Friday Musings: Why Are Mass Shootings on the Rise?

An undercurrent of dread permeates modern society. The increase in mass shootings, particularly school shootings, has created a widespread sense of anxiety and distress. It’s easy to rationalize that we’re much more likely to die in a car accident, but there is no shaking the terror that grows with each school shooting. They’re too terrible- too fractured from our concept of reality and what should be possible. Each devastating report completely upends our need for certainty that we can be safe. None of us are immune.

I didn’t realize the extent of the national concern until speaking with my Uncle, a stoic businessman who isn’t afraid to disagree with the popular narrative, particularly when he detects an undue degree of outrage. When I mentioned a training my school district had planned in response to school shootings my uncle transformed from a skeptical social critic to a mother bear eager to protect her cubs (the gender thing got weird here, but stick with me). “What are y’all doing?” he asked desperate to find confirmation that his kids would be safe. He is not alone. I’ve had many parents anxious to tell me why they think we need metal detectors and bag checks at the door. 

Monday I had a full day of training on our school district’s emergency response plan. Thousands of educators and school employees sat in our auditorium being trained on how to respond if the worst happened. We saw gut-wrenching survivor interviews, learned about common patterns amongst shootings, and mentally rehearsed different scenarios. The district police department introduced clear, consistent vocabulary and created an understanding of the best methods of response. It was an effective training and an encouraging plan. Still, as our training officer made clear, the strategy was purely reactionary. While we could improve our early detection techniques, there was simply no way to eliminate this terrifying possibility.

I commend the district for the steps they’ve taken. It’s as good a plan as anyone's. Yet, I’m troubled by our society-wide assumption that this is the new reality. As I demonstrated in my Tuesday piece, Education: Are We Missing the Point, the frequency of school shootings is increasing at a staggering rate. This isn’t due to a spike in gun availability. Sure the weapons many shooters use are terrifying, but every Texan over 40 will tell you how when they were in high-school they parked on campus every day with a shotgun racked in the window. Please don’t confuse this as a piece promoting guns. I’m only trying to clarify that more is going on than just guns. For the sake of this piece, consider me gun agnostic. Something has changed in our culture. We enjoy the highest standard of living in human history. Life has never been more magical or convenient and yet, as Tuesday’s piece explained, our communities are experiencing an epidemic of alienation, meaninglessness, and mental distress.

“It may be worth considering whether middle-class American life—for all its material good fortune—has lost some essential sense of unity that might otherwise discourage alienated men from turning apocalyptically violent.” –Sebastian Junger, Tribe

I’m tired of talking about these modern realities as if there is nothing we can do. The standard response in our fix it with a pill culture is treating symptoms and never addressing the cause. We need an honest, truth-oriented discussion about our culture and how to fix it. Hard solutions require hard conversations and the willingness to pursue truth, however uncomfortable it may be. This strikes at the mission of IHD: “We write and produce inspired lifestyle courses to promote an uncommon path of creativity, strength, and purpose in the pursuit of a meaningful life. We challenge the cultural norms entrenching human degradation and limited living while striving towards truth and the principles of human thriving.

When there is an outbreak of diabetes, it is wise to devote resources to improving diabetes treatment. Yet, it is much more essential that we determine the causes and work to educate the population about better living practices. This is best accomplished by schools, hospitals, youth activities, and the many organizations that people look to for clarity about what serves them best. It’s nice that people can learn to live happily with diabetes, but I’m sure they would much prefer to prevent it altogether. I’m sure they’d prefer to have understood the ramifications of their sugar-saturated lifestyle and to have been exposed to a path that left them feeling more empowered, with fewer entrenched cravings. Likewise, it is wonderful that we are determining far better procedures for disruption, detection, and campus response to shootings, but it is even more important that we identify the reasons more people than ever are carrying out such despicable acts. With an understanding of what breeds such mental instability, we can begin to intentionally address these causes.

While the origins and solutions are complex, far surpassing the scope of a simple Friday Musing, I do want to offer some direction for those wanting to understand better. There are some great resources including one of my Breaking Muscle articles. Following last years Mandalay Bay Massacre, Charlie Hoehn wrote a fantastic blog about Why Men and Boys Keep Doing This. The best resource by far for understanding humanity better and getting to the bottom of how to actually solve this issue is the book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger. It is one of my top three most recommended books and a very quick, content-dense read. For a taste of the book and Sebastian Junger, I recommend this interview that begins around the 5:30 mark.

It is all of our responsibility to take a look at the evidence and work to promote a more fulfilling path for our youth. I hope you will take the time to explore these resources and the IHD membership in order to gain a better understanding of how humans thrive.

This brings me back to the question I posed Tuesday: are we missing the point of education? A better way to pose the question may be, are we missing the opportunity? I believe that any broad change will have to start with education determining that it must become the authority in human development responsible for taking hard stands and educating all about the patterns that serve us best.

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Shane TrotterComment