Please address the why in mass shootings

In the wake of every mass killing in this country, politicians do what politicians do, which is to circle their respective wagons and offer solutions that fail to get to the heart of the issue.

I don’t have a dog in the gun control fight. We already have laws on the books that are designed to prevent criminals from possessing firearms. If Congress wants to strengthen those laws and ban assault weapons and/or high capacity magazines, fine. But keep in mind there are plenty of firearms already in circulation.

To be sure, there are immediate steps we can and should take. Author David French made a case for red flag laws, which essentially would allow for, within certain parameters, the seizing of weapons of a person who demonstrates he’s a threat to others or himself.

It would also prevent the individual from purchasing additional weapons. You would think that is a measure on which everyone could agree. Mass shooters almost always leave a trail. According to police, the Uvalde shooter sent a series of messages: “I’m going to shoot my grandmother,” “I’ve shot my grandmother,” and then, “I’m going to shoot an elementary school.”

In the aftermath of that shooting, much of the political and media attention was devoted to – as it always is – the method of killing rather than to the killer himself. It seems, at the very least, naïve to believe that someone hell bent on mass murder will fail to follow through on his crime if he doesn’t have access to a firearm. Violent criminals tend to be resourceful. The question is, “Why do mass killings happen?” Looking at how they were carried out or which type of weaponry was used, while not irrelevant, will only get us so far.

I just returned from Germany and Poland where another professor and I took students on what the university calls the Human Dignity tour, in which we examine, among other things, the relationship between the Holocaust as a historical event and modern, contemporary issues related to human life. We toured three concentration camps, Sachsenhausen and Ravensbruck in Germany, and Auschwitz in Poland.

The Nazis used a variety of techniques to kill people including but not limited to firing squads, carbon monoxide, starvation, hanging and a cyanide-based pesticide call Zyklon B. The evidence, including gas chambers and crematoria, still exists, lest anyone need to be reminded of what horrors evil can achieve.

Our discussions with students and our guides organically led not so much to how these murders were committed but why. What leads human beings to have such little regard for their fellow human beings that they are willing to participate in their wholesale slaughter? Some 77 years after the Holocaust, that still seems to be the question of the moment.

The answer begins with the biblical but countercultural assertion that human beings are not inherently good. Anyone who disagrees I would urge to consider the evidence, which can be found in any newspaper. In my case, all I need to do is look in the mirror.

If we begin with the premise that mankind is flawed, how does such a premise inform our discussion on mass killings, suicides and violence currently playing out major American cities?

Study after study indicates that young Americans are lonelier than ever. A CDC survey during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 found that some 63% of young people, ages 18-24, are suffering significant symptoms of anxiety or depression. Between 2007-18, suicide rates among young people ages 10-24 increased by 57%, according to a report by the U.S. Surgeon General.

We don’t know what combination of factors led the Uvalde shooter to commit his terrible crime. We can ban all the weapons we want but unless we commit to making sense of these numbers, and combine that understanding with measures such as red flag laws and enhanced backgrounds checks, we’ll have little chance of intervening before evil and opportunity meet.

Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. Reach him at