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How to solve the problem of mass shootings

Last week we saw the 18th incident of a mass shooting, this time at Stoneman High School in Florida. It is interesting that we Jews are celebrating 2018 as “Chai” or life, as the number 18 spells out in Hebrew. Some would find this ironic; but the surviving students of the high school have launched a campaign that is inspiring people all across the country to take up the cause and prevent furthers unnecessary losses of life to gun violence.

As with many sensitive issues these days, this has spurred responses on both sides of the issue. Some of them have, again as with other sensitive issues, quite extreme. Much of this encompasses speculations as to why someone would take such a violent course of action. After some careful and curious thought, let’s see if we can examine the reasons for such antisocial behavior.

The first and most common reason posited is mental health. Certainly we can discuss mental health in addressing this issue—as we can also in discussing people’s work, their relationships, yes, everything is related to mental health. But how we would apply this discipline in weeding out such potential offenders is really the crux of the matter.

Such questions arise as what behaviors are common to potential predators and then once identified, what do we do? Do we subject that person to intense psychological scrutiny? Do we hold them involuntarily until we’re satisfied that they won’t harm anybody?

Professionals feel that the common cause is anger. Most, if not all, of these perpetrators had a lot of anger and were not able to handle it in appropriate ways or find avenues to resolve it. They act out violently. Consider that their rage is so overpowering that they take their anger out on anyone and everyone.

They turn to guns to inflict their damage because they are available, and they’ve seen others do it and know that they are effective tools to vent their rage. Guns make people feel powerful and a lot of these people allegedly feel powerless; this is their way of compensating.

It seems interesting as well, that the casualties have been getting greater and greater almost as though each new perpetrator is trying to out-do the previous one as if there’s a competition going on. Perhaps in some strange, dysfunctional way, they are trying to make a statement. All they see is the task in front of them, not the consequences.

In reality, what sort of prevention would work? First of all, it is a sensitive topic, but if access to guns is limited, then perhaps the person may reconsider, and that may serve to at least reduce the number and severity of casualties. There are, of course, other ways of causing destruction, but almost all of them would be more cumbersome and either result in less people being hurt and even make it easier to or avoid injuries completely.

Certainly many of these people are disaffected and many stand apart from mainstream society. This last perpetrator had no real parents and moved around to different homes. He had no real emotional support. He had expressed his frustration in school by getting into trouble and being expelled.

Part of how he expressed his frustration was by getting involved in a fringe group that scapegoated specific minorities. In joining this group, he found two things that was missing in his life: acceptance and support. It may have been contrived, but it was still better than the nothing that he had. As this was a group that preached acting out, he found reinforcement to attack people, much like mob rule.

For every problem there is a solution, even in an extreme situation such as this. There are many avenues and Judaism teaches us how to interact. First of all, one of our prime commandments is to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Hillel discussed the converse of this by telling us not to do to anyone that is hateful to you. In other words, treat everyone with respect.

Judaism goes further than this as well. One of the most oft-cited commandments is to be kind to the stranger because we were strangers in a strange land. This may refer to groups of people as well as individuals.

In our Torah, once Moses presented the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel, he started promulgating the other 603. The very first commandments were related to the ethical treatment indentured bondsperson, who is the most vulnerable in society.

The other part of the solution, then, is intervention. Our school personnel ought to be trained to reach out to students who seem distant. Our schools would also benefit from more and better resources. We should have School Psychologists and Guidance Counselors available. If that is not appropriate for the particular school, then perhaps a school nurse who can refer to outside services.

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