The Contagion of Shootings

Danger on the street. Blue flasher on the police car at night.

It is more than alarming to view the news and see how many adults and children are being shot every day in America. Just this evening I saw that 20 individuals, some teenagers were shot in Philadelphia in one weekend. We also just heard of the 6 individuals who were shot at a birthday party in Colorado Springs, Co. by the boyfriend of one of the victims and who then shot himself. Also, in Times Square in New York City a 4-year-old was shot as a result of a dispute that turned violent. And the list goes on.

One may ask what is going on that we are observing this level of violence? Is it anger, post-Covid effects, trauma, excess use of guns, a mental health crisis that is rampant, addictions or other factors? I do not think there is any conclusive research that isolates any particular reason for this level of national violence but rather a complexity of issues that are feeding this shooting frequency that feels epidemic.

In an NBC news report, Jillian Peterson, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University states, “We do know that those types of mass shootings are contagious, that they tend to spread through things like the media and social media….. People who are maybe vulnerable see themselves in other perpetrators who do this, people who already have their own history of trauma, who maybe feel suicidal, who are in crisis, who have access to weapons, they see one make national headlines, and there is this copycat effect.”

Peterson’s research has found that trauma, a need for validation, access to weapons and reaching a crisis point are common risk factors for mass shooters. This perspective leads me to believe that we do have some hope to resolve this national issue, as complicated as it may be. Complex problems give rise to the need for complex discussions and solutions.

We as a nation have not dealt well with our mental health needs. For example, I was speaking with a group within a psychiatric system recently and what they told me was alarming.  Their staff are highly stressed as they deal with 4,000 patients per year, having multiple assaults within their clinics and are completely overwhelmed with their inability to meet the needs of their clients, some of which are children. That is just one snapshot of what is going on in our mental health treatment facilities.

Trauma has such a huge impact and yet we have still not equipped those in our mental health field to deal with the complexity of trauma. Also, in our homes, communities and institutions we should be hypervigilant about the signs of trauma, anger, suicide, anxiety, depression and address it proactively. If we sense a motivational crisis in someone, we know we need to call for help before these individuals get access to a gun and have the capacity to create violent chaos.  The emotional wounds they possess are not as obvious and yet can cause incredible damage. 

A stop gun violence sticker is seen on a traffic stop sign that has a bullet hole in the sign. This is a 3-D illustration.

We need to keep guns out of the hands of those who are emotionally compromised. However, we need to deal with the emotional and relational issues as families, communities and professionals before they erupt into these tragic circumstances that we are experiencing as a culture. It is at a crisis point and we all need to join together with awareness and proactive steps to prevent this contagion of violence.

Gerry Vassar


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *