In the wake of this weekend’s tragic shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, discussion of these heartbreaking events has dominated the national conversation.

People around the country are reeling in shock, the media is a mess of conflicting narratives and political opinions, and, above all, it’s clear that the nation is hurting.

With buzz-words like “gun control,” “mental health,” “white nationalism,” and “extremism” being thrown around constantly, it’s difficult to determine what to believe.

As people on both the Right and Left try to figure out where to go from here, the same questions seem to be on everyone’s mind: What caused these horrific events? What could have been done differently? And, perhaps most importantly, what can we do to stop this from happening again?

However, the biggest point of contention at the present moment seems to be who exactly deserves the blame, and, once that person is identified, how they’re obligated to respond.

As could be expected, many of the typical scapegoats have been trotted out to take responsibility for the loss of life. But with so many different voices all speaking at the same time, it’s almost impossible to get an actual answer.

So…

Who’s REALLY to blame for these mass shootings?

Politicians?

Within hours of the shootings, there seemed to be a knee-jerk reaction by the nation’s leading political figures to immediately put a partisan spin on the tragedy. Such reactions have become increasingly common in recent years, and as the epidemic of mass shootings continues to grow, the time between the event and the first political hot-takes continues to dwindle.

As the investigation into the El Paso shooter revealed his violent white supremacist views and strong stance against immigrants, Leftists were quick to lay the blame for his actions on President Trump’s shoulders.

In response, once it was discovered that the Dayton shooter was a proud Leftist and supporter of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, conservatives promptly called out the double-standard.

In each case, Right and Left were both eager to point out the radicalizing influence of politics with one shooter while ignoring it with the other.

But are the political parties and politicians with whom these murderers are affiliated actually liable for their actions?

To answer that, a brief recap of recent history:

In June of 2017, Bernie Sanders wasn’t held personally responsible when a shooter targeted a congressional baseball game, very nearly killing House Minority Whip Steve Scalise. The shooter had participated in Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and seems to have directly targeted Republican congressmen.

In July of this year, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t held personally responsible when a rifle-toting ANTIFA sympathizer attempted to detonate an incendiary device at an ICE detention facility in Oregon. The bomber’s manifesto echoed many of Ocasio-Cortez’s points comparing these facilities to concentration camps, and he proudly expressed his intention to free imprisoned immigrants by any means necessary.

In both cases, despite the perpetrators’ political affiliations or personal beliefs, they alone were held responsible for their actions. No matter how extensively they may have quoted a certain individual or supported a certain philosophy, the object of their fixation did not receive mainstream criticism.

Trump, however, has not received similar treatment.

In October of 2018, a total of 16 inoperative pipe bombs were mailed to celebrities, media personalities, and government officials who were critical of Trump. The resulting investigation revealed that the perpetrator was an obsessive, mentally-unstable Trump fan. Predictably, Trump’s opponents across the aisle leaped at the opportunity, blaming Trump’s ongoing criticism of the media for the attacks.

Most recently, before carrying out his attack, the El Paso shooter allegedly uploaded a manifesto that outlined his white supremacist beliefs and his hatred for Hispanic immigrants. The document also contained language seemingly inspired by Trump’s comments on the immigration crisis, although the shooter’s writing contained a radicalized, extremely distorted version of the source.

In these two cases, the Left was eager to pin the full responsibility on Trump, almost as if his rhetoric made him an accomplice. Rather than blaming the actual criminal, there was a mad rush to tie it all back to Trump just to score some political points.

It’s a massive area of hypocrisy. The standard should be simple: either all politicians are accountable for the violent actions of their supporters, or none of them are. Political party or mainstream opinion shouldn’t be the determining factor. If a Democrat can be justifiably excused in that situation, then it’s reasonable that a Republican would be too.

But, with that said, does that mean politicians are completely off the hook?

Quite the opposite, in fact.

To accuse any of the aforementioned politicians of being directly responsible for the actions of these psychotic individuals would be a gross overstatement. Rhetoric, unless it DIRECTLY and EXPLICITLY calls for violence, is not responsible for violence.

However, those that hold elected office are responsible for setting the tone of the national conversation, and they need to be actively aware of their influence.

