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Our Editorials

The Mass shooting uncertainty principle

By Camila Di Catarina


        Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle states that it is impossible to predict where certain particles will exactly be at any given time, even if the initial conditions and variables are given. It explains how there are some things in the universe that we are unable to predict, such as the random locations of the electrons in an atom.

        For human beings, uncertainty is an intrinsic part of daily life. It is something we're greeted with every day, whether we are aware of it or not, with some uncertainties in life greater than others. In the United States, the desire to predict and therefore prevent acts of violence, such as mass shootings, is fervent. But mass shootings, while uncommonly frequent in the United States compared to the rest of the world, are relatively rare, and the variables at play when it comes to a potential mass shooter are difficult to confirm. We ask the question, then, is it possible for us to even predict mass shootings?

        To answer that question, we must first find the variables that may play a role in creating a mass shooter. A common one that is often considered is the mental health of a person. Studies have attempted to find a connection between mental illness and gun violence, specifically mass shootings. However, there is little evidence of such a connection. According to Jonathan M. Metz and Kenneth T. MacLeish (both affiliated with Vanderbilt University in the Departments of Sociology and Psychiatry and the Department of Anthropology respectively) in "Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms", analyzing databases recording the number of gun homicides in the U.S. revealed that out of the 120,000 deaths caused by guns between 2001 to 2010, less than 5% of the perpetrators had suffered or been diagnosed with a mental illness. For mass shooters specifically, only 20-25% were previously diagnosed. Deaths caused by guns from people suffering from mental illness are mostly suicides, not homicides.

        However, there are a few common trends among many mass shooters, some of which including experiencing past trauma (bullying, neglect, abuse at home) and early exposure to violence during their childhood. A common trend shared by many mass shooters also includes the reaching of a point of crisis in their lives a few weeks or months prior to carrying out their plan. The loss of someone close, facing rejection in a relationship, or an extreme change in a person's position in the workforce are some examples of crises mass shooters experienced. Another common trait was a fascination with mass shootings themselves, and the studying of past shooters actions. These people find justification in the actions of past shooters and believe the notoriety gained after a shooting appealing. Finally, all mass shooters had access to the resources needed to carry out their plan. The moment a person reaches the point where they decide whatever their reasoning or motive is justifies the killing of innocent people, all that is left for them to do is find the means to do it.


        Like the tiny particles found in atoms, it is impossible to predict exactly what any person can do at any given time. But what we can do, however, is look for warning signs that may signify a person to be troubled and in need of help. We can use preventative measures to reduce the frequency of of such tragedies. Increasing access to and improving the quality of mental health resources and treatment, getting the media to reduce the notoriety and attention the perpetrator gains after a mass shooting, giving better aid to those going through a crisis, and placing stricter regulations on who can purchase and own firearms are all clear, effective examples of such actions lawmakers across the U.S. can take. Although the uncertainty of such acts of violence is great, we cannot sit idly by as if there is nothing we can do to prevent them because it is a certain fact that innocent people are losing their lives senselessly.

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