The problem of mass shootings in America has reached an alarming state and in spite of its constancy, it is like the people in authority have not been able to find a permanent solution to it, or better still, it is like no serious measures have been taken in the direction of resolving this problem, especially in the United States of America.
America is a country that is reputed to be the strongest, the most powerful, and the richest among the Committee of Nations. However, it is sad and hard to believe that nothing has been done to the problem of mass shootings making the problem seem intractable.
America has the strongest military in the whole world and has been helping other countries that are less powerful, to solve their problems, especially against their enemies, militarily and otherwise. Noteworthy is the fact that the parable of the saying “Physician, heal yourself” has become perfect in application to the United States of America which has become like Naman, the great warrior of the king of Syria, winning wars outside for his master but unable to win the greatest war of his life, which was leprosy.
The problem of mass shootings and gun violence generally in America is peculiar to the country especially when compared to other advanced countries of the world. It is important to try to find solutions to this problem and to do so, one is required to be passionate, deliberate, and intentional, otherwise, any attempt at proffering a solution to the problem may in the end not yield any result that will make a significant difference.
In trying to find a solution to the problem of mass shootings and gun violence in America, it is important first and foremost to dissect the problem and look at it holistically from different angles.
The percentage of people living with mental conditions in America is huge and this is made possible by the kind of lifestyles of people in America which easily get them anxious and stressed out. Some of the benefits that people enjoy in America because of the advancement in science and technology are indirectly impacting the lives of the people, negatively.
As we all know, this is the era of social media, and because of its availability and the uninterrupted power supply that makes it possible for people to be on social media for hours, especially the youths. Rather than the availability of these basic things of life being a blessing, because of a lack of caution and obsession with them especially by the younger generation, they have turned out to be the source of problems. For instance, about 42 states have just sued Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, alleging that the platforms they have, have contributed in no small measure to the mental health problems of teenagers in their states.
Going forward, apart from the availability of these basic things and necessities of life, it is important also to look at how the government and their agencies have consciously or unconsciously contributed to the problems of mental health and by extension, the problems of mass shootings in America.
The relevant laws in America that guarantee freedom and rights to the citizens have to a large extent, created a gap that makes it difficult for law enforcement agencies to intervene on time to those who are suffering from mental health issues and with a view to preventing them and becoming a serious concern to the society or community in which they live or find themselves.
For instance, I recall some instances where police officers were invited into the homes of some teenagers with mental health conditions while going through crises. The purpose for inviting the police officers was to seek help in compelling or persuading the people with mental health crises to go to the hospital or mental health clinic for treatments, but to my greatest astonishment, in all the occasions out of say 20 times, when the police showed up, it was only once that they agreed that those in crisis needed to go to the hospital for treatment and that was after they discovered that those in crisis had carried out serious damages in their places of crisis. The remaining 19 times out of 20 that they showed up, all they did was talk to the people in crisis, and after doing that, they reported that they were not in serious crisis to warrant the police intervention.
From what happened, one will not blame the police officers for they were only carrying out their duties in accordance with the law, which restrained them from giving help to those in need until there was an offense committed, which in some cases resulted in what we see as mass shootings or other acts of gun violence.
The laws in America that guarantee freedom for people including those with mental health issues, are to say the least, inadequate, in that they do not make room for treating people with mental health disorders differently from people who are without issues. In most cases, law enforcement agencies in America have no choice but to wait until someone with a mental health disorder gets involved in serious offenses like mass shootings and gun violence before they can intervene.
It is important that this approach gets a review through legislation from those in positions of power for this is one of the reasons why mass shootings and gun violence is on the rise and remains unabated.
Other causes of mass shootings and gun violence that are related to mental health issues are as a result of negligence from parents, guardians, co-tenants, and communities. Most of the perpetrators of these acts were not homeless people, that is to say, they lived within the communities and lived with families. It is not possible for someone with a mental health disorder not to be noticed by either his family members, co-tenants, or people living in the same community as them. What people do to prevent them from becoming a nuisance to the community in general, goes a long way in determining whether the problem they have escalates or dis-escalates.
