Home / Culture and Society / In Mass Shootings Does Government Provide the Trigger?

In Mass Shootings Does Government Provide the Trigger?

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In the aftermath of the tragic shootings in Connecticut everyone is playing the blame game. On the left they are blaming guns. On the right they are blaming the mental health system. Some people on both sides are blaming violent video games and movies. I think they are all missing the mark.

I blame our government. Not because they aren’t tracking mentally disturbed people, seizing guns and censoring TV and video games. I blame them for creating the conditions which trigger the mentally ill young men who carry out these shootings.

That young men in the 16-24 year old age range have a higher propensity towards adjustment disorders leading to true mental illness is nothing new. But there is a perception that members of this group are more prone to act out violently today than they did in the past. Assuming that this is true and acknowledging the facts that guns and violent entertainment have been around since long before this rise in violent outbursts, I think we have to look for another specific trigger.

When you put guards and metal detectors in your schools, when you invasively search airline passengers, when you begin to spy on your own citizens: you create an atmosphere of fear and the expectation of violence. The average citizen finds this heightened level of state security oppressive. Red light cameras, TSA checkpoints, random blood draws, internet data mining and new security laws like the warrantless indefinite detention of citizens in the NDAA all contribute to this environment. For someone who is troubled and prone to paranoia this creates a world which is directly threatening.

In addition, the ongoing economic crisis and the uncertainty it creates puts stress on everyone. And again, this is a problem which has its origins in government policy, a government which is not only increasingly intrusive, but also clearly irresponsible.

We all react to it stress differently, but logic suggests that in those already prone to irrational violent impulses the high level of stress we are subjected to and the threats posed by government can lead to the heightened paranoia which triggers violent action.

This isn’t just speculation. The writings, statements and behavior of these killers consistently express a fear of government as one of their overriding concerns. Even in the sane community this has been responsible for increased political radicalism, higher gun sales and an increase in harmless paranoid behavior like “Doomsday Prepping.” It’s about time we admit that the actions of government play a major role in encouraging this violence.

Ironically the reaction to these incidents is invariably to try to implement more security and take away more rights. They’ll want to seize guns, fortify schools and other public places, track the mentally ill,. monitor more of our communications and take away more of our rights. None of these will be very effective at solving the problem and all of them are likely to contribute to pushing more volatile people over the edge to violence.

Everyone is proposing solutions, but they are not listening to what the perpetrators of these crimes are telling us. Political agendas are driving us to the wrong answers when the real answer is pretty simple. We have created an environment which justifies the fears of the paranoid and drives them deeper down the rabbit hole. Put the blame on us for looking to government to solve social problems it can never really address effectively.

Heightened government security and economic uncertainty are the only variables which have changed. It’s time to put the blame where it belongs and stop implementing government solutions which actually make the problem worse. Before we make more changes and take away more civil liberties, we should think long and hard about whether it is better do do nothing than to do more harm.

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About Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.
  • Zaphod Braden

    Find one government in the history of humanity that felt a need to document a “RIGHT” for it’s ARMED FORCES to possess ARMS.
    The claim that the Government wrote the 2nd Amendment to give Our ARMED FORCES a “right” to carry ARMS is S-T-U-P-I-D.
    The only reason for the Second Amendment is to clearly spell-out the GOD GIVEN RIGHT of INDIVIDUALS to keep & bear ARMS.
    The only reason for the BILL(list) of RIGHTS was to codify INDIVIDUALS’ GOD GIVEN RIGHTS. The delegates refused to Ratify the Constitution until the BILL of RIGHTS was included.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Glenn, that’s a pretty good analogy. I’ve never had the privilege of sitting behind the wheel of a Ferrari, but I can easily imagine that driving one around in a 30mph speed limit zone must be excruciating. They’re designed for speeds far higher than anything legally permitted in most countries, and the desire to see what they can do must be very strong.

    Now then: I have handled an AK-47, and I’m here to tell you that those things are powerful. Firing single shots from one into a brush-covered hillside, which was all we could safely do, isn’t exactly satisfying.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Dave –

    Deano, the counterargument is that those societies have never had the tradition of individual liberty which we have. They have less to be taken away so a few more infringements of their rights don’t stand out nearly so much. We have more to lose and are losing it faster and it’s hard to miss.