Politicians have risen to near-celebrity status, and social media has become the new forum for public debate. The widening gap between Right and Left is being displayed more publicly than ever before, and everyday people get caught up in the hostility.

There is a growing sense of “us vs them” in the political world, where those with differing ideologies are portrayed as the enemy. To a Democrat, Republicans are portrayed as fascist white supremacists who hate immigrants, oppress the poor, and oppose any kind of social change. To a Republican, Democrats are portrayed as America-hating baby-killers who want to steal money from hardworking citizens, desecrate sacred institutions, and destroy life as we know it.

With the constant demonization of the other side, it’s no wonder that tensions have risen so quickly in the last few years. This escalation of the political narrative to near-apocalyptic levels creates a truly toxic environment in which an already-unstable person might feel justified in committing acts of violence.

So, are politicians responsible for these shootings?

No. The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the shooters themselves. The blood of the innocent stains no hand other than the one that pulled the trigger.

But are there things that politicians can do better? Can our elected officials work harder to bring us together, encouraging us to acknowledge our shared humanity even if our politics are different?

Without a doubt.

It’s something our country desperately needs, and that responsibility rests entirely with them.

The Media?

As more and more mass shootings take place in the United States, it’s become readily apparent that these events have a high potential to inspire copycats. The media has, intentionally or otherwise, granted mass murderers and serial killers a kind of infamy. These events are covered extensively by national and international news outlets, often accompanied by the killer’s face and/or name. Their actions are talked about for weeks, sometimes even years. It’s a horrific public legacy, but it’s a public legacy nonetheless, and to the twisted individuals that commit these crimes, that’s something to strive for.

For example, in video posts uploaded before his attack, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter expressed his desire to become famous through media coverage, and this same sentiment has been shared in one way or another by nearly every mass shooter in recent memory.

In an effort to combat this, many news outlets (FreedomWire included) have taken steps to avoid publicizing the killers personally. These steps include refraining from mentioning them by name, posting their pictures, or quoting from their manifestos whenever possible.

But despite all this, it may still not be enough.

Even though the shooter’s name and face may be omitted from news stories, their actions and the impact they had are still highly publicized. To an insane person, this may still be sufficient reason to carry out an attack.

That’s simply an unavoidable risk that comes with covering events like this. Mass shootings are always breaking news, and the general public needs to be aware of developments in the case.

However, when these tragedies turn into over-politicized media feeding-frenzies, it extends the length of the coverage of the story exponentially. The discussions drag on for months, and every single detail of the killer’s personal life is made public, granting them a kind of platform even if their name is never mentioned.

So, is the media responsible for propagating the mass-shooter epidemic, as some have suggested?

No. As long as there’s no promotion or glorification of the perpetrator, the media isn’t really at fault.

The steps that many outlets have already taken to prevent copycats are a clear indication that an effort is being made. All that can be done is to continue the process, handling these situations with as much discretion and journalistic integrity as possible.

The focus needs to be on the victims and survivors of these tragedies, not on the shooter, and certainly not on scoring political points or propagating a specific narrative.

Video Games?

The statistical connection between violent video games and violent behavior has been a major talking point ever since the early 90s. In particular, following the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, first-person shooters have received extensive criticism, with many claiming they desensitize players—many of whom are children—to pulling the trigger on another living being.

Every time a mass killing takes place, the subject of violent games is inevitably brought up, and this weekend was no exception. This claim was echoed several times by prominent figures, most notably President Trump himself during his national address, in which he mentioned video games as a possible contributing factor.

However, the science linking gaming and physical aggression has been highly contested for decades. For every study claiming there’s a connection, there’s one that claims there isn’t.

So, as with the other two subjects discussed, I’ll pose this question: are video games responsible for causing mass shootings?

In way of an answer, I’ll offer a brief personal testimony.

I started playing video games when I was in middle school and continued all through high school and college. Even as an adult, in my free time, I like to kick back and play a game every now and then. I’ve played everything from harmless classics like Tetris and Pac-man to detailed modern shooters like Call of Duty, and at NO point did I EVER feel even the slightest inclination to act out violently because of it.

Now, is this anecdotal evidence? Absolutely. I’m just one individual, so my experiences can hardly be used to determine a global pattern. But it speaks to a larger point of fact.

Some of the most popular video games in the world are shooters of one kind or another. These games are played by hundreds of millions of people who NEVER commit an act of physical violence, much less an atrocity like a mass shooting. People who ARE set off by violent games are by far the exception rather than the rule. For the overwhelming majority, it’s simply another way to relax and have fun.

However, this doesn’t mean that video games are completely innocent.

While there might not be a solid connection between playing a violent game and immediately acting violently, there is an underlying issue that simply can’t be ignored.

Even with all their entertainment value, video games can easily foster an environment of isolation.

Video games, like television, books, the internet, and music, are just another form of media for us to consume. However, games are somewhat unique in that they have a highly-addictive quality to them. Unlike most other forms of entertainment, games lend themselves to overconsumption, even at the cost of personal health and wellbeing. In extreme cases, people spending eight to ten hours per day playing games is not unheard of.

Additionally, while many games are best enjoyed in a solitary environment, even games played online with others cannot replace genuine, face-to-face interactions. Yes, there’s some form of human contact, but it can be superficial and incredibly impersonal.

This is one of the main issues with the Internet Age as a whole, and it extends far beyond just video games. The Internet is said to have made the world more connected than ever, and yet every major study shows that people are struggling with feelings of isolation and depression in record numbers.

People begin to feel as if they exist within their own personal bubble, and, if their only human contact comes through a screen, it develops into a profound sense of loneliness.

If it develops early enough, this sense of isolation can be one of the first steps in creating the mindset that drives people to carry out mass shootings.

There’s nothing inherently wrong in immersing yourself in an imaginary world for the sake of entertainment. It’s what makes video games, movies, and even books so appealing.

The problem comes when that imaginary world replaces reality.

When there is a breakdown in socialization, a person isolated from a young age never seems to grasp how their actions affect others.

To an already damaged mind, the entire world becomes an extension of that fantasy, in which other human beings have no more value than computer-generated characters in a game, able to be abused or even killed without any lasting consequences.

Look at reports of the demeanors of mass shooters while they’re committing their crimes. Rarely if ever are they seen in screaming fits of rage or other over-the-top emotional states. Most are described as either smiling the whole time or remaining completely devoid of any emotion whatsoever.  They are physically incapable of empathizing with the people around them. It’s a direct representation of the effects of the long-term physical and emotional isolation rampant in our society.

So, are video games at fault?

Once again, the answer is no. As with other forms of entertainment, the good or evil of video games is determined by those who consume them, not by the medium itself.

But the issues video games raise points back to a much larger cultural problem. If we allow ourselves to become isolated, self-absorbed people and then raise our children to be the same, our society as a whole is doomed.

We need to make sure that each and every one of us takes an active role in the world around us, and that we teach the next generation to do likewise.

There’s nothing wrong with having entertainment in our lives, as long as that entertainment doesn’t BECOME our lives.

So, What Can We Learn?

So, after all that, who can we say is actually to blame for these mass shootings?

As I’ve said multiple times already, the ultimate responsibility lies with the shooter.

It’s a simple point of fact: crazy, violent people will ALWAYS find a reason to be crazy and violent.

Whether their inspiration comes from a specific political ideology, a video game, or some other source, to mentally-unstable person, anything and everything can justify their actions.

But that doesn’t mean that the conversation can just stop there.

These mass shootings are a clear indication that something is wrong within our culture.

Is it a problem of gun control, mental health, or extremism? Can we blame political rhetoric, the mainstream media, and technology? Is it attributable to the breakdown of families, an impersonal culture, and the rejection of absolute morality?

Put simply: yes.

Each and every one of those things is a factor that contributes to the problem, but none of them seem to be the actual issue itself.

And until that issue is identified, tragedies like Dayton, El Paso, and countless others will continue to unfold with ever-growing frequency.

Now, even after all this analysis, there’s no obvious solution to the problem. If there were, we would have found it a long time ago. As to what that solution could possibly be, I won’t even begin to speculate. Far greater minds than mine have pondered the issue and come up with nothing.

But what I DO know is that this won’t be a top-down solution.

This is an overwhelmingly cultural problem, and any solutions that the government provides will only be addressing the symptoms.

The change HAS TO come from within ourselves first.

It’s not much, but we have to start somewhere.