What to do?

The Wall Street Journal opinion piece regarding the most recent spate of mass shootings is the best one I’ve seen so far. Here’re a few parts, but read the whole thing:

The mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton over the weekend are horrifying assaults on peaceful communities by disturbed young men. American politics will try to simplify these events into a debate about guns or political rhetoric, but the common theme of these killings is the social alienation of young men that will be harder to address.

This is political cynicism. Mass shootings also occurred under Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton. They occur around the world, if much less frequently, such as in Christchurch, New Zealand (2019), Australia (2019), and Norway (2011). The twisted motivations are varied and often too convoluted to sort into any clear ideology.


This is the rant of someone angry about a society he doesn’t feel a part of and doesn’t comprehend. It is all-too-typical of most of these young male killers who tend to be loners and marinate in notions they absorb in the hours they spend online. They are usually disconnected to family, neighborhood, church, colleagues at work, or anything apart from their online universe.

These men may draw inspiration from one another online, and any communication or common connection needs to be investigated. The FBI says it has made 100 arrests related to domestic terrorism in the last nine months. But blaming all this on one politician or ideology, left or right, without evidence of such a connection is disingenuous and counterproductive.


The problem is identifying those with mental illness who are a threat, and then allowing society to intervene to prevent violence. Overwhelming evidence suggests that the de-institutionalization of the seriously mentally ill has had tragic results. Libertarians and mental-health advocates who resist such intervention need to do some soul-searching.

The same goes for those in the gun lobby who claim that denying access to guns from those with a history of mental illness violates individual rights. So-called red-flag laws that let police or family members petition a court to remove firearms from someone who may be a threat might not have stopped the El Paso killer. But the evidence in the states is that the laws have prevented suicides and may prevent other mass shootings. Gun rights need to be protected, but the Second Amendment is not a suicide pact.


Which brings us back to the angry young men. This is the one common element in nearly all mass shootings: 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz in Parkland, Fla.; Chris Harper-Mercer in Oregon’s Umpqua Community College; Adam Lanza at Newtown, Conn.; Devin Patrick Kelley in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and the rest. All were deeply troubled and alienated from society in our increasingly atomistic culture.

This is one price we are paying for the decline in what the late sociologist Peter Berger called the “mediating institutions” that help individuals form cultural and social attachments. These are churches, business and social clubs like the Rotary, charitable groups, even bowling leagues, and especially the family. Government programs can never replace these as protectors of troubled young people.

The problems we face are complex and multi-faceted. They cannot be solved by just passing another bill or hectoring the American people to be nicer to one another. The problems are rooted in an American, but also a global, cultural upheaval that is facilitated by the global proliferation of technology. The problems are also rooted in some profound cultural things that we don’t want to face like the breakdown of the family, marginalization of faith, stigmatization of mental illness, and discounting the role of fathers and manhood.

Let’s take the two items that the editorial references – institutionalizing the mentally ill and red flag laws. I support both of those ideas, but the devil is in the details. And it’s hard. How do you determine when someone is no longer mentally fit to own a weapon? Who decides? When do they need to be separated from society and institutionalized? Who decides? How do we balance the rights of the individual with the safety of society? This balance is at the core of the American Experiment, and we have some strong difference of opinion as to where that balance should be.

The answers are not found in the glib or heated rhetoric emanating from the latest politician looking for votes. They are to be found in an honest discussion with each other in our homes, churches, clubs, and, yes, online. Until we are willing to have hard discussions about hard issues, we will not find any solutions. Instead, we will just go through another cycle of action, reaction, and retreat into our respective corners.