Issue Briefs

Why mass shootings? Heavy political rhetoric, psychopaths, and too many weapons

Why mass shootings? Heavy political rhetoric, psychopaths, and too many weapons

August 6, 2019 

By Paolo von Schirach

The El Paso slaughter stunned America. It is human nature that when something completely out of the ordinary happens –an immense tragedy in this case—everybody wants to know “why”. And this case the simple “why” seems to be that the young man who went to the Walmart to kill as many Hispanics as he could did so because of his White Supremacist convictions. Apparently, he strongly believes that Latinos and Hispanics are alien enemies, and therefore they must be eliminated.

The hate crime narrative

Putting all this together, this mass murder episode becomes yet another tragic episode of violence motivated by racist hatred –another hate crime. And who is fueling racist hatred in America these days? But, of course, as we all know, it is the President himself, Donald Trump. Therefore, it is all finally clear.

And here is the media-sponsored “official” narrative that explains the roots of the tragedy and the event itself. President Trump, with his abrasive and openly anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric, provided cover to all those who share his beliefs and are also willing to act to enforce his vision of a White America finally restored to its appropriate position of primacy.

Not a good explanation

Of course, there is a small amount of truth in this “explanation”. National leaders should never set a bad example by over using inflammatory language. It is very bad when they publicly and repeatedly disparage ethnic minorities or any other segment of our society, fingering them as bad, inferior, criminal or what have you. These messages, coming straight from the top, are false; and they may give bad ideas to somebody.

Some psychopaths may act

That said, it takes a psychopath to follow up with a mass shooting of complete strangers based on the notion that “The President himself declared that this people are bad news. The clean-up has to start somewhere, and I may as well do my part”. If anybody interpreted Trump’s offensive language against Latinos as a license to get an automatic weapon and start killing people, it means that they are mentally deranged.

Our national problem

And here is our national conundrum. Sadly, we do have an inflamed political climate –-and no doubt the President has contributed to raising the temperature. But we also have too many undiagnosed psychopaths, or at least mentally disturbed people, many of whom have unhindered access to lethal weapons.

Not to sound too simplistic, but when you have extreme ideas that pass for normal political discourse, crazy people who may act on them, and literally millions of legal weapons in circulation, then we cannot be too surprised when one person does something really horrible. Yes, as the El Paso carnage shows us, just one person armed with a powerful weapon can create an immense human tragedy.

No easy solutions

Fixing all this will be incredibly complicated. Changing the tone of the national political debate is difficult enough; but not impossible. Far more complicated is the effort to identify and place legally binding restrictions on mentally disturbed people. Finally, limiting access to weapons will be even more complicated, given the almost religious belief held by millions of Americans in the absolute right to buy and carry weapons supposedly provided by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

So, here is the list. Here are the key ingredients for tragedies such as El Paso:  1) crazy ideas that demonize segments of our society; 2) at least some deranged individuals willing to act to implement them; 3) and plenty of weapons available.

As a society, we must face the magnitude of the problems confronting us. While it may take a long time, we must change all this. The penalty for inaction will be more such tragedies. 

The views and opinions expressed in this issue brief are those of the author.

Paolo von Schirach is President of the Global Policy Institute and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University He is also the Editor of the Schirach Report