Today’s shooting in Florida personifies the definition of irony. Democrats and Republicans alike have had knee-jerk reactions to the probable cause of these events, labeling violent video games and access to weapons as the key culprits. When video game addict David Katz shoots up a Madden video game tournament purportedly over a lost match, the level of irony becomes clear. Was it the competitive and addictive nature of the video game that led to the shooting? Or was it the fact this man had access to a weapon?What are the true causes of these types of events, and what can we do to prevent them in the future? Political scientists, sociologists, historians, and media pundits alike have sought to find the answer. Yet, the problem lies within that statement itself. Ultimately, there is no single cause to these types of events. In this case and every case like it, there are multiple causes, whether it be the lack of security at a large event, mental health problems, access to weapons, not recognizing warning signs, the list goes on. For a comprehensive problem, there must be a comprehensive solution.
As a historian and journalist, it is my goal to develop my own conclusions based on my own research and analysis. Here are some of the key trends and observations that I have observed when examining the history of mass shooting events in America:
- Mass shootings are a product of the modern era, specifically from 1980 onward. (Referenced data qualifies a “mass shooting” as involving 5 or more victims)
- Semi-automatic muskets were invented in the late 18th century, and modern Semi-automatic weapons have existed since the early 20th century. This fact alone directs me away from the gun control narrative as the sole cause/solution.
- Two interesting sociological developments occurred during the late 1970’s. The first, is the newfound reliance on pharmaceutical drugs for tackling mental health problems. Serotonin inhibitor drugs went on the market following the research of the hormone in the mid 1950’s. A detailed summary of research and “advancements” in this field can be viewed on the National Institute of Health website, here. The next observation I made was the fact that the 1980s birthed a new industrial revolution of sorts with the invention of the personal computer and electronic gaming.
- Political polarization is at an all-time high. The increase in polarization mirrors that of the mass shooting chart above.
Notice that these observations do not present a specific government policy as the problem, or the solution. For some, this is a key element to their argument as they contend that the main correlation between mass shootings is the gun, and guns happen to be regulated by every government in the world. As a historian, we of course attempt to remain objective on the subject, but as most would agree, a historian or journalist is lying if they do not admit to holding a certain bias. I argue that the presence of a gun has nothing to do with mass shootings. When examining the raw data, it is obvious that mass shootings spike during the post World War II or modern era, much later than the invention of semi-automatic weaponry. At this point, it is necessary to look elsewhere for answers. We move on.
The next observations I made directly relate to human behavior on a macro and micro level. Of course, if people are killing each other en masse, there is a underlying mental health issue that needs to be addressed. I simply asked the question: What major developments concerning mental health occurred at this time? In my opinion, the most notable change was the implementation of new drug programs to address mental health problems. Scientists and doctors in the early 1950’s made progress in understanding brain chemistry, and they now treat the mind as an input-output system–almost like a computer with serotonin uptake inhibitors and other drugs like Xanax that supposedly help people combat anxiety and depression.
When researching this subject further, another interesting observation is made. Of course, if doctors have supposedly found ways to cure or alleviate depression and anxiety, there must be trackable results, right? Well, since the mass production of SSRI drugs in the 1980s, new studies show that these drugs actually increase the urge to commit suicide or even homicide. Clearly, this data suggests that doctors are getting it wrong. For mild/situational depression, doctors are pushing these drugs with no regard for the possible consequences. Is it possible then, that more people are experiencing “situational depression,” which is leading to more prescriptions? What utility is causing Americans to feel anxious?
As a whole, today’s society moves faster than its predecessors. Information, good or bad, can be communicated to millions of people with the click of a button. Personal computers have changed the way we do business, and most importantly, the way we interact with each other as humans. Since the rise of social media in the mid 90’s (yes, the mid 90’s. AOL IM anybody?) humans now interact with each other on a completely different level. Social media founders contend that they are bringing the world closer together. However, the evidence simply does not support that assertion. I think most would agree that an in-person meeting is more personal than a phone call, and a phone call is more personal than a text message or email. Today, we simply rely too much on convenience, rather than each other. That opinion is shared by many, including the psychiatry community. Psychiatric news is reporting that those who use social media are 3 times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. Overall, many are finding that the interactions on social media platforms are superficial. Never mind the fact that the goal of social media giants like Facebook and Twitter is to gobble up all of your data and sell it to advertisers and your local government.
