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  • Writer's pictureDena Lampert

We Are Shooting Eachother

There have been over 350 mass shootings in the US so far this year and we’re only just into August. We are still trying to understand what happened at Highland Park, Illinois where 8 people were killed and 29 injured and only two months ago we had to come to terms with the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas where 19 children and 2 teachers were killed, and 17 people were injured.


A lot gets reported about the victims of this violence, and rightly so—no one should ever have to experience this kind of violence. We also hear a lot about the police response to these crises (both positively and negatively) and we certainly talk a lot about our opinions on gun control. And though these issues are extremely important and should never be overlooked, we’re not having a crucial conversation: what broke down for the shooter to get to the point where they feel that they need to hurt people?


Mentally reaching this point is not something that happens overnight. No one wakes up one morning and decides to commit mass murder. This dysfunction happens over time and there are always warning signs.


Research has found that mass shootings are rarely impulsive. Rather, these attacks typically were planned and, in many cases, the perpetrators' observable behavior prior to the attack, suggested they might be planning or preparing for it.


So my intention with this blog is to start that conversation. To open up a discussion about the warning signs that might indicate that someone is falling down this path of dysfunction and what can we do, as society members who want to change this trend of mass shootings, to spot these warning signs and act accordingly.


Social isolation


One of the most common warning signs is social isolation which can involve withdrawing from friends and family both in-person and online. Often attackers feel persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked, or injured by others prior to the incident.


Depression and desperation


Recent research has found that several attackers have had some history of suicidal attempts or thoughts or a history of feeling depression or desperation prior to the attacks, and these are often flagged to police. In this study, of the fifteen mass shootings analyzed, eight of the attackers showed some suicidal ideation or had a history of suicide attempts.


Expressed interest in violence


As we often hear about in the media, a large number of attackers often exhibit an interest in violence, often in their own writings such as poems, essays, or journals, and also on social media. For example, this article shares that the man who has been arrested in connection with the Brooklyn subway shooting only a few months ago had talked about violence and mass shootings in videos he posted on YouTube. In addition, it’s common for the attackers to brag about access to guns or weapons prior to the attack.


Involving others


Although counterintuitive, it’s very common for attackers to involve people in their planning prior to an attack. For example, one attacker asked his friends to help him get ammunition for one of his weapons and had told his friends on several occasions that he thought about killing certain students at school.


Threatening others


Another common warning sign is making threats to both individuals and collectives prior to an attack. For example, this article shares that the gunman accused of killing 10 at a grocery store in Buffalo, NY earlier this year had previously made a school shooting threat. Attack threats are especially common with experts saying that school threats, in particular, are a daily occurrence.


It’s important to note that even if someone shows one or more of these warning signs, that does not mean they’re planning to commit an attack. We’re not saying that these behaviors conclusively lead to violence, but these are the most common warning signs based on the current research.


One of the most distressing points that is important to address is that the majority of mass shootings in the US have been preventable, based on the information known about offenders in advance according to recent research. Most commonly, the attackers expressed violent thought and intent, specific interest in mass shootings, and general interest in homicide. It is also very common for the attacker to tell a close friend or sibling about their plan to commit an attack.


If you notice any of these warning signs with someone you know, you can’t stay quiet and hope that they will change their minds. If someone clearly states that they are a threat to themselves or others, call 911. If you notice warning signs with a minor, contact their parents or guardian and their school. If something is posted online that is concerning, report it to the social media platform and to any personal connection of the person posting. Most importantly, do whatever you can to prevent someone who is at risk of committing violence against others from gaining access to weapons.


There are a multitude of factors that lead to the ongoing mass violence in our country which are much too complicated for me to address in this blog. But I encourage you to consider what your responsibility is to protect yourself and your neighbors from gun violence.


The most common discussion surrounding mass shootings in the US is the conversation about gun control and/or the right to bear arms. We all have our strong opinions and we are very emotional about this issue, which just leaves us stuck. I think it is a mistake to only focus on gun laws without considering how to identify and address violent or potentially violent individuals. I have heard gun supporters make statements like “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. Regardless of my views on gun control, there is a lot of truth in that statement. How can we start building our skills in identifying and intervening with those people who are at risk for committing gun violence? If we get better at this and find ways to identify and treat individuals who are potentially violent, could it be possible that we get to a place where gun laws are less important in this country?

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