Mental illness, godlessness and video games aren't the main drivers of mass shootings. Hate combined with the easy availability of deadly firearms like AR-15s lead the list.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

First Amendment-loving conservatives have long blamed isolated mental-health issues in very angry individuals but never the availability of guns as the proximate cause of America’s decades-long epidemic of horrific mass shootings in America.

Or they claim mass shootings are hardly a problem at all and that, by the way, overall gun violence is supposedly down in the United States, when, in fact, gun sales and gun crime in general have been spiking for several years.

Or the problem is, perhaps, video games. Or lack of religious faith. Or rough childhoods. Never the unbridled proliferation of guns or, heaven forbid, home-grown racist loathing.

Yet, scientific evidence reveals a compelling correlation between the availability of firearms in various countries to greater gun violence, according to a Columbia University study. Keep in mind that more than 400 million guns are at this moment in American hands, including more than 19 million semi-automatic AR-15s (the weapon of choice in a quarter of the most recent 80 mass shootings in the U.S., Newsweek reported).

… these [mass murder] attacks are not random acts; they are part of the long American history of political violence perpetrated by white supremacists against Black people and other minority groups.”

Editorial, the new york times

Why Australian mass murders plummeted after 1996

Take the example of Australia, which in 1996 enacted a strict, far-reaching set of gun laws known as the National Firearms Agreement soon after a lone gunman murdered 35 and wounded 18 in a terrifying mass shooting attack in Tasmania (an island state that is part of Australia). A related mandatory government buy-back initiative quickly removed 650,000 firearms from circulation in the country.

Although a research team led by Simon Chapman at Australia’s University of Sydney couldn’t categorically confirm a causal connection, the implications are striking: Gun violence in that country plummeted thereafter (while some related studies did confirm a quantifiable lessening of suicide and non-mass homicide by firearms). The website Scienceforstudents.com wrote in 2016:

“From 1979 to 1996, Australia had 13 fatal mass shootings, Chapman’s team reports. The researchers counted an event as a mass shooting if it involved five or more victims (not including the shooter). From 1997 to May 2016, the country has had none. (Three shootings, though, have killed three or four victims.) Chapman’s team also found that the rate of gun deaths dropped rapidly after 1996.”

Still, American rightists insist guns are irrelevant to mayhem

Still, gun rights activists, in particular, continue to insist that any presumed linkage between the prevalence of guns in society and mass mayhem with firearms is irrational.

Also, of course, according to conservative dogmatists, no systemic racial or religious hatred exists in American society that might conceivably motivate white-supremacist Christian nationalists to slaughter innocents that have darker skin than they do or follow un-Christian faiths.

If those assumptions were true, however, one would rationally think such murderous rampages would be much, much rarer and that race, faith or ethnicity would hardly ever be a homicidal factor?

But, no.

Suddenly, in a Buffalo, NY, food market

This month alone, 37 Americans have (so far) been killed and 155 injured in mass shootings in 33 separate incidents in 23 different states, culminating (unless another one occurs before this is published) in the gun murders of 10 people—all black—and wounding of three others, including two whites, in a Buffalo, New York, supermarket on May 14. The suspected gunman, now in custody and charged with first-degree murder, is an 18-year-old self-described white supremacist with a virulent hatred of African-Americans.

In fact, as the data confirms, there’s nothing isolated about mass murders in the U.S.—invariably executed with guns, not knives or other weapons, due to firearms’ quick, efficient, mass-killing power. These horrendous events are happening with mind-numbing frequency these days.

And hateful white-supremacist Christian-nationalist ideology has lately become, far too often, a driving force in these attacks.

Certainly, the Buffalo shooter may prove to be mentally unhinged, but his many online statements and a hundreds-of-pages-long “manifesto” reveal a kid who methodically, relentlessly and with extreme malice aforethought knew exactly what he was doing and that it was terribly, terribly wrong. NBC News reported that he wrote online about considering attacking a school instead of a food store and drove by one but was concerned about being able to successfully enter and exit.

“Domestic terrorism,” not mental illness

Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Ruth Whitfield, an 86-year-old killed in the Buffalo Tops market attack May 14, has called on the Biden administration to categorize the shooting as “terrorism.”

“We can’t sugarcoat it, we can’t try to explain it away talking about mental illness,” Crump said in a press conference with the victims’ families two days after the shooting. “This was an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by a young white supremacist.”

Christian nationalism and white supremacism, now front and center in American politics and slavishly promoted and amplified by top Republican elected officials and right-wing media stars, have infected the nation for years, only far more robustly since Donald Trump grabbed national prominence and then the White House in 2016.

The U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6 featured a garish mishmash of far-right demagoguery, evangelical Christianity-themed banners, and symbols, military special ops wannabees in combat gear, plus heavy clubs, bats, and sharp flagpoles used as spears. And the raging crowd was made up of predominantly white people.

There is a murderous rage echoing across the land borne of racial hatred, political lies, and religion. It is culminating in violence so extreme it’s impossible for reasonable, peaceable people to wrap their heads around.

A far-right media ecosystem—cable “news,” internet sites on the “dark web” and print publications—is whipping Americans prone to racism and grievance into a rabid frenzy. No wonder the guns, so easily and widely accessible, are blazing.

The poison of ‘white replacement theory’

Consider that the Buffalo shooter reportedly described “white replacement theory” in his “manifesto” as one of the main drivers of his murderous act. This “theory,” which is actually just a fact-free, racist, bigoted meme, holds that a conspiracy exists to replace native-born American whites with non-whites and non-Christians using immigration, inter-marriage and violence orchestrated by a cabal of “global elites.”

This is why he chose the only supermarket in a predominantly black community as the target of his attack.

And why a racist shooter in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 3, 2021, murdered 23 people and injured another 26 at the local Walmart store. The news website Truthout wrote soon after the attack:

“Twenty-one of the 23 killed were of Mexican origin, and eight were Mexican citizens; another eight Mexican citizens were wounded. The killer was a lone, white gunman, aged 21 … who published an online manifesto immediately prior to the attack where he proclaimed his intent to target those he considered responsible for what he described as the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

And why self-avowed white supremacist Dylan Roof, then 21, shot to death nine congregants in 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof killed them with 74 bullets when they stood and closed their eyes for a final prayer after their killer had prayed with them for 45 minutes.

Mental illness relevant in only a tiny fraction of mass killings

Forget about mental illness and violent video games. The Columbia University study mentioned above notes that “only 3% to 5% of violent events are attributable to mental illness,” and that other factors, like substance abuse, are more causative of violence by the mentally ill than their illnesses. And there’s simply no evidence that video games themselves are catalysts for evil.

No. Unmitigated racial and ethnic hate and an avalanche of guns are the problem we now face in the land of supposed “domestic tranquility” envisioned in America’s founding Declaration of Independence.

Elected officials fan flames of racist demagoguery

Why these depraved attacks are happening is hardly unfathomable.

After the recent Buffalo atrocity, the New York Times editorial board wrote that,

Republican politicians, including some of the party’s top leaders, openly espouse versions of a white supremacist conspiracy theory holding that an orchestrated effort is underway to displace white Americans. A recently published poll found that almost half of Republicans believe that immigrants are being brought to the United States as part of such an effort.”

And even though these race-baited mass murders are becoming far more commonplace today, they are sadly not a new phenomenon. The Times added in its editorial:

“American life is punctuated by mass shootings that are routinely described as idiosyncratic. But these attacks are not random acts; they are part of the long American history of political violence perpetrated by white supremacists against Black people and other minority groups.”

It’s long past time to rigorously teach children that all forms of racism and racial superiority are wrongheaded and immoral and have no place in our democratic republic. Forget virtually non-existent Critical Race Theory. Teach inclusive humanism and genetics to drive home the point that all humans, no matter their ethnicity or culture, are virtually the same.

And it’s high time to dedicate the nation to making these appalling crimes against humanity far more “idiosyncratic” and less a depressing symptom of the rot at the core of countless millions of Americans’ most cherished false beliefs.

Avatar photo

Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...