On February 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, murdered 17 people, including students, teachers, and faculty members, with an AR-15 assault weapon. This assault weapon is one of the most commonly used in mass shootings. Cruz purchased this weapon legally. According to the New York Times, “With this shooting, three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern United States history have come in the last five months.”
Carly Novell was one of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High that day. She survived and has since recounted how she was able to hide in a closet during the shooting, just as her grandfather had done during America’s first mass shooting, which occurred 70 years ago. That mass shooting took place on September 6, 1949, when a man named Howard Unruh killed 13 people in Camden, New Jersey. A grandfather and his granddaughter lived the same horrific nightmare 70 years apart. So, long before assault weapons were being purchased and used to decimate little children, there were mass shootings in America. Although the weaponry has changed, the American culture seems to be a breeding ground for this type of violence, and the question is: Why?
Things have only become alarmingly worse since America’s first mass shooting which was, at the time, seen as an isolated, freak occurrence. True-crime novelist, Harold Schecter, describes how “Unruh’s killings were seen as a weird aberration and not something the culture was obsessed by, so he didn’t immediately enter into a larger American mythology” (Smithosian.com). Today, mass shootings are as common as they are deadly and are a part of our new normal. It is now commonplace for many Americans to walk into a concert hall, theater, or fast food joint and make a mental note of where the exits are.
There is an undeniable problem in this country, and it’s not just with the number of mass shootings that occur. It’s with who’s committing them. According to Newsweek, “white men have committed more mass shootings than any other group,” with 54 percent of mass shootings since 1982 having been committed by white men (Mother Jones). Also, according to Harper’s Bazaar, “Of all the mass shootings since 1982, only three have been committed by women.” Yet, women are often labeled as crazy and overly-emotional. It is time we take a good hard look at the culture that is creating such severe mental health issues and antisocial behavior among some males. I stand with anyone who believes that assault rifles do not belong in the hands of private citizens. However, what lies underneath? How and why are we raising boys and men who are prone to go shoot up their former employers, teachers, and children? I fear that when we ban assault weapons, as I sincerely want to see happen, we have simply slowed the shooter down and lowered the body count. We are naïve as a country to believe that this problem will go away simply by enacting common sense gun laws. That is one piece to this violent puzzle.
Besides citing mental illness, many researchers actually point to white-male entitlement as an underlying factor (Newsweek). However, there is no definitive explanation as to why white men are going around shooting people. We need to examine what is going on with our young males and why they feel the need to express their anger and sense of disenfranchisement with gun violence. Sadly, we may never know exactly why Nikolas Cruz, or any shooter, decides to gun down former classmates or strangers.
I cannot pinpoint the specific cause of why young men are committing mass shootings. Possibly, the tech-obsessed culture that we live in, where feelings of isolation are more prevalent than ever, is a breeding ground for sociopaths. Gaming and desensitization to violence and lines blurring between fantasy and reality may play a role. We could run the gambit of theories all day. Can we even un-ring the bell or are we, as a country, stuck in the mire of bloody gun violence?
One thing I do know, however, is that automatic weapons have no place in the hands of civilians. And until Republicans in Congress begin to prioritize the safety of American citizens over their own self-interests, mass shootings will continue to happen again and again and with extreme loss of life. The other casualty is the American psyche as we experience the loss of feeling safe in our own schools, churches, or anywhere for that matter. I am glad to sense a shift in the mood of the country post this recent Florida shooting, from sorrow to anger. I am fed up and I think many young people hold the energy, stamina, and anger to create real change. Let’s take back our sense of safety in this country and take one long stride in this battle and ban assault weapons. The other contributing factors to this carnage will take more time to unravel but there is no other alternative other than to do so.
Photo Credits: People Magazine