Mass shootings are becoming more common in the United States as a result of the country’s over exposure to violence, the “ripple effect” of the events and the country’s lack of gun control legislation. The term mass shooting usually refers to an incident involving multiple victims of gun violence. An incident is deemed a mass killing if the perpetrator kills four or more people in a single incident; if the perpetrator kills himself during the incident their death is not included in the tally.
Cities such as Orlando, Florida, Newtown, Connecticut, and Littleton, Colorado have all shared the pain and horror associated with mass shootings. These municipalities are only a few, from a long list of cities that have suffered from the terror and shock related to these type of killings. The fact of the matter is that these types of killings are becoming more and more common on American soil. After a shooting in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 people dead and 17 people wounded, President Barack Obama said “We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world” (Gregoire, 2015). President Barack Obama’s statement was echoed in a study conducted by Adam Lankford, an associate professor at the University of Alabama’s Department of Criminal Justice. Lankford’s work presents a disturbing finding, indicating that the U.S. represents less than 5% of the world’s population, but America is accountable for 31% of global mass shootings over the last 50 years, more than any other country (Palazzolo, 2015). This pattern of tragedies is a result of a complex and multifaceted dilemma that has plagued the United States for half a decade. The problem is linked to many issues, including violent media exposure, “the ripple effect” of the reported events, and the nation’s lack of gun control legislation. These are all contributing factors that can influence a person at-risk of committing a mass shooting.
The profile of the mass shooter is undefined because various people from all walks of life have committed a mass shooting; however, what remains constant are the variables that influence the mass shooter. According to research firm IHS, Inc. Americans watch nearly six hours of television a day, more television than any other country in the world (Kelley, 2015). More than 60 percent of those six hours of television contains violence, and 40 percent of the 60 percent contains heavy violence (Swanbrow, 2007). Social media, television, movies, and video games are saturated with images of violence. Popular first-person shooter video games such as Doom glorify killings and desensitize the gamer to violence; recent television shows like Game of Thrones expose viewers to countless images of gratuitous violence as well. Overexposure to violence in the United States has become commonplace in American homes with violent television programs like Daredevil, Boardwalk Empire and Dexter. This type of media culture is negatively influencing young minds and corrupting their sense of reality. In 2010, Andrew Conley told Indiana State police investigators that he murdered his 10-year-old brother as a result of watching the popular television Dexter, claiming that he was trying to model himself after the television serial killer. Television programming is not just influencing potential killers; it is creating a hostile state of mind in the American youth. Brandon Centerwall from the University of Washington reports that heavy duty television watching in the pre-adolescent years increases violent and aggressive tendencies in young people and has also contributed to the plague of violence in the United States. Furthermore, the study revealed that early childhood exposure to television violence predicted aggressive behaviour for both males and females in adulthood. (The Washington Post, 1993).
American youths have immersed themselves in the video gaming industry; in fact, 97% of American youths play video games. Children aren’t the only ones being influenced by video games though; adults are joining in on the fun as well. Today the average age of an American game player is 31 years old. Unfortunately, most of the popular video games these days contain violence. A study of the video gaming industry found that 71 percent of video games contained at least some mild violence, while 25 percent included intense violence. These types of video games concern Douglas Gentile Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University. Gentile conducted a study involving video game exposure to teens and found that video games with violent content were associated with more aggressive teen behaviour.
First person shooter video games present an interesting perspective in game playing; In a first person shooter video game the participant of the game is not controlling the character, the player is the character. This type of game numbs the participant to violence and provides them with a higher conditioned threshold for violence. Exposing a person that is at-rick for committing a mass shooting to these types of violent imagery, heightens the propensity for the individual to act out their aggressions. Killers have used first person shooter video games to plot out their destructive behavior and condition themselves for their assault on the public; Mass shooter Anders Behring Breivik acknowledged in writing that he used Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and World of Warcraft to aid him in preparing for the murders he committed (Gaudiosi, 2011). As well as Breivik, there are numerous other example of mass murders being linked to first person video games including Adam Lanza of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, James Holmes of the Colorado movie theatre massacre, and Eric Harris of the infamous Columbine massacre (Fletcher, 2015). There are many studies that indicate violent video games and violent media exposure promote emotions of hostility and aggression; they desensitize the view of violence and alter the viewer’s perception of what defines violence (Barclay, 2014). Results from an Ohio State University study determined that people that are consistently exposed to these types of violent video games could come to see the world as being a hostile and violent place to live. The author of the study, Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, said “These results suggest there could be a cumulative effect", proposing that video games could make the players more aggressive and violent over the long and short term.
