Late last week at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, Christopher Harper-Mercer took nine lives in an introductory composition course before taking his own. The gunman signaled out Christians by asking those in the class about their religion. If they said they were a Christian, Harper-Mercer shot them.
This sort of event is disturbingly frequent in the U.S., not to mention the fact that we are the only developed country in which this sort of violence continues to happen. According to the Washington Post, in the first 274 days of 2015 there have been 294 mass shootings. “Mass shootings” result in four or more victims, including the shooter. Some of these shootings are well-known (those in Charleston, Virginia and now Roseburg, Oregon), whereas others are less reported. The Washington Post cites, this year alone, 11 wounded in a shooting at a Georgia barroom and six outside of a nightclub in Tulsa, Oklahoma—just to name a few.
One of the first rumors circulating about the Umpqua gunman was that he suffered from mental illness, loudening calls for increased mental illness treatment. While mental illness could play a role in his actions, as it has been said after other mass shootings, this is too often used as an easy answer to “why did they do it?” A 2006 Institute of Medicine journal article argues the link between mental illness and violence is sensationalized. The total number of people with mental illness actually adding to the pool of violence is much less than what is portrayed, according to the University of Washington Mental Health Reporting website.
Is it possible that it was just hatred that drove him and other shooters to kill?
Solutions to mass shootings are something we have never agreed upon as a country. Some say getting rid of guns would fix everything. Others want more treatment for mental illness. Others say background checks are the panacea to this epidemic. Regardless of whether any one, or all of these, would solve the problem to any degree, we need to focus on the bigger question: Why do these shootings continue to happen over and over? Why can’t we as a country finally discuss what isn’t easy to talk about? The systemic oppression. The prejudice. The hate.
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