Whenever we have a mass casualty event, our response is to quickly label mental health and guns as the reason for the tragedy. However, what is often left out of this conversation is why that individual chose to pick up a weapon and what brought them to that point of life to carry out such an event. Mental health is a medical condition just like any other condition medical providers treat, so we need to stop the stigma of mental health as a sign of weakness, a personal choice and the only reason that gun violence occurs. Statistically speaking, the perpetrators of mass shootings are usually males, tend to be socially isolated, have early childhood neglect and abuse, subsequent low self-esteem, and/or a lost sense of belonging. Environmental factors such as chemical dependency, poverty and low socioeconomic status also play a role in gun violence. We need to move beyond the gun control and mental health debate, so we can address the underlying issues involved in the culmination of people picking up a weapon and inflicting violence against their fellow citizens. Gun violence is a very complex situation without a one-size-fits-all solution.
The topic of gun violence goes well beyond mass casualty events as people die every day of gun violence on the streets of communities, in the homes of neighbors, and unfortunately in schools and workplaces. Realistically, the roots of gun violence are deeper than the availability of guns and the mental health of the perpetrator. The bigger question should be why our society has transformed to a point where violence is acceptable and, in some instances, encouraged? If we truly want to end gun violence and prevent the next mass shooting, our society needs to truly evaluate why the moral fiber of our communities has disintegrated.
In order to do so, policymakers and community leaders need to move beyond the politics of our nation as gun violence being a legislative issue. There remain unmet needs for community and public health infrastructure, so let’s all move beyond unproductive debates. What society needs right now is advocacy for further funding and resources to build community infrastructure which addresses the entire spectrum of gun violence, not just the guns themselves. We need to remove barriers and build relationships within our communities where every individual — regardless of their race, creed, gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or medical diagnosis — are supported and inclusive if we hope to end gun violence.
Now is the time to not only rebuild the infrastructure of our communities in the forms of roads, bridges and airports, but also to rebuild the infrastructure of our community support structures. Until we address the underlying issues related to family/ social structures, access to mental health/chemical dependency services, better education, job opportunities, and steps to improve the resiliency of our communities, we will continue to lose the battle on gun violence and more lives will be lost. The time has come to stop waiting for the solution to be addressed on the national landscape, so as concerned citizens we need to start within our own communities and state with reform to address the larger issues of gun violence.