It is important that when people notice strange behaviors in others, especially those they are close to, seeking help for them becomes imperative, but one understands that the only quick help that people can access will be the police officers, but unfortunately just like it was highlighted above, most times when they show up, they find it difficult to provide the needed help, for by law, they are not expected to force an individual against his or her will to get help, all they can do is to make sure that no crime is committed. Unfortunately, prevention becomes impossible since the needed help cannot be given at the time of need.
It is important therefore that the appropriate agencies create an avenue through which those who are desiring to render help to those in crisis can get the desired help for them.
Furthermore, another problem that may not be too obvious can be what we call racial tolerance. For example, according to research carried out by the project’s Principal Investigator, Jillian Peterson, funded by the NIJ award in 2021, of the 172 individuals who engaged in public mass shootings covered in the database (1996-2019), those shootings were 52.3% White, 20.9% Black, 8.1% Latino, 6.4% Asian, 4.2% Middle Eastern, and 1.8% Native Americans.
From the result of this research, it is clear that in most of the mass shootings carried out in the period under review, 52.3% of the mass shooters were whites, and this major difference in the races can be the reason why it has been difficult for those in position of authority to muster the required political will needed to act decisively by carrying out serious actions that will serve as a deterrent against the mass shooters.
This can be described as a problem that has to do with racism because not all mass shooters are qualified for a mental health diagnosis. If it is not a mental health problem then it is a hate problem which also is a product of racism.
Another reason why the problem of mass shootings and gun violence is on the rise in America can be adduced to the problem of distrust. It is observed by some and my humble self in particular who is a mental health practitioner and served in the state of Indiana as a provider for a period of not less than 6 years and with not less than fourteen thousand hours of active engagements with clients of different races that the African-American not often than not feel reluctant and unwilling to patronize mental health practitioners, especially the Caucasians (whites).
This reason can be attributed to the historical precedent of the Tuskegee experiment. The Tuskegee experiment began in 1932, at a time when there was no known cure for syphilis, a contagious venereal disease. After being recruited by the promise of free medical care, 600 African American men in Macon County, Alabama were enrolled in the project, which aimed to study the full progression of the disease.
The participants were primarily sharecroppers, and many had never before visited a doctor. Doctors from the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), which was running the study, informed the participants—399 men with latent syphilis and a control group of 201 others who were free of the disease, that they were being treated for bad blood, a term commonly used in the area at the time to refer to a variety of ailments.
The men were monitored by health workers but only given placebos such as aspirin and mineral supplements, despite the fact that penicillin became the recommended treatment for syphilis in 1947, some 15 years into the study. PHS researchers convinced local physicians in Macon County not to treat the participants, and instead, research was done at the Tuskegee Institute. (Now called Tuskegee University, the school was founded in 1881 with Booker T. Washington as its first teacher.)
In order to track the disease’s full progression, researchers provided no effective care as the men died, went blind or insane, or experienced other severe health problems due to their untreated syphilis.
This foundation of distrust has to a large extent contributed to the apathy that is seen even during the Covid when the majority of African Americans refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine. This apathy was also seen in most of the African countries where people for fear of being used as a guinea pig for the purpose of experiment, chose not to be vaccinated and damned the consequences. This issue of distrust is critical and awaits urgent actions that will assuage the feelings of African Americans and others who consider and will ever consider themselves as vulnerable.
Another problem for the lack of interest by mental health patients, especially people of color to accept treatments is the fact that providers who are people of color are in short supply as against the high demand for treatments. There is discrimination in getting potential providers or professionals of color in the area of certification when compared with their Caucasian or white counterparts.
Most states are too strict and rigid on the non-Caucasian providers and professionals of mental health in matters of certification. In the state of Indiana for instance, 95% of the psychologists or psychiatrists that are available are Caucasians while the majority of those in need of their services are either African Americans or Hispanic, and because of the distrust that is already on ground, this category of people will rather prefer to stay untreated than to subject themselves to treatment by those they have no trust in.
