By Robert J. Gould
The Business Insider reports: “As of August 26, the U.S. has had 247 mass shootings in the first 238 days of 2015. For those keeping track, that’s an average of more than one shooting per day.” Why?
No doubt there are many reasons—many causes. First, let’s be clear on the metrics here. The statistic, above, is for mass shootings, not mass murders. Mass shootings are defined by the Mass Shooting Tracker as a “shooting spree in which four or more people are shot … This differs from the FBI definition in which an event only qualifies as a mass shooting if four or more are killed.”
What would possess a person to open fire on a group of people? I suppose we can imagine what might make a person so angry, so enraged, and so full of hate, that they shot one specific person in an inexplicably deep fury. But a whole group of people?
Donald Trump has taken this occasion to say that America does not have a gun problem, but rather a mental health problem. We have both. And add to that a media and video game problem that glorifies gun violence. And add to that a gun culture that arms up, anticipating the need for self-defense against criminals, the mentally ill, government agents trying to disarm them, police officers with prejudice in their eyes, angry ex-spouses, fanatics, white people, black people, bad drivers, immigrants. This list would make me consider arming up, but I believe that we can settle our differences through nonviolence, civil dialogue, conflict resolution, and meaningful trust-building.
Weapons and Weaponry Everywhere
What priority does our nation place on these approaches? After all, we are a country at perpetual war against an endless stream of terrorists. We use the weapons of terror on the designated terrorists—carefully targeted drone strikes that rain death on terrorist targets, with scores of surrounding non-terrorists maimed and killed in government-sanctioned mass shootings/mass murders.
At any time of the day, you can see mass shootings/mass murder on a cable channel of your choice, the video game of your choice, and the news channel of your choice. Who’s really to blame? Look in the mirror? As the old Pogo comic strip warns us: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Weapons of Mass Instruction
What do we do? First, as an ethicist, I urge us to resist finding a single, simple cause; it’s much more complicated than that. It does little good to argue that “people kill people, not guns” against “guns are needed for mass shootings and mass murder.”
America is not going to disarm overnight. Background checks may help, but they won’t stop the rage that potentially dwells in all of us. We need to begin to reinvent ourselves as a people. We could start by using proven techniques of trust-building, diplomacy, nonviolence, and conflict resolution in our everyday lives—with everyone we know and everyone we meet. For starters, read or reread Getting to Yes, and see how finding mutual underlying interests leads to constructive conflict management, where the ceaseless battling of positions leads to hatred, injustice, and violence.
Investing in education that teaches our children smarter methods of managing conflict is a long, slow process, but one that can save them. We need weapons of mass instruction, not mass destruction, in order to slow, stop, and reverse the tragic mass shootings that plague our country.Φ
Robert J. Gould, Ph.D., is an ethicist, writes for PeaceVoice, and directs the Conflict Resolution Program at Portland State University.