The Mass Shooting Uncertainty Principle

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 that 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 us as human beings, uncertainty is a part of our daily lives. It is something we live with every day, whether we think or worry about it or not, with some uncertainties 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 they are still a clear problem that happen far too frequently in our country, are relatively rare, and the variables at play when it comes to a potential mass shooter are not fixed. We ask the question, then, is it possible for us to predict mass shootings?

To answer that question, we must first find the variables that contribute in impacting a mass shooter. A common one discussed by many is the mental health of a person. There have been studies that have tried to find a connection between mental illness and gun violence, specifically mass shootings. However, there is little evidence of such a connection. In a research article called “Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms” written by Jonathan M. Metzl and Kenneth T. MacLeish, statistics were taken by databases that record the number of gun homicides and it was found that out of the 120,000 deaths caused by guns between 2001 to 2010, fewer than 5% of the perpetrators had suffered from and been diagnosed with mental illness. For mass shooters, few have had been diagnosed with mental illness as well, with only 20-25% having been 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 are having experienced past trauma during their childhood, such as bullying, neglect, and abuse at home, and early exposure to violence. Almost every mass shooter had also reached 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, and an extreme change in a person’s position in the workforce are some examples of crisis’ 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 find the notoriety gained after a shooting appealing. Finally, all mass shooters had access to the resources needed in order to go through with their plans. The moment a person reaches the point where they decide whatever their motive and reasoning is justifies the killing of innocent people, all that is left for them is the means to do it.

We cannot predict what any person will do at any given time, and we cannot know everything about every single person all the time. But we can watch out for signs that somebody is troubled and is in need of help. We can use preventative measures, such as increasing access to and improving mental health treatment, reducing the amount of notoriety a shooter gains after a shooting, helping those going through a crisis, and placing stricter regulations and restrictions about who can own guns to hopefully reduce such tragedies from occurring so frequently. Although the uncertainty of mass shootings 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.

Camila Di Catarina, 14

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