The May 24th mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas brought much of the nation’s attention back to gun violence. The numbers from the Robb Elementary School massacre are staggering: An 18-year-old man fatally shot 19 students and two teachers while wounding seven others. The young man shot his grandmother before he left home that day, leaving her severely injured.
Further, gun violence is rising at alarming rates across American cities. Nearly 800 homicides were committed with a firearm in Chicago last year. Within the same period, at least 276 children 16 and younger were shot. And the Windy City has some of the strictest gun laws in the country.
That leaves us with some hard questions:
• How did we get here?
• Why do we continue to see these mass shootings and violent episodes?
• What’s different in our country from just a few decades ago?
• What’s the connection between violence and mental health?
• What can we do to stop the rage and protect our communities?
Below, Tennessee Counseling explores the trauma-violence phenomenon that’s devastating our neighborhoods.
Why Would Someone Engage in a Mass Shooting?
Whenever there’s a shooting event, people ask, “Why would someone do such a thing?” You’re not going to like it, but here’s the answer:
There Isn’t an Answer
Unfortunately, there’s not an answer for everything. Sometimes, there simply isn’t one, which can be as frustrating as it is discouraging.
A shooter can be apprehended and undergo intense mental health analysis. Still, there won’t be an identifying trigger or trait directly linked to the subsequent action of harming another person. That’s why it’s considered the trauma-violence phenomenon.
That said, just because there’s no definitive answer to why a person would engage in a mass shooting doesn’t mean we can’t put the pieces together and identify possible contributors to the problem.
A Need for Importance
We all need to feel a sense of purpose and belonging. But the sad truth is that many people live with a thick blanket of worthlessness that dominates their existence. These people suffer from overwhelming self-esteem issues and depression; it’s impossible to grasp the impact of these problems unless you deal with them yourself.
Many afflicted individuals desperate to feel important decide to relieve their pain through suicide. And they often choose an exit plan that involves a consequential act.
Skewed as it may seem, the mentally ill person may perceive an act of violence as their last opportunity to matter in this world. They will do anything that makes them feel important. They essentially want to leave behind something impactful, even if it’s chaos and devastation.
It’s challenging for individuals with mental health issues, abuse history, chemical imbalances, or substance abuse to think rationally. Often, they don’t. In their minds, cause and effect are often distorted.
The public yearns for an answer to the logical question of why kill other people or yourself, and rightfully so. But the answer can be so contorted in the shooter’s mind that there’s no way to apply logic or reason to explain or solve the puzzle.
Hurt and Trauma
After a mass shooting, exhibiting emotional charity or empathy toward the shooter may not be the first thing on your mind. While that’s understandable, it’s essential to recognize that people who harm others are often severely damaged.
Many shooters and other hostile individuals come from a childhood with various traumatic events. They’ve grown up neglected, isolated, hurt, or tortured.
People caught in such a spiral of despair find it challenging to resurface or correct their behaviors. So, these mentally ill individuals lash out in what they likely perceive as self-defense. In their minds, humans are the culprit for their lifelong suffering, so it’s entirely appropriate to punish them.
How Can You Help Prevent Mass Shootings?
No single person can stop all the mass shootings in our country. But there are a few things each of us can do to play a role in keeping our communities safe:
Don’t Expect the Government to Fix It
People have been calling for more background checks and gun legislation for decades, and the conversation grows in intensity every time there’s a mass shooting.
Many Trump supporters see Joe Biden as the problem. Just as many Biden voters believe Republicans are blocking meaningful legislation. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.
There are simply too many gray areas in which politicians, police officers, laws, mental health agencies, and community outreach programs cannot operate. Creating more laws, pushing gun reform, and pumping more money into mental health services are usually black-and-white solutions. They cannot resolve the personal issues involved in trauma-related violence; those issues must be handled from human to human on an individual basis.
We must continue increasing support for our police and pursuing common-sense legislation that doesn’t penalize law-abiding gun-owners who want to protect their families from criminals. But in the gray areas is where families, friends, and neighbors must do the work.
Take the Guns When Necessary
Unfortunately, some mentally ill individuals view guns as a security blanket. In their minds, they can always pull the trigger if their pain becomes unbearable.
If you know someone in your community considered “at risk,” start negotiating for their guns now. Assuming this responsibility may be critical if you’re close to the person.
Convincing someone to turn their firearms over for safekeeping is easier than going through legal channels. Plus, you don’t want to procrastinate until it’s too late.