Adding to the cocktail of causes that contribute to the fact that random shootings are becoming more common in the United States is the “ripple effect”. The “ripple effect”, which is similar to the suicide cluster theory, is the theory that one mass shooting that has national media exposure will cause another mass shooting to occur as a result of contagion (Sanger-Katz, 2014). Research in this area is fairly new; however, it has been demonstrated through empirical data that acts of mass violence and school shootings are infectious (Towers, 2015). Researchers at Arizona State University performed a statistical analysis of the 176 mass shootings in the United States dating from 2006 to 2011 and 220 school shootings between 1997 to 2013. Their results concluded that the shootings were more likely to happen if another shootings, that had national media coverage took place within the previous 13 days. The study showed that mass shooting had a tendency to cluster together as a result of the media “planting a seed” of ideation in individuals to commit similar acts. The author of the study Contagion in Mass Killings and School Shootings, Sherry Towers, believes that the national media attention given to mass shootings is playing a role in spreading the news about tragedies and inspiring at-risk individuals who have access to guns to commit copycat mass shootings. Towers also found that these mass shooters are studying past incidents: “The majority of mass shooters researched and were inspired by past shootings, particularly the 1999 Columbine High School shooting.” Robert Fein, a psychologist who dedicates his time to the study of targeted violence told The New Times in a recent interview that, “You’ll have a hard time finding someone who didn’t do any research about those who went before” referring to prior incidents of mass shootings (Goode, 2015). The “ripple effect” proves to be a dangerous component leading up to mass shootings.
Another element of this killer cocktail is the United States’ lackadaisical attitude towards gun control. Relaxed gun control is a contributing factor related to the problem of mass shootings. In 2012, Mother Jones Magazine developed the first open-source database of its kind, recording the events of mass shootings in America. Their study focused on indiscriminate rampages in public places resulting in four or more victims murdered and excluded shootings related to gang violence and robberies. The Mother Jones’ report indicated that in mass shootings that occurred between 1982-2012, 49% of the guns used in these heinous events had been obtained legally by the perpetrator, substantiating that tighter gun control legislation would play a role in thwarting the mass shootings in America (Ehrenfreund, 2016).
Other studies, like the one performed by Adam Lankford at the University of Alabama also links the issue of gun control to mass shootings, citing that counties with higher gun ownership have more public mass shootings. It is no surprise that the United States leads the world in mass shootings, as their civilians own more guns than any other country. Even when the United States was removed from the analysis, the link between gun ownership and mass shooting still existed. Switzerland and Finland, two nations with high rates of gun ownership, had more mass shootings (Pappas, 2015). The report specified that relaxed gun control legislation was definitely a precipitating factor in incidents of mass shootings.
In 1996, a mass shooting in Australia that killed 35 people led to the government’s decision to buy back or confiscate a million firearms and make it harder for people to obtain new ones. Twenty years after the crime was perpetrated and the new legislation was adopted, Australia is experiencing a considerable drop in the occurrence of mass shootings; the country has had no mass shootings since (Kaye, 2016). This type of gun control sets a great example for other counties with high incidents of mass shootings to follow.
The lack of gun control, violent media exposure, and the ripple effect all play an integral part in the role of mass shootings in the United States. The cumulative effects of these influences on the American people prove to be deadly, as demonstrated in the high body counts of these horrific events. It is not one of these influences alone that cause the mass shooter to murder; it is a combination of them that play a role in creating the mass shooter in the United States. America’s obsession with violent television and video games aids in shaping the minds of these killers; it numbs their emotions to the reality of death and destruction. The ripple effect, created by the American media, motivates these killers to move closer to their goals of creating mass chaos and urges them to satisfy their desire to kill. America’s relaxed gun legislation makes it easier for the killers, like Adam Lanza of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, to obtain firearms so they can carry out their premeditated acts of destruction. Mass shooting events are not unique to the United States of America, nevertheless, it holds the top spot in the world for these occurrences as all of the contributing factors above are more prevalent in the United States.
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