I normally try to keep my columns on the lighter side, but I have to admit, this one has a heavy feel. There are many heavy hearts across the country these days after the shooting tragedies in Gilroy, Calif., El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Once again, it brings the gun control conversation front and center. These back-to-back-to-back shootings, killing 31 people within a week, may have tipped the scales for some sort of real action to take place.
We often hear the comment that “guns don’t kill, people do.” That’s very true. Banning all guns is not going to happen, nor should it happen. The vast majority of gun owners are law abiding, good citizens who own guns for hunting, recreation or protection. Although I’m not an active gun owner because I don’t hunt, it gives me a little more sense of security to know my 12 gauge is in the closet just a few steps away.
Because there have been so many shootings, a person can become numb to them. How else can we process the carnage other than to almost disconnect, hang your head in sad amazement that it just keeps happening and hope it never happens to your family or anyone you know?
I took some time to look back on some databases to see how many shootings there have been since the deadly Columbine massacre 20 years ago.
As I scrolled down page after page, my heart sank and my stomach churned. There have been 89 mass shooting in those 20 years, and the pace is definitely picking up. There has been an average of one mass shooting per month in 2017 and 2018 and so far in 2019. It is sad because as I looked at the list, there were many that I don’t ever recall hearing about. Those “small” shootings killing “only” three or four people apparently didn’t either make the news or were buried after the weather or on page 5 of the newspaper.
Looking clear back into the 1980s it was easy to see the trend of shootings ratcheting up over the last decade. In the 1980s, there were one or two a year. In the 1990s, an average of around three, until 1999 (Columbine) when the total jumped to five. The average each decade has increased since that time.
There have been guns around the entire time. So why the increase in the last 10 years? I sure don’t have the answer, but a two-year study by the Los Angeles Times found some common threads with the shooters. For starters, 95 percent of the shooters were men. Maybe we should only allow women to own weapons?
The study also found that the vast majority of shooters had experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age, which in some cases included severe bullying. They had also reached an identifiable crisis point in the weeks leading up to the shooting and most had studied other shootings to create their own plan.
So where should the focus be to eliminate these shootings or at least decrease the number? True, gun laws need to be looked at. Does any average citizen need a weapon capable of firing 600 rounds in a minute?
But it should not all be about the guns. The focus needs to be on mental health, and finding ways to identify and deal with potential shooters before they pull the trigger. More than half of the shooters in these mass shootings since 1999 had previous mental health issues and 90 percent had obtained their weapons legally. Clearly, that is a problem.
Almost on cue, last week one maniac stepped up and proved you don’t need a gun to kill, with a stabbing rampage that killed four people in California. And, ironically, also last week, an armed citizen stopped a potential massacre in Springfield, Mo., by holding the shooter at gunpoint until police arrived.
Let’s hope and pray that the senseless killings stop. In the meantime, take a walk, spend time with your friends and family, or just do something you really love. Like the Zac Brown song says “Make this day, a little better than the last.”
Mark Rhoades is the publisher of Enterprise Media Group.