    I would argue that the Brits have had a tradition of individual liberty for much longer than we’ve had – they outlawed slavery long before we did, and their press is much less likely to toe the government line if their headlines are any indication. And then there’s their famously raucous parliamentary meetings – all this in a nation where the capital city has more surveillance cameras per capita than anywhere else on the planet.

    And then there’s Australia – are you really going to say that they’ve less of a tradition of individual liberty than we have? I think our resident Aussie would have something to say about that.

    Dave, what you’re doing is flailing for excuses, anything to keep the blame from where it belongs – on the easy access to high-powered and high-capacity firearms.

    The old saw that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” makes the argument that guns are just tools…but that’s like saying that if we put Ferraris and Maseratis in the hands of young men, they’re no more likely to drive any faster than if they were relegated to Fords and Kias.

  • Kenn Jacobine


    I absolutely agree. One other thing I would add is the militarization of our society. Seems I can’t watch any programming here in Qatar from America without seeing the glorification of the troops and all thing military. When the government sets the example that it is justified to settle differences with violence that trickles down to the citizenry.

  • troll

    @18 – and China and The US are the two top military spenders…hmmm…evidence for a couple of pet theories?

  • Any luck on finding anything that points to Lanza’s fear of government, or was that actually speculation?

  • Baronius

    Now, one thing that the raw numbers don’t show is that the pharmaceutical treatments have gotten a lot better over the years. Some disorders had no effective treatment; some meds had disabling side effects. But even so.

  • Dr Dreadful

    @ #23:

    Igor, back in the 80s and 90s we had something like that in the UK as well. It was called “Care in the Community”, and while it did result in the closure of almost all of the grim, prison-like Victorian asylums and mental hospitals that used to blight the landscape, it was done more to save money than out of any altruistic desire to better the lot of the mentally ill, and it didn’t replace them with much. It left social and healthcare workers overwhelmed and the formerly institutionalized without the support systems they had become used to while confined.

  • Igor

    @21-Baronius: thanks for this:

    “According to a Treatment Advocacy Center study, in 1955 there were 340 public psychiatric beds available per 100,000 U.S. citizens. By 2005, the number plummeted to a staggering 17 beds per 100,000 persons.”

  • Baronius
  • Baronius

    Interesting HuffPo article about government funding for mental health issues.

  • This got posted on Facebook earlier and despite its cuteness seems to have some relevance:- One failed shoe bombing and we all have to take our shoes off at the airport.

    Thirty-one school shootings since Columbine and no change to the gun laws.

    Politicians need to respond to that awful fact…

  • Baronius

    I found this article about spree killing stats. The article questions its own reliability, but it is provocative.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Dave is wide of the mark here. Anti-government paranoia is a symptom, not a cause, of the psychoses that lead to tragedies of this type. I doubt Dave would argue, for example, that a killer who claimed God told him to go on a shooting spree was proof of the existence of God.

    Everybody, including myself, brings out their own pet theories for a fresh airing every time this happens, and most of them miss the point. I personally feel that the proliferation of guns here in the US, in tandem with a culture that pushes the message that they are a quick and easy answer to every problem, creates the perfect storm, and almost certainly accounts for why gun massacres happen so frequently here and so rarely everywhere else.

    Then again… access to firearms does make it easier for a maniac to go out and kill, but consider a recent spate of similar school rampages in China, where guns are most assuredly not accessible to the general public but where knives are as readily obtainable as in any other society.

    I think those who identify the failings of the mental health system as the cause are probably right, and much more can and should be done to prevent mentally unstable people from getting their hands on guns. But this still misses the big picture. There’s a more general malaise in both the US and China, in which a certain subset of the male population is rendered particularly prone to acts of desperate destruction. I don’t claim to have the remedy, but I do suspect that none of the frequently proposed solutions amount to much more than Band-Aids.

  • Baronius

    Does anyone know the stats on spree killings for the US versus worldwide, or by year?

  • troll

    America’s economy is exceptionally violent focused as it is to such an extent on war weapons production and its offshoots – perhaps if we turned our attention as a society to food not bombs our level of crazy violent behavior might decrease

  • Zingzing

    That this argument happens like clockwork every couple of months is odd. That this one happened and I barely blinked is somewhat troubling. These things happen in America. That’s the price some kids pay. Freedom.

