What are the real causes for America’s mass shootings?

sThursday I woke up to the news of another lunatic who decided to use a firearm to murder and injure people he did not even know. Yes, it was yet another mass shooting. This time a crazed 28-year-old military veteran used a handgun to murder 12 innocent people in a nightclub. The death toll included a law enforcement officer who bravely entered the club in an effort to stop the massacre and help those that were injured. Unfortunately, it appears that the lunatic had been waiting for him.

For those of us that think of ourselves as rational human beings, it is just about impossible to wrap our heads around the reasons for these kinds of events. In some cases, we do eventually find out what motivated these murderers. For example, we know that the psycho that attacked the synagogue in Pittsburgh hated Jewish people. Again, it’s hard for most of us understand how someone could harbor enough hatred in them to want to brutally murder people he didn’t even know. Maybe we’ll never understand what makes people do such terrible things but human curiosity and our desire to understand things will probably never allow us to stop trying to figure it out.

So what’s the real cause for these terrible events? If you believe that “too many guns” is the cause and you are expecting me to agree with that, you are going to be disappointed. I am an extraordinarily strong supporter of the Second Amlots-of-gunsendment and no amount of mass shootings will ever change that. You’ve heard it before and now you are going to hear it again: Guns do not kill people. People kill people. Period. If that well-used reasoning pisses you off, that’s because you know how true it is and you just refuse to accept it. Guns, by themselves, are not capable of doing anything on their own, just as your kitchen knife cannot jump up off the counter by itself and stab you in the eye! Do you blame the car when a drunk driver kills innocent people? Of course not! So don’t be an idiot and blame guns for the actions of human beings.

For those that think too many guns are the cause for these terrible events, I have a little history lesson for you. If the easy availability of guns are the problem, wouldn’t our problems be even worse if guns were even more easily available than they currently are? Would it surprise you to learn that guns were much more easily available a few decades ago? Did you know that anyone could mail-order a firearm as recently as the 1960s? No license or permit required. You did not need approval from anyone and there were no background checks. All you had to do was send the money in the mail and you would soon receive a real, working firearm delivered to your door. Don’t believe me? Look it up yourself and you’ll find that just about any adult in the country could buy a gun through the mail until the laws were changed after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Why, during a period when firearms were very easily available in the United States, were there not more mass shootings? Why today, when we have many more restrictions on firearms, are mass shootings something we now expect to see in the news regularly? It really doesn’t seem like the availability of firearms is the real cause of these mass shootings, does it?

So the question remains. What is the reason behind these terrible events, especially the ones that cannot be explained by hatred, as the case appeared to be with the psycho who attacked the people in the Pittsburgh synagogue? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to presume that a person who would do something so utterly senseless and cruel has a serious problem with their brain. Do we simply have more mental defectives in the country than we have had in the past or is there something else that could be influencing the behavior of people who decide to go on murderous shooting sprees?

It makes sense to consider what’s different today when compared to five or six decades ago. I can tell you one thing that’s different. There are now millions of people in the United States that are taking psychoactive drugs. I’m talking about antidepressants and similar drugs that are prescribed by doctors and other medical professionals that are supposed to help people overcome depression and other mental illnesses.

The problem with these drugs are that they often do not work and they almost always cause undesirable side effects. The most popular psychoactive drugs are the ones included in a category known as SSRIs, which is shorthand for Selective Serotonin Uptake Inhibitor. These drugs are designed to change the level of serotonin that is available in the body, which is supposed to make people feel more positive and less depressed.

The number of people taking SSRI drugs in this country is truly staggering. It is estimated that as many as 42 million Americans are taking these antidepressants. The actual number of people taking these drugs could be higher or lower but one thing is for certain. The use of antidepressant drugs has exploded in this country over the past three or four decades. And make no mistake. These drugs do change the people who take them and not always in a good way. I know this from personal experience.

The first time I heard anything negative about SSRI antidepressants was around 1990 when I received some unexpected news, A childhood friend of mine had committed suicide by hanging himself. What was really shocking about that was that he was one of the most happy-go-lucky people I had ever known, He was the last person I would have expected to do such a thing. I later found out that he had been feeling down for a while because of some relationship problems. He ended up seeking help and was given a prescription for Prozac. Not long after he started taking it, he put an end to his own life. I believe it took a few years for the pharmaceutical industry to admit that SSRI antidepressants “may” increase the risk of suicide for some people who use them. That was my first personal experience with SSRI antidepressants. There would be more.

My mother endured bouts of depression for as long as I can remember and had used SSRI antidepressants for at least three decades. She passed away recently after suffering from severe dementia. I don’t have any reason to suspect that taking SSRI antidepressants had anything to do with her dementia, but let’s just say I would not be surprised. What I do remember was an experience my mother told me once about a sleep medication she had tried.