Take the Drugs Temporarily
If there is a mentally ill person in your life who you know is doing drugs, try to convince them to hand their drugs off to someone they trust temporarily. It can be a family member, friend, or any other individual they can rely on.
Emphasize that you are only taking the drugs temporarily. An anxious person is more likely to have voluntary sober moments when they know you’re not permanently holding onto their drugs.
Shut Down the Video Games
The multi-billion-dollar gaming industry doesn’t want to admit it, but it’s hard to deny that war games play at least a partial role in the rise of gun violence. How could it not when kids and young adults are desensitized to graphic violence day in and day out? It’s only natural that it contributes to mental health issues and violent behavior.
Then there’s the fact that video games are isolating. With everything occurring in virtual spaces, playing video games at unhealthy rates can lead to various mental health issues.
Cultivate Brain and Emotional Development
Tragically, most violent crimes involve young men. Connecting young people to others in our communities is critical to buy them time to develop their personal relationship skills and life experiences.
Every emotional connection is meaningful. Cultivating relationships with friends and family, attending church, playing sports, engaging in school, and doing other things in the community can impact adolescents and young adults. The more time a person has for development, the less likely they are to act out violently.
Why Are Violent Episodes on the Rise?
The United States has suffered far too many mass shootings. How did we get here? Why are more and more violent episodes occurring in our cities and communities?
The short answer is isolation.
The Internet sparked a societal shift years ago, and the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the change.
Automation has brought about countless little changes in our culture. Many young individuals don’t even know that people once had to go to the bank to deposit money or stand in line at grocery stores, drug stores, movie theaters, ticket offices, dry cleaners, and many other places.
Those scarcely remembered places and daily activities presented significant social micro-moments, each one nurturing our emotional connections. We had to interact, smile, and touch other people to complete transactions.
Moreover, we came inside from the sidewalks, shade trees, and front porch with the emergence of residential air-conditioning, leaving us to see and visit with our neighbors less often. And there is always electronic media entertaining and distracting us from the present moment, whether it’s music blasting through store speakers or televisions running in restaurants.
It’s not a stretch to say that modern convenience and progress might be the single most impactful contributor to isolation and unhappiness in our lives.
Detachment and Dissociation in Young Children
Detachment and dissociation are more common in young children than you might believe. An overwhelming number of shooters suffered from these issues throughout childhood.
Whether it’s your child or someone you know, learning more about detachment and dissociation will equip you to help them navigate challenges and build a life for themselves.
Dissociation as a Defense Mechanism
Dissociation harms or destroys an individual’s ability to connect with their thoughts, feelings, or needs. And it often stems from childhood.
Trauma is complex and difficult for adults to process. Understandably, it’s even more challenging for children to deal with traumatic experiences. Dissociation and a lack of self-connection often arise as a psychological self-defense mechanism.
Guilt and Shame
Many children and young adults live with the belief that they are to blame for the pain inflicted upon them by abusers. This belief breeds guilt and shame that can persist well into adulthood.
Consequently, guilt and shame can lead individuals to remain in toxic and dysfunctional relationships, establish unrealistic standards for themselves, and develop an overall sense of worthlessness.
It’s natural to feel angry when someone hurts you. However, children are usually forbidden from expressing their anger to their parents or other authority figures, leading some to repress their anger.
Anger will eventually come out either inwardly or outwardly. That’s why it’s common for traumatized kids and young adults to lash out at people who love them, even though those people have nothing to do with their trauma.
Some individuals direct their anger inwardly, putting themselves at risk for self-destructive thinking and behaviors. Others project their anger on others, sometimes harming others.
Helping Someone Through Painful Emotions
Suppose you know someone who has experienced trauma as a child or adolescent. In that case, you can help them process their painful emotions healthfully and, ultimately, help them prevent their feelings from controlling their life. Don’t expect yourself to fix everything. Just be there for the person the best you can.
Here are a few quick tips for helping an individual through painful emotions:
• Teach them to accept their situation for what it is (without blaming themselves or other innocent individuals).
• Help them create a list of situations they want to learn to accept.
• Show them to focus on the present rather than dwelling on the past or stressing out about the future.
• Teach them not to confuse judgment for reality; it’s essential to accept the reality of situations but not the judgments from others.
The gun-related violence raging through our communities is a genuine phenomenon. While childhood trauma, isolation, and other situations are linked to most mass shootings, no specific mental health illness has been reliably credited with causing someone to harm other people.
We must keep observing, learning, and helping the young people in our communities who need it. If you or someone you care about is struggling with a mental health issue, contact Tennessee Counseling for a complimentary consultation.