The recent massacre in Washington, D.C. left 12 dead and several injured as a result of shooter rampage
Once the dust settles after a tragedy, this is the question that inevitably will be asked. In the case of the recent shooting in D.C., this question was brought up less than 24 hours after Aaron Alexis walked into the Navy Yard and killed 12 people.
It is madness, an act that is impossible to comprehend, yet we still demand answers. We look around for something or someone to blame, as if knowing the cause will provide closure.
Gun control and violent video games are easy targets that provide the quick solution, which is very appealing.
“Ban all guns! Ban violent media!” This is the cry coming from the vengeful crowd.
This desire for justice, this search for a solution, is not wrong, but it is misplaced and misguided. The hard truth is that this shooting is not a simple issue that can be responded to with the pre-planned, cookie-cutter answers the media is so quick to provide in the aftermath of tragedy.
There are many sound arguments on both sides of these issues, and in the haste to defend one side or the other, the underlying problem is usually ignored. The blame often lies outside these two favorite scapegoats and instead falls on the murkier issue of mental health.
According to CNN, Alexis claimed to hear voices in his head, experienced episodes of paranoia where he believed he was being stalked by three people, and had eight incidents of misconduct during his time in the Navy.
Alexis began to receive treatment for his mental issues roughly a month before the shooting, according to the Atlantic Wire.
Along with these mental issues, Alexis had two previous incidents of gun violence.
The New York Times reported that Alexis fired several shots at a construction worker’s car in 2004. Alexis was arrested in 2010 for what he claimed was just an accidental firing of his gun in an apartment complex. According to the New York Times, Alexis’ neighbor claimed that Alexis had previously been threatening her.
With mass shootings, motive is often elusive. There is no rational reason to murder people solely for the sake of murdering them.
While violent media could be a contributing factor, and potentially lax gun control could have provided the opportunity to commit the crime, the deeper issue is mental health. A sane person simply does not act the way Alexis did. If similar tragedies are to be prevented, the U.S. needs to be able to both recognize and respond to mental health problems in a more effective way.
Unlike proposals dealing with gun control or violent media, it is much harder to enact solutions to mental health problems.
Determining whether or not someone is mentally unstable is a subjective task, but it needs to be attempted. With Alexis, the signs were clear. If proper actions had been taken to restrain him, this tragedy may have never occurred. There needs to be a system in place so that when someone who is mentally ill shows signs of violence, that person’s ability to own guns can be restricted, and if confinement or treatment is needed, it can be provided.
We may never fully understand why these tragedies occur, but we can be vigilant in watching for the signs in order to work to prevent them.