And the video game community? The rise in new technology now allows any man child or woman to completely escape from reality altogether. Studies show that video games can be addictive and lead to multiple mental health issues; the World Health Organization actually lists video game addiction as a disease (if you need help, click here.) One can simply read the daily news reports to see that, with headlines like “Man Dies from Playing Video Game for over 24 hours straight,” or, “Man Kills Friend over Video Game.” Without a doubt, the gaming community needs a self-examination into their role in the societal decay we are watching before our very eyes.
Without a doubt, if the WHO labels video game addiction as a disease, social media addiction must also be considered. Business leader, psychologist, and motivational speaker Simon Sinek accurately points out that electronic media interaction, be it video games or social media, all direct a biological response within the body. Interestingly enough, he points out that social media provides a “hit of serotonin and dopamine” when used regularly. He has also developed similar observations regarding mass shooting events, linking these events to mankind’s lack of valuable interaction with each other, among other reasons. He states “our children, in times of stress and anxiety, our now relying on machines, rather than their family or friends…It is not about guns, it is about loneliness…how do we combat the loneliness we are feeling?”
Of course, when considering societal/moral decay it is necessary to examine the local political environment. The composition of political participation and effectiveness generally reflect the health of a nation, in multiple ways. Many political scientists and historians would agree that America’s best moments came when the two most dominant parties worked together for a common goal. A great example of that is the 1964 Civil Rights Act that had a strong republican turnout when there was a democrat majority. (In fact, a higher percentage of Republicans voted for the bill.) Since then, political polarization has skyrocketed. As the chart above illustrates, political opponents are no longer working on the basis of compromise. They are working on the basis of obstruction. Without a doubt, both parties are guilty of this. Many would argue that this is due to the composition of the party and the policies they promote, which is a direct consequence of America’s economic and political decline. As things get worse, it is natural for people to cling to their own values, which often get more extreme by their own party standards as local conditions continue to decline.
Through and through, the mass shooting phenomena our society is experiencing is a complex issue. Anyone offering a one-off solution is ultimately being disingenuous to the victims, and to the perpetrators (yes, they must be acknowledged, not ignored.) As a historian, this is my personal examination. It is mine and mine alone. You must make your own observations, and develop your own conclusions.
With that being said, the evidence I have provided is clear. Guns are a utility, a tool. They are not the cause of mass shootings, humans are the actors pulling the trigger. This fact is illustrated in the raw data. Guns have existed for hundreds of years, the occurrence of mass shootings has only been a problem for the last 30-40 years. On a macro level, America and the world as a whole has experienced plenty of economic and political turmoil, leading to increased anger and polarization. Of course, this has led to mental health problems caused by overly stressed human relationships. Yes, mental health problems have always existed, however, the way we treat these types of conditions has changed. We have overly relied on medication, rather than human interaction and education. Our business processes have demanded increased expediency and convenience, leading to applications that promote disingenuous human interaction that is superficial and unfulfilling. On a micro level, all of the issues at the top have led to increased loneliness. Simon Sinek argues that loneliness is the main problem; I have simply observed the driving forces that have had the strongest impact.
David Katz looks like a lonely, sick, empty shell, eerily similar to Adam Lanza and James Holmes. This Madden match occurred last year, when Katz won the tournament:
It is time that we recognize that we have sacrificed our humanity for expediency and convenience. It is vital to remember that you cannot take that video game system with you, your computer with you, or your phone with you. This ride called life will eventually end for all of us. With that in mind, hopefully we can recognize that the human interactions we create here on earth are the most important treasures we will ever hold onto. Reach out, and love one another. Get off your computer. Get off the video game console, take a walk. Go fishing. Take a hike. Ride your bike. Share coffee with a friend. Call your friends, instead of texting them. Wish your old high school friend a Happy Birthday with a phone call, not a useless Facebook mention. Spend time with your family. Engage in activities that promote these types of valuable connections, instead of the activities only provide a quick dopamine hit.
Simon Sinek continues his observations of our “dopamine quick hit” society: