Wednesday, June 15, 2016

We Need To Prevent More Mass Shootings

The story of the recent tragedy in Orlando was still unfolding when I started to hear the usual comments. “It could only come out of Florida,” or “More senseless violence by the Muslims,” or “Trump was right; we need to keep these people out of our country.” At first glance, these statements seem to be reasonable but looking deeper into the issue, we see a very different pattern emerging.

In order to discuss this it is first necessary to look at this crime. We label this a “mass shooting” and while it is the largest ever to take place in our country, it is not the first. Over the past 50 years there have been 14 such shootings with 12 or more victims. Until this incident the most lives lost in a single mass shooting had been the Virginia Tech Massacre where 32 people were killed. After that it was Sandy Hook with 27, Luby's Cafeteria with 23, and McDonald's of San Ysidro with 21. The remainder of the shootings had under 20 killed in each incident. This does not make them any less tragic. I just don't want to list each one here.

In all 14 shootings a total of 274 lives were lost at the hands of 18 killers. (There were two people involved in the San Bernardino shooting, two at Colombine and three at Wah Mee in Seattle). 76 of these (or 28%) lost their lives at the hands of Muslims. 102 of them (37%) were killed by Christians. It is entirely possible that this number is actually higher. I can only include those who I know were Christians, not those who I suspect were probably Christians. George Hennard, for example, was the perpetrator of the killing spree at Luby's Cafeteria in Texas but I have not been able to ascertain a religious affiliation for him. As such, I can't just assume he was Christian and include him. If he was a Christian, that would increase the number to 125 or 46%. James Huberty was the killer at the McDonald's in San Ysidro, CA where 21 people lost their lives. He might have been Christian as well. Patrick Sherrill in Edmond, OK killed 14 people at a Post Office and Aaron Alexis killed 12 at the DC Naval Yard. These men might also have been Christians. If these are added in, the total comes to 172 or 63%. But even without these victims in the tally, Christians have killed more people in mass shootings in this country than Muslims have.

Looking at it from a racial perspective, only four of the killers were Middle Eastern. Five were Asian. One was African-American. Eight were Caucasian. In every case of the Caucasians, they were all born in this country, as was the African-American. None of them were immigrants. Two of the Middle Eastern killers were also born in this country. They were U.S. Citizens as well.

While Florida is very sadly the scene of the deadliest of these shootings, until this happened, Florida was not even on the list. Two shootings were in each of four states; California, Texas, Virginia and Colorado. The others were in New York, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Washington (state) and Washington, D.C. There is no set pattern for where these types of crimes will occur.

And while Omar Mateen (of the Orlando shootings) and Tashfeen Malik (of San Bernardino) made claims to being supportive of ISIS, those claims appear to be mere lip-service. There has not been any firm evidence found that directly links either of these people to this hateful organization. Even assuming that such is the case, then 63 of the victims would be killed with allegiance to ISIS as the motive. That would be 23% of the total victims. The other most probable motive is mental illness, which accounts for 170 of the crimes. 62% of the victims lost their lives because the killers were mentally ill. If it is found that Omar Mateen also had this condition, that would raise it to 80%.

This number does not include the shootings at the Edmond, Oklahoma Post Office, as I have not been able to find evidence that Patrick Sherrill was mentally ill. It also does not include the Fort Hood killings or San Bernardino, as neither has been directly attributed to mental illness. The Wah Mee Massacre was a robbery and therefore also does not fall under this category.

What this tells us is that mental illness is the most common cause of this type of violence. But certainly not all people with mental illness are killers. Most live out very normal, peaceful lives. Many are under medical care and some are taking medications to control their disability. The problem stems from those who do not receive the care they need. I would also venture a guess that these particular people (those who perpetrated these crimes) probably had a tendency toward violence in their lifetimes. Omar Mateen and James Huberty both had histories of domestic violence. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook murderer had a long history of obsession with violent video games. Adding a violent nature on top of mental illness is a very deadly combination.

Finally, pour into the mix the availability of guns in our country. The radio program “Market Place” did a study after the Sandy Hook killings and found that there are more places to buy guns in the United States than there are Starbucks locations throughout the entire world. They did the same study after the Orlando shootings and found the same results.

If we wish to end these killings, we don't need to point our fingers at Muslims or Christians or any other religion. We don't need to look at the nationality of anyone or do any racial profiling. What we need to be concerned with is mental illness left unchecked and untreated, particularly in individuals who tend toward violence. And if such is the case, we need to restrict the weapons these individuals would have access to. These are the steps that must be taken because we must do all we can to not let this happen again.

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