According to the U.S. Gun Violence Archive, so far in 2019, 6,636 people have been killed as a result of gun violence. This figure includes not only homicide, but also suicides and accidental shootings. Out of the 25,134 incidents reported as of June 20th, 1,281 teens (ages 12-17) and 282 children under 11 have been either killed or injured as a result of gun violence.
Why do these shootings happen? What can we do to keep ourselves and our children safe? Read on for additional insight into the gun violence epidemic in America.
Over the last 20 years, mass shootings have become more pervasive in American society. These events have become so engrained in the collective consciousness, most adults can recall them by location alone: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Lakeland, and Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.
While mass shootings have become increasingly common in the US since the 1999 attack at Columbine High School, we still struggle as a society to understand their causes.
Though many incidents have occurred since, the profiles of most mass shooters are eerily similar. They are usually individuals who experience a deep sense of resentment toward themselves and others. Often times, they direct their hatred toward people with a specific ethnicity, gender identity, belief system, or sexual orientation. However, this is not always the case. Still, most mass shootings are undertaken by people, typically males, who are discontented with their place in the world. Some even suffer from mental illnesses, such as depression, paranoia, or bipolar disorder. These factors cause an inability to cope with stressors and trauma. Additionally, in the case of many school shootings, attackers were also victims of bullying, harassment or otherwise viewed as outsiders.
Unable to deal with their loneliness and rage, these desperate and unstable individuals often see mass shootings as a form of expression and as a way to get back at the society that rejected them.
But why do they resort to such violent measures?
According to Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling author of The Tipping Point, the act of carrying out mass shootings has become normalized due to increased exposure. Each shooting affects the ones that follow—much in the way seeing a rioting crowd encourages others to join in. This lowers the barrier of entry, allowing potential violent shooters to see it as an option.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, an average of 11 murder-suicides happen every week across the United States. While we can’t see into the mind of these individuals at their last moments, we know that their feelings and behavior have a cause. While not all depressed individuals resort to suicide, we know that many who do have exhibited signs of depression and other mental illness prior to taking their own lives. Some may not have access to mental health care, while others still may have access but do not seek it out.
Another major determining factor for death by suicide is access to firearms. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Research Institute reports that people with firearm access are at “more than three times the risk of suicide compared to those who do not own or have access to firearms.” This statistic suggests that while many may contemplate suicide, those with easier access at the moment of their decision are more likely to be successful. Additionally, suicides, like mass shootings, have a contagious element to them. After one occurs, others contemplating suicide are more likely to follow through on their plans in the days and weeks after.
For parents who own guns and keep them in the home, the best defense is to keep them in a place where children and teens do not have access to them.
If you or someone you know has shown signs of depression or warning signs of suicide, encourage them to get help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at tel:1-800-273-8255 or by visiting the website at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
Not all shootings in the US are intentional. In 2018, 1,622 accidental shootings were reported. Most of their unintended victims were children who discharged loaded and unlocked firearms stored in their homes or in the homes of friends or other family members. A study performed in 2014 by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Research Institute found that victims of accidental shootings were three times more likely to have a gun in the home. Furthermore, 1 out of 3 homes with children also have guns. Adolescents, due to their innate curiosity and impulsivity, make up the majority of victims.
Parents may believe warning their children about the dangers of guns in the home is enough to keep them safe, but this is not the case. The 2014 study also found that, “More than 75 percent of first and second graders know where their parents keep their firearms and 36 percent admitted handling the weapons, contradicting their parents’ reports.” Due to adolescents’ inquisitive nature coupled with feelings of invincibility, they often do not heed these warnings. They may view guns as a toy. They may believe they know how to handle guns after watching parents or television characters handle them. They may not think their actions through before it is too late. As a result, guns stored in the home should be unloaded and locked up where children do not have access to them.
Parents can lessen their children’s chance of encountering gun violence by maintaining an open line of communication with them. For children struggling with depression or feelings of hopelessness, a close relationship with a parent or trusted family member gives them an outlet for their feelings and a way to seek help. Children and teens may also take trusted adults in confidence when it comes to divulging information shared with them by peers—which may help prevent attacks before they occur.
The majority of school shooters do, in fact, tell a peer or hint at their plans on social media. The Los Angeles Times reported on a joint study conducted by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education found that in 81% of mass shooting incidents, at least one other person knew the attacker was contemplating or planning a school attack. In 59% of cases, more than one person knew. However, a code of silence exists among young people that may prevent them from divulging this information without the foundation of a trusting relationship.
What’s more, when it comes to preventing school shootings and suicides, the best defense is strong relationships. Nurturing a strong and supportive relationship helps children and teens feel less alone and less likely to fall into a state of depression so isolating that gun violence feels like their only option.