By Rosie Alger
America saw one of its largest massacres in history on Oct. 1. As the world is now very aware, a gunman open fired at a music festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 and injuring 527 people.
After something as horrific as the violence that occurred on that night, how do we move forward? What do we do, after the grieving is done and the mourners return to their daily lives? Is there a way to break out of this spiraling pattern of mass shootings becoming the norm?
We can start by the way we report on violence and its perpetrators. In the past, mass shooters have often been described as wounded individuals, riddled with mental illness, and not accountable for their deranged actions. Sometimes, reports on these people even include pleasant accounts of their normal lives and the everyday hobbies they enjoyed, same as everyone else.
We cannot continue to normalize shooters in this way. When violence happens, the focus needs to be on the victims and survivors, and how their lives are affected. By portraying shooters as normal people who simply make a mistake, we downplay the systematic perpetuation of violence that continues the cycle of mass shootings in America.
Furthermore, blaming violence on mental illness is both degrading and harmful to people who deal with mental illness on an everyday basis, and dismissive of the real problems that cause gun violence. People with mental illnesses are people just like anyone else. There is no evidence that they are statistically likely to perpetuate violence more than any other group. Even if the Las Vegas shooter had depression, or some other mental illness, that would not be a reasonable explanation or excuse for the pain and senseless trauma he inflicted.
In a report about the Vegas shootings by NPR, Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak said, “It was well-planned-out. I don’t think he’s crazy. I don’t think he had mental illness. I think this individual clearly knew what he was doing. This was planned out to amass the amount of weaponry and ammunition that he did over an extended period of time by going to different states and different gun places. That’s not somebody that’s got a mental health issue. That’s somebody that just — I don’t know what made him snap, what made him want to do this.”
The next thing that we can do is engage with our politicians and push for stricter gun control policies. In the 2018 election, vote for senators and Congress people who take these acts of violence seriously and want to do something about it. Call your current representatives and ask what they are planning to do to end gun violence on this massive scale.
As shootings like this become all too common, more and more of us are becoming desensitized to the extreme nature of these events. We cannot sit idly by and act as if there is nothing to be done to prevent such tragedies from happening. This is not a hurricane or flood that could not have been stopped. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said, “in excess of 10 rifles” were found in the Vegas shooter’s hotel room. There is no reason that anyone needs to have access to that many guns. There is no reason that anyone needs to have access to semi-automatic or automatic weapons. These are real people who can and should be prevented from having access to weapons that allow them to do such extreme harm in so little time.
NPR’s Tania Lombrozo wrote an article about how mass shootings like this one do or do not affect people’s perception of gun control. She said, “People’s beliefs about the causes of mass shootings are one thing; the reality can be quite another. Policies should be informed by what we know about what actually does and doesn’t reduce gun violence, not by surveys of what people believe. But popular sentiment certainly plays a role in shaping national debates and affects the policies that politicians ultimately endorse.”
Whether these horrific incidents change the public’s mind about gun control, the fact is that restricting access to dangerous weapons must be a strategy that we employ to put an end to America’s ever-growing legacy of mass violence. Make your voice heard, because policy makers only move when there is public pressure on them to act. It is our time now, more than ever, to speak out against gun violence becuase these acts of violence cannot be normalized. I have seen far too many mass shootings in my lifetime; I don’t want to see another one.