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As American as apple pie and mass shootings

By Annie Goodman
On October 11, 2017

Flowers and signs are left at a makeshift memorial for the victims of a mass shooting in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Marcio Jose Sanches/ AP Photo 

With 90 mass shootings in the United States between 1966 and 2012, there are more public mass shootings in the United States than in any other country in the world, according to a study published by Criminology Professor at the University of Alabama Dr. Adam Lankford. In his study titled “Public Mass Shooters and Firearms: A Cross-National Study of 171 Countries,” Lankford found that 31 percent of all public mass shootings happened in America even though the U.S. population only accounts for 5 percent of the world. The study states, “The global distribution of public mass shooters appears partially attributable to cross-national differences in firearms availability but not associated with cross-national homicide or suicide rates,” as its results and, “The United States and other nations with high firearm ownership rates may be particularly susceptible to future public mass shootings, even if they are relatively peaceful or mentally healthy according to other national indicators,” as its conclusion. With the recent attack in Las Vegas, this seems to ring true. However, I find it hard to believe firearm availability is 100 percent to blame for America’s propensity for violence. This article is not going to be about the gun control controversy because, honestly, I’m not sure where I stand in the debate. Rather, I would like to discuss what makes mass shootings so “American” in my opinion. 

While listening to WRKF 89.3 radio station, I heard people talk about becoming numb to the violence in America and finding they are no longer being shocked by such massacres. Much like being bullied and dealing with feelings of depression, this is something no one should have to say, “I’m used to it.” Yet sadly, such gruesome acts have indeed become a part of the American identity. I believe it comes down to an ideology uniquely fundamental to the American foundation: the American Dream.

When I was a junior in high school, I had to write a persuasive essay on whether or not I believed the American Dream was alive today, and I titled my paper, “America’s Cyanide” in which I focused on the idea of indifference being essential to achieve one’s goals. I feel the American economy, political system, media, education system, etc. have been built with a sense of personal gain by a means of indifference to the less fortunate. That said, after the Las Vegas incident, I find mass shootings to be centered around that same ideology. 

According to an article by The Washington Post, “Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock was a high-stakes gambler who ‘kept to himself’ before  the massacre. Stephen Paddock was living out his retirement in quiet obscurity. He liked country music, relatives said, and went to concerts like the Route 91 Harvest festival where he killed so many Sunday night.” Paddock had no known jihadist or criminal ties, and his family was shocked by his actions. Yet this seemingly normal 64-year-old man opened fire at a country music festival killing 59 people and injuring over 500 more for indiscernible reasons. 

When I was in junior high, I had a friend that would joke about becoming a serial killer or mass murderer if she was not famous by a certain age. In an article by Jen Christensen of CNN, Lankford said, “It’s harder to quantify it, but I’ve been struck by research that shows that being famous is one of this generation’s most important goals. It seems like Americans are growing in their desire for fame, and there is no doubt that there is an association between media coverage that these offenders get and the likelihood that they will act.” I’m sure there are plenty of individuals around the world who wish to be famous, so why blame American mass shootings on a need for fame? In the same CNN article, Lankford says, “The fame-seeking rampage shooters will attempt to kill even more victims. We have seen this become almost a kind of competition.” Almost a year after Lankford published his findings, Lankford’s study was published in November of 2016, a normal guy with a lot of guns was single-handedly responsible for what is being called “the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.”

Is it gun control that is to blame for the disproportionate violence in America? Is it the mental health system? How about emotionally charged news reporting and biased media? Or is it something more fundamental, something about subscribing to the American ideology that makes such carnage so commonplace?

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