Insomnia was another challenge my mother had to deal with as far back as I can remember, so she was always trying medications that would were supposed to be able to help her sleep. I do not recall the name of the particular medication she was on at the time and although I have an idea, I do not want to speculate. I know it was a prescription medication that was not an SSRI or any other kind of antidepressant and was used at least some of the time as a sleep aid.

The effect this particular medication had on my mother was rather remarkable. I do not recall if it actually helped her sleep, but what I do recall was that it made her feel more volatile and violent than she ever had before. At that time my parents had a long-time neighbor that they never really got along with. To make a long story short, this neighbor was a major league asshole and was always looking for ways to cause trouble for my parents. My mother hated him but I never heard her actually talk about wanting to take a gun and kill him. Until she was taking that particular sleep aid medication.

I vividly remember her telling me how that drug had changed her and made her more angry than she had ever felt. One day she just happened to see her neighbor outside and she told me she actually wanted to grab a rifle and shoot him. She didn’t actually do that and I doubt that she actually would but that was the first time I had ever heard my mother talk like that. She sounded as serious as I had ever heard her sound. She didn’t stay on that drug very long because she didn’t like experiencing a side effect that made her feel like she wanted to start shooting people. After she was off that drug, I never heard her talk like that again.

More recently, I had a much more personal experience with SSRI antidepressants. With a history of depression in my family, I suppose it should not have been a surprise when I had to deal with it myself. A few things had gone wrong in my life at the time and I was experiencing a lot of anxiety and stress for quite some time. For me, I think that led to depression. I resisted going for help as long as I could and thought that I would just “get over it.” I didn’t. When I finally sought help, I was given a prescription for an SSRI antidepressant called sertraline, better known as Zoloft. The good news was that it actually seemed to help me and I was feeling better after a few weeks, so I stayed on the medication for three or four years. I did pretty well while I was on it but I certainly dealt with my own share of undesirable side effects.

I have always been a peaceful person. I would much rather avoid a physical fight or verbal altercation if I can. I was never one to go looking for trouble or start fights with people. In fact, there were times when I felt like I may have been a little too peaceful and had wished that I had been more assertive. Zoloft solved that problem for me quite efficiently. Never in my life had I felt more bold, confident, assertive and aggressive than I did when I was on Zoloft, although I certainly never had the urge to go out and shoot people like my mother did. In fact, I didn’t have an increased desire to harm anyone but one thing was for sure: I wasn’t going to take any shit from anyone!

In retrospect, I am glad that there were never any circumstances that really put my new-found aggression to the test. As I said, during the time I was taking Zoloft I never felt like I wanted to shoot anyone or harm anyone in any other way, but I was more than willing to get into a fistfight with someone who pissed me off sufficiently.

I remember one day when I was outside on my property cutting down some dead trees to use for firewood. I had a pretty good chuck of property at the time and there were plenty of trees to choose from. That day I happened to be working on the edge of my property that bordered a neighbor I didn’t care for very much, This neighbor and I never had any real serious problems but it was quite clear that we didn’t care much for each other. He had overstepped his bounds a couple of times by complaining to me about some ridiculous things but I basically just let it go and did not make a big deal out of it.

That day while I was out cutting trees I found myself almost wishing that he would come out of his house and find some reason to complain about what I was doing. I felt like I was just itching to get into a confrontation with him so I would have an excuse to beat him senseless. That was most certainly not the “real” me and there was no question in my mind that Zoloft was the cause. Since I stopped taking it about five years ago, I have returned to my old self and no longer have the same level of aggression that I did when I was taking it. Fortunately the problems I was dealing with a few years ago are behind me and I have had no further problems with depression.

As a person who was never aggressive and always avoided getting into fights, it was pretty remarkable that Zoloft could change me so much. I will admit that in a way, it was kind of nice to be more assertive. There were one or two things that happened during that time that would have stressed the “real” me out quite significantly but when I was on Zoloft, I tended to take it in stride and remain remarkably calm and confident in the face of stressful situations.

Imagine how that drug that affected me that way might affect someone who was already prone to aggression and violence. What happens when a drug pushes them further in the direction of being more aggressive?

My brother was another one that struggled with depression for many years and that was no surprise since there was a long history of mental illness on my mother’s side of the family. His depression was a lot more severe and persistent than mine was. I believe it would have been classified as “refractory” by the professionals. My brother had been prescribed numerous antidepressants over the years but he never found anything that helped him in any meaningful way. Most recently he had been seeing a psychologist regularly and was still taking antidepressants. Less than a year ago he ended his own life by shooting himself in the head. I really have no idea if antidepressants influenced his decision to end his life but I do know he had been taking them for at least 20 years. By they way, I do not blame the gun.

