Saturday, May 24, 2014

Isla Vista Mass Murder: One UCSB Grad's Perspective

This morning I heard about the tragedy in Isla Vista. There are a number of things I thought and felt immediately.

I was there - not there last night, but there just a few years ago. I used to hang out in IV with my graduate student friends. I used to make late night runs to Freebirds to eat ridiculously messy nachos when nowhere else was open. I used to drink wine at department parties off of Del Playa.

If this had happened a few years ago, it could have been me shot, maimed, or killed. It could have been my friends. It could have been my professors. That's what makes this so horrible.

A mass shooting isn't terrible because of the death. That happens all the time. Gang shootings happen all the time. But those have specific intended targets. Those happen in places I rarely if ever frequent. They would never happen to me. Mass shootings are horrible the same way 9/11 was horrible: nowhere, nothing, is sacred or safe.

My mother had the reaction that no doubt most liberals/centrists will have - ban handguns. "This would never happen in Britain!" she said.

That's true. It wouldn't happen in Britain. But it wouldn't happen in Britain for several reasons. Yes, having fewer guns on the street would make a difference (crazy, impulsive, or enraged people would have less access), but there are other things going on here.

How many mass shootings have happened in the US? I feel like every time I turn around another one has happened. The shooter in question is deemed "crazy" as if this is enough to satisfy the public and that's the end of it. Except here's the thing - people keep acting out in this way. It's become normal. It's now normal for people to shoot up the place when they're freaking out. It's now normal for a person to explode in an incredibly hurtful way and take it out on innocent and uninvolved parties.

Let me tell you something; that is not normal.

That is preposterous.

The question arises, why is this happening? Why are people so messed up in the head they feel the need to externalize their hurt onto their community?

I can hear the questions now about this particular shooter:
  • Was it a failing grade?
  • Did his girlfriend break up with him?
  • Was he suffering a psychotic break?
  • Did he forget to take his medication?
  • Was he recently returned from a tour of duty?
  • Was he on drugs?
But these are the wrong questions. These answers may lead to the reason why the actions took place, but not the thoughts. What drove this person to think that taking a gun through a college community and shooting at random strangers was a good idea? Weren't there a thousand other thoughts that could have gone through this person's head before that? Wouldn't a person have to be extremely desperate and disturbed to reach that point?

And that's the issue.

I think as a culture these horrible outbursts have become normal because all of the stress, depression, and anxiety we suffer on a daily basis is unacceptable to discuss. Therapy may have become more common place, but it still has a stigma associated with it. Men, while more present fathers and husbands, are still not allowed to cry or admit weakness in wider culture. How often do you see a TV hero cry? I honestly can't remember a time (Though maybe I've seen it once or twice, I mean, law of averages and all that.).

We don't just need to ban handguns. That's not enough. We need to talk. We need to address the underlying cultural and psychological issues that lead people to commit these kinds of acts - to thinking these are acceptable and normal.

Talking is normal. Crying is normal. Taking a gun and shooting innocent people because you feel rejected by women or you failed a class is not.

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