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Nov. 6 2009 - 4:03 pm | 15 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Rage+Fear+Despair+10 Percent Unemployment+Guns = Mass Shootings

Guns seized by Washington, DC police over the ...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Why are we at all surprised — or are we — when yet another shooting rampage occurs somewhere in the U.S.?

According to the National Institute for Mental Health,  26.2 percent of adults over the age of 18 in any given year are suffering from a diagnosable mental illness. Every single day, 57.7 million Americans struggle with some form of internal demon, from schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder to depression or panic attacks.

An estimated 30 percent of American homes contain a firearm. Is it really inconceivable that there’s some inevitable and lethal overlap between those people who are at the end of their totally frayed ropes — and who also have ready access to a firearm, perhaps even training in how to use one?

Aiming and firing a weapon, (something I did in training for my book) is not terribly difficult. In a society premised on a thin, weak social safety net, one that allows so many to slip through unnoticed into poverty, madness or despair, firing a weapon into a crowd clearly, to some, seems a viable option.

Add to these basic statistics, now, a 10 percent+ unemployment rate. Banks are refusing to grant credit. Credit cards are boosting their rates and late fees. There are six people now applying for any available job. People are losing their homes, living in their cars. It’s a very safe bet that, of the 48 million who have no health insurance, there are many people who are mentally ill, perhaps severely mentally ill, on the brink of homicide or suicide with no one to talk to, to diagnose them, to offer them in or out-patient hospital treatment, talk therapy and/or a prescription for helpful medications.

Of course, I’m horrified by the shootings at Fort Hood yesterday, and today in Orlando. Yesterday’s were the reaction of a military psychiatrist who knew better than anyone what hell he would be heading into if he were deployed overseas. Today, the shooter is a man apparently fired from his job.

The raw emotions that propel people into lethal violence are tinder awaiting a match. It will happen again.

I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more frequently.


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    About Me

    Former reporter and feature writer for the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News. Winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award (humor) about -- what else -- my divorce. I've been writing frequently for The New York Times since 1990 on almost any subject you can think of -- yup, I'm a generalist. Author of "Blown Away: American Women and Guns" (Pocket Books 2004). Canadian born, raised and formally educated, I've lived in New York since 1989.

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    Contributor Since: June 2009
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    What I'm Up To


    I’m writing my second book, a memoir for Portfolio/Penguin, of working retail in a suburban mall for more than two years. My 11 Reporting Tips from daily newspaper veterans appears in the May issue of The Writer magazine.

    I also coach fellow writers and edit their work.