There were multiple mass shootings over the weekend, including one at an El Paso Walmart, and one at a bar in Dayton, Ohio. The El Paso shooter killed 21 people and injured 26 more. The Dayton shooter killed 9 people and injured 27 more. This is clearly becoming an epidemic in the United States, and, while the overall homicide rate is decreasing in the United States, that does not mitigate the problem. As Matt Walsh from The Daily Wire says, “if there was a serial killer on the loose would you say it’s not a big deal because overall our numbers are still down? That kind of attitude is bizarre.”
We need to fix this problem, and in order to do that we need to figure out the cause. This is a recent problem in the United States; mass shootings used to be unheard of but in recent years they feel like a regular occurrence, despite the overall homicide rate trending downwards. There are so many theories to this phenomenon, but most do not hold water. We have always had guns and gun restrictions are a relatively new thing, and racism is much more rare now than before this epidemic began.
David French from National Review claims the problem is domestic terrorism from white nationalists, he writes, “The United States is now facing a deadly challenge from a connected, radical, online-organizing community of vicious white-nationalist terrorists. They are every bit as evil as jihadists, and they radicalize in much the same way.” While he is absolutely correct in this statement, white nationalism is not a common link among all of these shooters, so it cannot be the sole reason. As Heavy reports, “The El Paso shooter had a social media presence that indicated support for President Donald Trump and anti immigrant measures. [The Dayton shooter’s] Twitter page is very different; he indicates he’s a “leftist” and rails against QAnon, ICE, the industrial revolution, and police.”
So, this weekend, the two shooters were radicals from opposite sides of the political aisle. Domestic terrorists seem to be all over the political spectrum, whether it be these shooters, the white nationalist Christchurch shooter, the Bernie Sanders supporter who shot up the congressional baseball game, or the left wing extremist who attacked an ICE facility a few weeks ago; there does not seem to be a universal political stance among them. The only common trend seems to be a sense of hopelessness and nihilism. The shooters typically have lost a sense of purpose, and a sense of the inherent value of human life. As the Bellingcat reports, many shooters gameify the shootings, trying to beat previous high scores, meaning innocent people killed. They post their manifestos online, and others spread it to encourage more shooters. This means there are, at least, two causes:
First, the sense of hopelessness and nihilism. Suicide rates have been increasing in the United States since 1999, according to the CDC. The Center for Behavioral Health says that suicidal tendencies include “feelings of purposelessness, hopelessness,” and “expressing unusual anger, recklessness,” and “showing rage and discussing the idea of seeking revenge.” The hopeless are especially vulnerable to radicalization, as they try to find purpose in their lives.
Secondly, as the political climate gets more and more volatile, people go to vent in places where people agree with them, creating an ever-radicalizing echo chamber. These environments are where the vulnerable can be radicalized and motivated to commit acts of terrorism. Some of these environments promote the idea of shootings because they know that is how they can best publicize their beliefs and manifestos. Environments that believe humans are mere tools to promote a political agenda. Some of these environments turn the idea of killing as many humans as possible into a game, just trying to beat the high score.
Many of these shooters do not care to live, yet they do have a political agenda, whatever it may be. They have been radicalized through online echo chambers that encourage them to act on their insanity. They feel purposeless and they know that if they go and shoot people the media will post their manifestos because readers will want to know their motive, they believe that this is how they can instill purpose into themselves and that they can become martyrs.
The fact that the two shooters were ideological opposites, paired with the post-tragedy emotions, caused finger pointing from both sides as people dug up as much information on the shooters as possible, publicized it, and, therefore, did exactly what the shooters wanted them to do. This ever-inflaming political rhetoric is going to continue tearing this country apart, and subsequently lead to more shootings, as more people radicalize and want to spread their message and die a self-declared martyr.
To prevent future shootings we need to show this does not work, the media needs to not publicize their names or manifestos. Those who do are just doing exactly what the shooter wanted, they are ensuring the terrorists’ success. The terrorists need to know that if they try this, they will die, and no one will know or care about what they think. They need to know that it is impossible for them to gain purpose from shootings. At the same time we need to unify in situations like these, instead of fragment. We cannot point fingers when these things happen. Political rhetoric has always been volatile and exaggerative, it is only the shooter’s fault when these things happen. Blaming the other side for these tragedies increases political tensions more than almost anything.