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Mass violence: Who’s really at fault?

According to a 2015 study by professor Adam Lankford at the University of Alabama, Americans make up about four percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns.

From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings, worldwide, were American. The country of Yemen has the world’s second-highest rate of gun ownership after the United States and a higher rate of mass shootings among countries with more than 10 million people.

In a study by the Washington Post, which dates back to the 1966 University of Texas shooting and includes an additional 145 mass shootings since, approximately 1,048 victims were accounted for in total.

In steep contrast, however, almost 34,000 people are victims of gun violence per year in America, with roughly 12,000 attributed to homicide, 21,000 attributed to suicide, and close to 500 attributed to legal intervention, according to everytownsearch.org.

“If we plan to invest time and money to study the present issues, consider using that money to study the psyche of the shooter,” said Alex Navarro, an experienced journalism advisor who is familiar with the subject. “In other words, WHAT and WHY is propelling these people to kill innocent people? We know the HOW, of course but enforcing stricter laws on the HOW is a reactionary approach. Can we determine WHY and WHAT is triggering these killers and, if we can, we can figure out a way to become proactive in the approach.”

In psychiatry online.org, doctors James L. Knoll IV, M.D. And George D. Annas, M.D., M.P.H. write that Mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1 percent of all yearly gun-related homicides. In contrast, deaths by suicide using firearms account for the majority of yearly gun-related deaths.

“The whole mental illness part has been challenged,” saysdocumentary filmmaker Charlie Minn, whose films are renowned for bringing attention to gun and mass violence. “Everything is a collaboration on why these mass shootings occur. Obviously the person is the trouble: that’s a mental issue. Then, the gun is the issue: That’s a gun issue.”

“Mass shootings are a subset of mass murders,” say Knoll and Annas. “Mass murder is also a catastrophic but rare phenomenon.”

In their medical publication, they document the following:

Psychological factors include a negative or fragile self-image, paranoid dynamics, and retreat into violent and omnipotent revenge fantasies. Social factors include isolation, possible ostracism by peers, and an absence of prosocial supports. Although no research has reliably established that most mass murderers and mass shooters are psychotic or even suffering from a serious mental illness, individual case studies often reveal paranoid themes in these persons’ cognitions.

The paranoia may not rise to the level of psychosis; however, many are found to have been preoccupied with feelings of social persecution and fantasies of revenge against their perceived tormentors. Some appear to be driven by strong feelings of revenge born of social alienation or a perceived injustice.

We can examine such motivations, for example, in messages shooters leave behind.

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter posted online in late 2011, “[You know what I hate]...Culture. I’ve been pissed out of my mind all night thinking about it” (Sandy Hook Lighthouse 2014). The Isla Vista, California, shooter posted a manuscript online in 2014 stating, “Humanity is a cruel and brutal species” (Rodger 2014).

“It’s really a social decay. The origins behind it are interesting,” commented Minn.

Though not all mass murders are attributed to extremely ill psychosis, careful clinical risk assessment may be stressed as a part of overall psychiatric patient care. Such events are exceedingly rare and, represent a fraction of a percent of all yearly gun-related homicides.

“It’s only getting worse over time, and there are innocent people getting killed because of it,” said Minn.

The earlier-mentioned New York Times article offers America’s homicide rate, 33 per million people in 2009, verses Canada and Britain’s, which was 5 five per million and 0.7 per million, respectively, which also corresponds with differences in gun ownership. Comparing other societies, a 2016 study states that from 2000-2014, the United States death rate by mass shooting was 1.5 per one million people while the rate was 1.7 in Switzerland and, 3.4 in Finland, suggesting American mass shootings were not actually so common.

“The trend is akin to copycat tendencies,” said Navarro. The issue now is not whether it’s going to happen again; the question we are left wondering is when, where and how many died.”

Furthermore, the same study, found that the United States had 133 mass shootings; Finland had only two, which killed 18 people, and Switzerland had one, which killed 14.

With the nearly 34,000 gun victims per year mentioned earlier, we now turn to Switzerland, who has the second highest gun ownership of any developed country, a homicide rate of 7.7 million with tougher laws and a reported higher bar for securing and keeping a license, selling guns, and types of guns available for purchase.

In discussing the culture, we turn to Britain. Following a tragic mass shooting in 1987, Britain instituted strict gun control laws. Newsweek reports that Firearms control in the U.K. is among the toughest in the world and, as a result, firearm offences continue to make up a small proportion (less than 0.2 percent) of recorded crime. Sport clubs and policemen are among the few who are given the right to firearms and such are issued by law enforcement. Persons who have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three years or more cannot possess a firearm or ammunition (including antique firearms) at any time. Their gun homicide rate?