Another area of concern is the non-involvement of the faith-based community, as it should be in the business of mental health due to stringent requirements by the state professional bodies in charge of certification. This problem cannot be divorced from the issue of the separation of state and religion. It is important to get the faith-based communities involved, for where the conventional methods of mental health treatment end, is where that of the faith-based begins because as a matter of fact, most people belong to one religion or the other and are therefore comfortable with having any treatment that has their faith in its root than those they believe can easily be manipulated and used against them.
Going forward, if the problem of mass shootings and gun violence will be successfully curbed and made to be a thing of the past, important measures which include both the legislation and the involvement of people that are the most affected by the problems are necessary.
Some of the areas that urgent attention needs to be given include the following:
- Important legislative actions need to be taken with regard to the carefree attitude that has hitherto been shown with regard to the issue of gun control. This has been debated for a long time in Congress but because the matter has been politicized, no meaningful headway has been made with regard to the de-escalation of gun violence in America. It is important to separate the problem of gun violence and mass shootings from politics in the interest of all Americans especially the ordinary citizens who are always bearing the brunt. This is not the time to play politics with the lives of Americans, because victims of gun violence and mass shootings are both Democrats and Republicans.
- It is important also that legislative action be made in order to give more powers to the law enforcement agents in America such that will give them the power to help mental health patients who are in crisis by taking them to hospitals or clinics for treatments against their will. The limitation in the powers of law enforcement agents with regard to providing the necessary assistance to mental health patients who are in crisis is due to the fact that these patients when persuaded to go for treatments are not ready and cannot be forced to do what they are not ready to do even when they seem to be dangerous to the society against their will. If the relevant laws are amended in such a way that mental health patients can be taken to the clinic when the need arises even against their will, then it will make sense that prevention is better than cure and this will reduce the number of mass shootings, and gun violence which are related to mental health problems in our society.
- Those in positions of authority should be more patriotic and do away with anything that has to do with racial sentiment in order for them to muster the needed political will to deal with the problems of mass shootings and gun violence decisively. Since not all mass shooters qualify for a mental health diagnosis, it is therefore important to frown at the tendencies of hate motivations which are also one of the causes of the mass shootings and gun violence that has been experienced in the past.
4. The communities also need to wake up to their responsibilities as it is a matter of fact that most of the mass shooters are not homeless people and because they live in communities, there is no way that those people they live with either as close neighbors or distant neighbors within the community would not have taken notice of certain behaviors that could inform them about the likelihood of mental health challenges that if not attended to could cause serious problems to the entire community. Lackadaisical attitude should be avoided by community members to the plight of people with mental health problems.
- There is a need for states in the United States of America to review the qualifications for enrolling people into mental health practices. This is true, especially for people of the faith communities. A minister of God who has been in service in a ministry for at least ten years and who can obtain a master’s degree in psychology or any of the relevant social sciences should be allowed if willing to enroll in the mental health practice as a provider. This will to a great extent bring more mental health patients in for treatments as the involvement of people of faith will to a large extent reduce the problem of distrust and attract more people who are in need of mental health services to get it. The people of color who have the minimum qualification should be encouraged and not discouraged to contribute their quota in the area of mental health. The field should not be seen as taken over only by the Caucasians and to the detriment of people of color. This is a field that needs the cooperation of all, regardless of race and religious beliefs. This is the way forward.
On a final note, it is important for all hands to be brought on the deck in America by the engagement of the services of all to ways by which mass shootings and gun violence can be brought to minimum and with time be eradicated from our societies.
This problem is not the problem of the government alone, it is the problem of all, and leaving it to the government is just like postponing the day of deliverance and victory. If time is not taken, realizing the success that is possible will end up becoming elusive.
The faith-based communities in America have as a matter of responsibility, to pray for the peace of America. Just as America survived the plague that led to the assassination of some of the country’s presidents in the past through divine intervention, the same can be said about the problem of mass shootings and gun violence.
This problem also should be viewed from the perspective of spirituality. It is time to pray for the peace of America, and prayer of faith without works is dead on arrival and cannot avail much. America cannot be considered the strongest and wealthiest in the world and still be seen as failing in winning the war that has bedeviled it within.
Mass shootings and gun violence can be overcome with prayers and commitments by the people to do just the right thing.
God bless America!
By Samuel Tunji Adeyanju