Mass Shootings Are a Solvable Problem

Violence could be reduced if you follow experts, not politicians and advocates.

Posted Aug 12, 2019

used with permission from Wikimedia
Source: used with permission from Wikimedia

So much has been written and discussed about the horrific tragedies of mass shootings in recent days, weeks, months, and years, each time one or a cluster of them occur, with many impassioned views expressed about why they occur and how we might stop them.

People express strong opinions and political agendas take center stage. Yet experts have much to offer with perspectives based on high-quality, empirical research. Too often their informed voices are muted by the screaming and intense emotion of the various views expressed.

But if we are truly serious about making our community safer and minimizing or eliminating these tragic incidents, we need to listen to the level-headed, quiet, and reasoned voice of experts in this area. It seems to be our only true option if we want mass shootings to be a thing of the past.

And what do these experts say? A lot but let’s focus on three key messages.

  1. Mass shootings in the United States are essentially a public health problem and should be treated as such. Public health approaches have made great progress with other community problems such as traffic accidents, smoking cessation, and reducing unwanted pregnancies as examples.

    In a nutshell, you create an environment that makes the problem that you are trying to fix harder to do. In this case, you engineer a social environment where it is too difficult for at-risk individuals to access lethal military-style weapons. If at-risk individuals can’t get their hands on these weapons, then they can’t engage in mass murder.

    Other countries across the globe have successfully reduced gun violence in this way and can act as best practices. So, regardless of one’s political views about second amendment rights, public health models and strategies would suggest that reasonable levels of gun control are critical to help solve mass shootings.

    So, we need to listen to the experts in public health.
  2. Many people wish to blame mass killings on people who suffer from mental illness. Yet research in this area suggests that rates of mental illness are not significantly different across the globe and that plenty of similar countries with similar mental illness rates have no problems with mass shootings.

    Additionally, research suggests that those with mental illness are no more likely to engage in violent behavior than those who aren't experiencing mental illness. Much research has been conducted using root cause analysis on known mass shooters that indicate that these typically young white men have no history of mental illness or mental health treatment. They may be angry, frustrated, homicidal, and often suicidal, but they are generally not mentally ill. 

    So, we need to listen to the experts in mental health including psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. 
  3. Research suggests that violent video games are not significantly linked to mass shootings. While I am certainly no fan of violent games or movies, research has failed to find a clear and convincing relationship between playing violent video games and then aggression later via mass shootings.

    And of course, other factors that some people suggest cause mass shootings, like lack of prayer, homosexuality, liberal political views, absent mothers, divorced parents, and so forth, have no empirical research evidence to support their contentions.

    So, we need to listen to the experts in gaming research. 

Overall, mass shootings in the United States are a terrible tragedy that is a solvable problem. Using quality research data, best practices, and the wisdom of public health and human behavior experts could greatly help move us in a direction towards making mass shootings a historical problem. And other countries offer models to do so as well. 

The only obstacle is political will and the nonscientific influences who have strong views and particular agendas that are not related to scientific evidence and community safety.

For more information please see the resources provided by the American Psychological Association who are on the cutting edge of these issues. 

And for my discussion of this article and issue with Fox News affiliate click here

Copyright 2019, Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP