How Existential Crisis is Leading to a Mass Shooting Epidemic

Nigus Getahun, Staff Writer

We’re living at possibly the best time in history. It’s a time with a higher standard of living, rising literacy rates, and life expectancy, with more people being lifted out of poverty every day. Although we’re making societal strides toward improving the state of our society, there’s a huge problem that seems to get worse every year: mass shootings.

It seems like the common narrative of this problem attributes it to our gun laws. Although that is a fair proposition, given the fact that a lot of mass murders are committed by guns, yet I feel it’s a lot more complex than just a gun issue. Sure, tightening our gun laws could possibly make a dent in the problem, but I fear that it will not have a significant impact on the loss of lives.

If we boil down the commonalities between the various shootings, some clear patterns emerge. Almost all of the mass shootings are committed by young men – some are even boys. The overwhelming majority of the shooters are raised fatherless, and, if you track the shootings to a spike that began in the 1990s, the majority of them are on some kind of medication. Now, this still doesn’t tell us much about the epidemic. However, coupled with each shooter’s stated intent for the shooting, it can be observed that there is some kind of deep pathological problem rooted within these young men to have them commit such malevolent actions.

These actions seem to arise from a sense of nihilism – the idea that life is meaningless – which drives these actions of both societal and self-annihilation. In a recent school shooting this year on March 13 in Brazil, two men, ages 17 and 24, killed five people before turning the gun onto themselves.This shows that maybe there’s something universal beyond legislation that is affecting the direction of our human society. If someone loses a sense of value of humanity and life itself, then what hope could legislation be?

The Columbine shooters wrote “The human race isn’t worth fighting for, only worth killing. Give the earth back to the animals, they deserve it infinitely more than we do.” On the surface, if one looks at this through a nihilist lens, then it seems like a reasonable objection. If life is filled with tragedy and we see humans festered with malevolence that brings only suffering, why should humanity exist at all? This ideology raises an existential protest, a protest that manifests itself through self-destruction and chaos.

The constant debate over guns from both the right and left has drowned out important considerations that could possibly lead us to learn the reason why young men commit such heinous acts. To prevent radicalization and the deepening of pathological problems that stem from nihilism, we should take a more holistic approach to dealing with the problem of mass shootings and attacks. We do this by emphasizing stronger social bonds in culture, better mental health support, and more open cultural dialogue. If we bypass these deep social problems while finding only ineffective policy solutions to basic human needs, the problem will only escalate further as time runs out.