about the cause of this trend. Some say this problem is due to loose gun regulations. Others insist inadequate access to health care is to blame, and still others point to bad parenting and mounting social pressures.

The problem with these theories is that they’re mutually exclusive, selective and limited in their scope. This causes a debate, to be sure, but never seems to bring about reform. A few weeks pass and the bloodied bodies of students are buried deep within our collective unconscious. The issue is forgotten and we tell ourselves it won’t happen again, until it does. As president Obama stated during his speech in Oregon, “We’ve become numb to this.”

As a culture we cannot afford to look at these incidents as routine facts of life. We need to put our politically-driven arguments aside and objectively look at the causes of this trend if we are ever to solve the problem.

Whatever your political preference, understand that guns are a factor. In most, if not all cases of school shootings the perpetrator has been mentally ill, yet we continue to allow those same people to acquire lethal artillery, for fear of undermining the second amendment. In at least eight of the last 14 mass shootings, documented criminal histories and known mental health problems did not hinder the shooters from acquiring a firearm. That’s unacceptable. While I understand the argument that, as opposed to guns, people kill people, they usually do so with the aid of a firearm. If they didn’t, the mortality rate of these incidents would be significantly lower. So, the argument that tighter gun restrictions would have no effect on the frequency and success of mass shootings is frankly ridiculous.

But, the mental health system in America is also to blame. According to data released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 42.5 million U.S. adults suffer from some form of mental illness. Unfortunately, the availability and access of mental health treatments continues to be elusive for many citizens, particularly those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged.

That’s not healthy, but even worse is the health of our current culture. Teens and college-aged students often feel ostracized, even victimized by their peers. Bullying has gone viral and because of technology, home is no longer a refuge from the relentless teasing that occurs on the playground and in the classroom. There is more pressure than ever to conform to society’s expectations.

We are told to be perfect, that we need a significant other, straight A’s, cool clothes, an infectious personality and many other societal staples of esteem. For some people, though, those things are simply unattainable and not living up to those expectations can be crushing to a person’s sense of self worth. Additionally, our culture gratuitously promotes violence as a solution to a wide array of problems and the media continues to award mass shooters with extended coverage. This does two things: First, the constant bombardment of violence allows mentally ill people to see these acts as righteous, justifiable, and even cool. Second, the misguided way  in which the media reports these issues, gives voice to these heinous acts and too much post-mortem fame to the assailants–something that shooters would pick up on.

In the end, there is no easy solution to this problem and it’s not my directive to provide one. But until we, as Americans, have a full and rationally-based discourse about this blight, massacres will continue. The fact is, our society is sick, and the politicians — that we rarely hold accountable — sit bickering over meaningless details for political gain instead of real issues for meaningful change. I can only hope that this column starts a discussion about the root issues behind this phenomenon, because I would assume my fellow students are sick of waiting for shots to be fired, and their friends to be murdered in front of them, only to be forgotten and morphed into further statistics.  

Collegian Columnist Paul Hazelton can be reached at letters@collegian.com, or on Twitter @HazeltonPaul.

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