One for every one million people, according to the Geneva Declaration of Armed Violence and Development, a multinational organization based in Switzerland, as reported by USA today.

This established, then examine homicide rate without guns. According to World Bank and ons.gov.uk, British homicides increased substantially after 1997 (when the 1997 Firearms Act was adopted), reaching the highest-ever recorded peak at 1.79 homicides per 100,000 in 2002. Homicides only began to fall in 2002, and further in 2013, but not compared to falling numbers in Canada and the United States , in which homicides have fallen back to 1960’s levels or better. When U.S. is a noun, spell it out. When it’s used as an adjective, abbreviate.

Similarly, we look at Mexico.

According to CBS News, Mexico’s constitution guarantees citizens’ right to own a handgun and hunting rifles for self-defense and sport. Citizens can legally purchase one handgun for home protection, while members of hunting or shooting clubs can acquire up to nine rifles of no more than .30 caliber and shotguns up to 12 gauge. Legally getting your hands on a firearm, however, requires clearing a series of bureaucratic hurdles far stricter than those in the U.S. and, for many customers, traveling great distances to reach the country’s lone gun store. The one store sold 549 guns in 2000. For 2015, sales had risen to 100,115, an increase reflecting the rise in concern about personal safety during a surge in violent deaths in Mexico.

In fact, Mexico has a homicide rate more than five times higher than in the U.S.

This raises the question: Why do these countiries have such a high crime rate where gun laws are so strict? After all, the same trend of increased murder rates haven’t seemed to change much in other countries mentioned, even with an inaction of gun laws.

“Mexico just peaked at the highest homicide rate in its’ country’s history,” said Minn. “It’s the cartel. If you abolish existing drug laws you are going to see a huge decrease in crime.  the violence in Mexico revolves around the violence with the cartel not gun laws.”

Here, we turn our attention toward Australia’s Indigenous people.

According to the conversation.com, even while Australia’s homicide rate was declining, the homicide rate for Indigenous peoples was much higher at 4.9 per 100,000 in 2013-14. Similarly, the Guardian reports that Indigenous men are the most at risk of being accused of or being victims of homicide, with data suggesting they were seven times more likely to be homicide victims than their non-aboriginal counterparts.

“And poor people of color,” said Minn. “They’re realty really the ones that have to suffer from prejudice of race, religion, ethnicity, etc. That’s where we see the trend.”

In America, the FBI reported that the number of African-American people killed by whites, including those of Hispanic descent, surged by nearly a quarter in 2015 from the year before. According to usnews.com, interracial killings accounted for about 12 percent of the roughly 6,000 homicides last year and 8.6 about nine percent of black victims were killed by whites.

In fact, the FBI reported that in 2015, 53.1 percent of those murdered were Black or African American, 89.0 percent were male and, more than 71 percent (71.5) of the homicides involved the use of firearms. Similarly, a study by Statistica found that people of black ethnicity were homicide victims more than any other ethnic group in England and Wales

As for Mexico, Newsweek points to Mexico’s ongoing War On Drugs. According to an International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) survey on armed conflicts released in May 2017, Mexico is now the second-deadliest country in the world, with 22,967 homicide victims in 2016, more violent than war zones such as Afghanistan or Yemen.

“What’s the difference between mass shootings and mass violence? A psycho is a psycho, and they’re going to act out by means nessecary. Its not a mater of if, its a matter of when, how, and, how many,” said Minn.

Though mass shootings are often difficult to determine and, extremely rare events with no simple preventative solution, attention should be directed towards prevention direction rather than prediction. Doctors Knoll and Annas put in best when they write, ‘prevention may only be possible when somebody warns that such behavior may occur....Acquaintances often acknowledge concerns prior to the incident...’

“Look at the Vegas shooting. Who woulda’ predicted that? A sick person is a sick person, regardless of race, religion, or creed,” said Minn.

Therefore, family members of individuals who may present with increased risk of gun violence, with or without mental illness, should be provided with information about existing help and resources. They should be provided with support for notifying authorities and understand that doing so is a potentially heroic and compassionate act that may save the lives of others as well as their loved ones

“The violence is spread so far and wide, we’ve passed the threshold and gotten to a point where I don’t know if we’ll ever get back. In the end, we’re human beings, and we all have that in common. Everyone has the mentality to change and to follow that  line, and, depending on that, the world will get better.”

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