Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The Nature Of The Problem

      There have been a couple of headline-grabbing mass shootings over the last few days.  These are always tragic, dominate the news cycle to an unhealthy extent and they result in the old familiar tropes being trotted out by the usual players, opinion pieces on "America's Gun Problem," "America's Mental Health Problem" and others, plus a degree of victim-blaming from whichever side sees advantage in that.  The far Right's been all over the Colorado Springs mass shooting, as if that kind of horror is something any group of law-abiding citizens deserves.

      Well, they don't.  Even if you find the LGBT (etc.) community personally loathsome or an offense against your religious beliefs, they're no less citizens than yourself, no less human, and have the same reasonable expectations of being left alone as, say, a church group or people inside a big-box store.

      Guns and access to mental health treatment, "Red Flag" laws and their enforcement, involuntary commitment orders: every bit of it is political hot-button stuff, over which we shout past one another in debate mostly composed of bumper-sticker slogans and carefully-sifted statistics.  At heart, our opinions about these things are emotional beliefs and rarely susceptible to any amount of rational argument.

      But when it comes down to it, one of the big contributors to this kind of stochastic violence, which is nearly always caused  by someone with a history of troubling incidents and/or mental health challenges, the actual big problem that we have is a "It's not my job to watch my disturbing relative or neighbor" problem; we have a "It's someone else's job" problem.

      The dithering police officers in Uvalde had a "It's someone else's job" problem.  The retired Army officer who and patrons who took down the killer in Colorado Springs did not.  But other people in that person's life had, and probably over and over.

      The majority of people with mental health problems are harmless.  So are most gun owners.  Most of the people around you, from a pew full of deacons to the people at a nightclub, from duck hunters to people who compose angry Letters To The Editor or post on social media, are harmless and well-intentioned.  But they're uninterested in being their brother's keeper if it is in any way messy or inconvenient -- and that occasionally results in messes that are much larger and deadly. 

       Afterward, watch for interviews with people who knew the perpetrator.  See how many of them found him (very rarely her or, most recently, singular them) worrisome -- and kept it to themselves until afterward. 

       In a country of over 330 million people, one-in-a-million bad outcomes aren't that uncommon.  And opportunities to head off bad outcomes before they occur are even more common.

      Maybe we'd be better off with a little less overheated debate, online and elsewhere, and a little more personal involvement with those immediately around us.  Yes, yes, they're messy and awkward and oh, heavens, their opinions on issues of the day might not be in lockstep agreement with your own!  But there they are, real human beings, as vulnerable and as dangerous as anyone.  They're not caricatures inside your phone or computer or on your TV.  Get to know them.  You might be able to do some small-scale good -- and prevent large-scale harm.


Hammerbach said...

Weird thing about that - you may never know that you prevented harm, but if you ignore things, you might always wish you had tried.

Ritchie said...

I have always said that this is not a machinery problem, but there are powers and principalities that see advantage in making it seem so.

Roberta X said...

Ritchie, while your phrasing is a little ornate -- "powers and principalities"? -- the reality is that it's a simple, one-cause thing to point at. Therefore it is very attractive. People love simple solutions. It's even got some truth behind it: places where firearms are more difficult to get generally have fewer mass shootings per capita. (If you look at mass murder by all means, the gap narrows.)

But it's beside the point; for the sake of argument, say it's *the* solution; say Second Amendment considerations are somehow removed: we still have a country where firearms are as widespread as automobiles. Making them as illegal as, marijuana is now or (more stringently) alcohol was during Prohibition won't make them go away, nor will they become significantly more difficult to obtain. So we're going to have to find other approaches to preventing or limiting this kind of violence. Not making the shooters (or their crimes) famous is a good start but it's not sufficient in and of itself.

Ritchie said...

I know, I'm getting low budget ornate. Pretty soon I could be-wait for it-