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Mass shooters are warnings, not scapegoats

After every mass shooting in North America - and there have been too many in recent years - the scapegoating begins hours, if not minutes after the shots were fired. It’s time for a more profound reflection.

As helpful a tool as social media can be in emergency situations (as it was last night when Twitter served Moncton's Francophone residents better than their public broadcaster), it can also very quickly poison any healthy discourse about a crime that is increasingly becoming a concern for law enforcement.

Murdering many people at once, more or less at random, is a crime that is particularly spectacular in its violence. The shooters' targets (police officers, women, soldiers, students, etc.) is certainly something to consider when analyzing such events, but the nature of the crime might shed a bit more light on the root causes.

The first thing to remember before opining is that a crime so exceptional and cartoonish cannot possibly be solved or resolved with one simple explanation. Various lobbies will use these crimes to bolster their arguments, but reductive thinking doesn't serve us well; on the contrary, scapegoating prevents larger, more nuanced conversations from happening that could eventually bring us closer to properly addressing this troubling trend.

Though it's early to deconstruct the Moncton shooter (he's still at large as I write this), it's clear based on what we know of him and his social media activity that there are parallels to be made between this crime and virtually every other mass shooting on the continent in the last couple of decades: Angry, lonely and marginalized young men who were likely severely depressed, enabled by dark, hateful micro-niches on the internet and emboldened by gun ownership. 

Gun control is probably an issue in many of these cases; racism, misogyny, in others. This kind of excessively violent domestic terrorism, I assume, must be caused by larger, societal factors and demons within the individual who's committed the act.

(And when I say 'demons,' I of course don't mean literal demons possessing young men. There's a tendency to sweep the issues under the rug in favour of a more childish good vs. evil narrative - apologies, but I must completely dismiss these types of arguments.)

Of course, mental health (or as I prefer to call it, 'health') is a factor, but this particular discussion needs to be framed carefully. It's constructive to view depression on a spectrum; it's painfully common and, left unattended and untreated, can derail a person's life. Comparing all who have dealt with mental illness or depression (which, many argue, is basically everyone) to a violent mass shooter is also the opposite of constructive.

The issue is excessively delicate. And that's why simple, quick explanations ought to be dismissed. Why are too many angry (yet privileged) young men lashing out at their communities with spectacular acts of terrorism? I'm not defending them, of course, nor appealing for sympathy, but their actions (and the actions of religious terrorists, for that matter) are attached with profound messages about how we all have failed them. It's time we start listening to those messages and learning from them.

dan.delmar@bellmedia.ca