  • I think that was the whole idea, Clav, as I’m sure you realize.

  • Deano

    More illuminating than the article at any rate…by a fair margin.

  • Clavos

    My, what an illuminating, informational and cogent remark, Deano…

  • Deano

    Since this article is filed under “There, I Said it” I will say, for the record, that this is so absolutely full of shit….

  • “The writings, statements and behavior of these killers consistently express a fear of government as one of their overriding concerns.”

    Please link to any of the above that Lanza expressed.

  • Sandra Belzer Brendale

    I wold only add that many of these 16-24’s have been on prescription drugs with side affects that cause suicidal tendencies and amp up levels of agitation.

  • There is some sense in Dave’s argument.

    It is definitely the case that the USA has long since stopped being the land of the free; before 9/11 it was bad enough but since then the country has lurched into a paranoid, over-controlling mindset that is pretty hard to reverse.

    The death penalty, the highest incarceration rates in the world, the multiple redundant security agencies, the irrational fear of foreigners in a country built on immigration, the overly-legalistic society and, yes, the excessive drug laws and the obsession with guns are all contributing to a pretty ugly state society that is in stark contrast to the majority of Americans, who are some of the sweetest, friendly and most welcoming people in the world.

    That said, this article kind of wimps out at the end. It simply isn’t true that “Heightened government security and economic uncertainty are the only variables which have changed”. There have been unprecedented massive structural changes in the financial systems with an accompanying rise in concern about profits above all else, the irrelevant and brutalising Iraq and Afghanistan wars, a poisoned political system and a rising tide of political intolerance of minority lifestyles and political perspectives for a start.

    So putting the blame on the government is inaccurate and irrelevant. Taking away more civil liberties of the kind Dave codedly refers to probably wouldn’t help the situation as what is needed here, but probably won’t happen is some far more fundamental changes that and It’s time to put the blame where it belongs and stop implementing government solutions which actually make the problem worse.

    Doing nothing is almost certainly as bad as doing some small changes but what is really needed probably won’t happen until we get a real American Spring.

  • Deano, the counterargument is that those societies have never had the tradition of individual liberty which we have. They have less to be taken away so a few more infringements of their rights don’t stand out nearly so much. We have more to lose and are losing it faster and it’s hard to miss.

    But sure, all of those other things also contribute to the problem. I’m just focusing on the one obvious factor which people are overlooking.

  • Deano

    Yet strangely other western democracies with equivalent governmental structures, security institutions and similar cultural backgrounds (i.e. Canada, UK, Australia etc.) don’t seem to have the prevalent levels of mass shootings on average that the US suffers….could it be that blaming government for this situation is just, as was stated above, so much nonsense, and you need to look at the combination of easy access to guns, poor mental health system support and media glorification of this type of action?

    Naw, gotta be the government! American exceptionalism in action!

  • Costello

    Likely being overlooked cause it’s nonsense, but then they don’t have the same agenda you do. This kid didn’t snap becuase of a patdown at the airport or your right wing paranoia.

  • Obviously there’s no single cause, but I think the role of government in this is the one factor which is really being overlooked. Even the media is blaming itself at least partially.

  • Bob Schmidt

    We lose our freedom to choose, we feel alienated.

  • Bob Schmidt

    2) I would suggest that the centralization of government is a major part of the problem. Catholics call the principle SUBSIDIARITY. That government is best which is local. Self government/self control is the first and most important level of government. The nuclear family is next. Then extended family. Then voluntary associations of church, fraternal group, athletic club championed by our French observer. Then municipal government. Then county government. Then state government. Lastly national government and never world government. Milton Friedman called it freedom to choose. The centralization of government inherently causes the centralization of private business…look what is happening in private healthcare right now, driven totally by the central government. This drive toward big government, big business creates the feeling of alienation.

  • Bob Schmidt

    Dave, my friend, I partially agree. But others point out that the 24/7 news cycle makes it seem like violence is increasing when the facts do not support it. Still, the worst school tragedy was a Michigan school in the 1920s, I believe.