The internet is full of stories about how SSRI antidepressants have made people feel suicidal or otherwise more prone to violence. In fact, it has been widely reported that at least one of the shooters who killed fellow students at Columbine High School in 1999 had been prescribed antidepressants. Columbine seemed like the event that opened the floodgates and began a new era of mass shootings in this country, including an uncomfortable number of them that have taken place in schools.

While it’s quite popular for the mainstream media to blame guns and try their best to demonize gun owners and organizations like the NRA, I think it’s much more reasonable to blame psychoactive drugs. After all, these drugs actually change people’s behavior and we all know that the people that commit these crimes are the problem since the guns they use are not capable of going on a shooting spree on their own and without human intervention.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the media to talk about the possibility that pharmaceuticals are part of the problem, however. Have you watched TV or thumbed through a popular magazine recently? The amount of advertising that’s being done by the pharmaceutical industry has exploded in recent years. I challenge just about anyone in the country to sit down in front of the television for an hour or so and not see an ad for some drug that the industry is pushing.

Even though the pharmaceutical industry has been making obscene amounts of money for decades, that did not seem to be enough for them. In 1997 the government relaxed the rules that had discouraged the industry from advertising their products directly to consumers. That is when the tsunami of drug advertisements we see today began to form. When I was growing up there were no drug ads on TV at all and now the viewing public cannot escape them. In 1993 the pharmaceutical industry spent $166 million on advertising, mostly aimed at doctors and other health care professionals. In 2005 that number ballooned to $4.2 billion! Let that number sink in for a few seconds. If they are spending that much money just on advertising, just imagine how much profit that industry generates.

I cannot even imagine how many millions of dollars are flowing into the coffers of the big media companies and TV networks for displaying those advertisements. I suspect that would make it hard for the media to rock the boat by implicating psychoactive drugs as a contributor to incidents of mass shootings. It makes a lot more sense for them to blame the gun. That’s a much smaller industry that does not advertise on TV, so there’s little to no risk by rubbing them the wrong way. Pharmaceuticals generate billions, if not trillions of dollars for the corporations that develop and manufacture them and you can be sure they are a very generous cash cow for the television and publishing industries as well.

There may be other reasons for the increased frequency of mass shootings in this country, including the popularity and availability of violent video games. Today’s video games are incredibly realistic and the graphics make them appear almost as realistic as watching real human actors on TV. Many of these games include incredibly graphic violence that includes plenty of blood and gore as well as the screams and moans of game characters that are shot, stabbed, beaten, burned or otherwise subjected to violence. Is it possible that those games are able to desensitize some young people to violence and make them more willing to murder in real life?

Maybe it’s a combination of things that lead some people to commit these murderous acts. The availability of guns in this country is surely a factor but I don’t think it is the primary reason. The presence of a firearm does not make people crazy or influence them to go shoot others. If that were the case, the nearly one million gun-toting law enforcement officers in this country would be murdering vast numbers of people every day.

The people that pick up a gun with the idea of shooting innocent people have made a conscious decision, the same way the drunk driver decides to get behind the wheel. But we don’t ban cars, do we? That’s because they are too useful to us and too well integrated in our society. The same thing can be said for firearms. Nearly all our law enforcement officers carry them and they are also used more than a million times each year by people who lawfully and successfully defend themselves from violence. Those that scream and cry for gun control do not seem to recognize the fact that taking guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens will make them vulnerable to criminals who use guns and have absolutely no regard or intention go obey any law that says they cannot possess one.

Whether we like it or not, the genie truly is out of the bottle. The world is awash in guns and there’s not much that can be done to change that. Even of you were able to somehow remove every gun in the country, they would soon start flooding in over the borders and would be available to any criminal who wanted one. That’s just basic supply and demand. Just consider how successful the “war” on illegal drugs has been after decades of efforts to eradicate them. That same thing would happen with guns if they were banned and those of us who obey the law and do not have any desire to shoot anyone would be unable to defend ourselves against the criminals and terrorists that would still have them.

Gun control is not the answer. I agree that banning guns or imposing stricter gun laws might decrease the number of mass shootings, but at what cost? How many people would die every year because they were denied the right to defend themselves with a firearm from someone who is bigger, stronger or has a gun of their own? I am confident that the number of people who would die every year due to those circumstances would easily dwarf the number of lives lost in senseless mass shooting incidents. If the goal is to save more lives, as it should be, it’s clear that more gun control that takes firearms out of the hands of good, honest people is most definitely not the answer.