Our problem is America’s gun culture, not mental illness alone | Opinion
Warning signs about the shooter in the February school massacre in Parkland, Florida were seemingly missed. This omission apparently dominates attention today, not the role of America’s gun culture.
The FBI missed an informer’s warning. “We made mistakes here. No question about that,” said FBI acting deputy director David Bowdich recently to the Senate Judiciary Committee, adding “even had we done everything right, I’m not sure if we could have stopped this act.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan says correcting such “system failures” coupled with improving the mental health system is all that is needed, not gun control.
But relying mainly upon law enforcement and mental health professionals to identify and treat would-be mass shooters seems suicidal.
No one saw the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting coming. The Las Vegas shooter’s girlfriend did tell law enforcement he acted strangely during a stay at the Mandalay Bay (the shooting location) a month before the shooting. But that was her retrospective interpretation afterward. A future shooting was not what the girlfriend saw in the moment she witnessed the strange behavior.
Stated in a police report, the girlfriend also believed the Las Vegas shooter’s buying firearms “was a hobby of his.”
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said Paddock had been losing money at the city’s casinos for two years. (Nov. 3, 2017)
A searchable federal database on gun purchases (not allowed today) would have better warned authorities of the Las Vegas shooter’s large purchases of guns than the eyewitness observation of the girlfriend. But the lack of such a database is not one of the “system failures” Speaker Ryan and similarly-minded are interested in fixing.
Yes, a disturbed history of the mass murderer in the November 2017 church massacre at Sutherland Springs, Texas was revealed after the shooting. And the Air Force failed reporting to the background-checking system for gun purchases the shooter’s violent behavior when in the Air Force.
So the Air Force gets blamed for the Texas shooting, not the weight of America’s gun culture.
Professor Jeffrey Swanson writes in Psychiatric Services that profiles “of mass killers suggest they tend to be troubled young men” [known in retrospect] but this “does not tell us” who among the “large population of troubled young men…will become the next mass killer” since “the vast majority…will not.”
The Parkland shooter had a fascination with guns. Not all troubled minds, however, do. But the mind of America’s gun culture does.
Lest we forget, the day of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School an armed police officer was on duty. In the parking lot, he exchanged gunfire with one of the two mass murderers but missed; the mass killing then unfolded. And at the June 2016 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, an armed off-duty officer was outgunned in his gunfire exchange outside with the shooter before the shooter’s mass killing inside.
And the victims of the Las Vegas shooting — the most deadly mass shooting in modern U.S. history — were at an outdoor concert; no building to fortify.
I question if any mental health professional can sufficiently compete with the draw America’s love of guns has on some troubled minds. In the case of the Parkland shooter, mental treatment and school counseling lost.
As America worships the power of the gun, so do mass shooters it seems.
We fool ourselves thinking half measures in gun reform suffice. The cultural force of America’s gun love fest seems too powerful for half measures.
Comprehensive gun reform, including universal background checks and banning civilian access to assault-ready firearms, has a better chance over time to dampen America’s mass shootings and gun violence generally.
Half measures may come first, but more will be needed.
Sociologist Frederic Decker, who lives in Bowie, Maryland and earned his PhD at Florida State University, is the author of “America’s gun culture continues running amok.”