This Is What I Think Will Stop Mass Shootings (Hint: It's Not Gun Control)

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How To Stop Mass Shootings In America Using Anger Management & Mental Health Services, Not Gun Control

How do mental health and anger issues relate to the current epidemic of mass shootings in America?

On Sunday, July 28th, I received some texts and emails from concerned friends around the country asking if my family was okay. We live close to Gilroy, so they were concerned when they heard about the mass shooting there.

We hadn’t gone to the Garlic Festival, so all was okay for my family. But, it was not okay for other families. Clearly, my heart and prayers go out to those impacted by the tragedy.  

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Wednesday, I departed with my girls and a team from my church to El Paso and crossed the border into Juarez, Mexico to build a house with an organization there. 

As we returned to El Paso on Saturday, we briefly planned to stop at the Wal-Mart where so many lives were lost to yet another mass shooting. In that case, my team was within a block of the shooting when we received the alert on our phones that the gunman was armed and dangerous close to us, and that we should lock ourselves in somewhere safe. 

Instead of stopping, we went directly to the airport to ensure we wouldn’t be on lockdown and miss our flight home to our loved ones who were now concerned about us and our safety. Yet, again. 

That shooting had even more victims that my heart and prayers go out to.

Obviously the people who were in the Wal-Mart vicinity or at the Garlic Festival or anywhere else where a mass shooting has occurred have gone through a very traumatic event. 

Unfortunately, there are too many shootings to list all of them and they’ve been happening way too frequently for any of us to truly feel comfortable or safe anywhere but in our own homes. 

Being that close to two within a week has affected me deeply.  

In the aftermath, there is talk of tightening gun control in our country to ensure that the would-be perpetrators wouldn’t have access to them. I hear talk of the death penalty or rightful justice for the people who commit these atrocities.

People want to do something. We want change to happen to ensure that these crimes don’t continue to happen.

I want to urge people to think of these shootings as serious signs that something really does need to change. We need to change the country, the system, the policies and most certainly, the people who take the lives of others. 

But, most likely, the change that will be effective is not contingent on gun control or death penalties. The problem is mental illness. If we can address that on a national level, then perhaps we will see change happen.

As a therapist, many friends will ask what it takes to have a person get to the point where they believe they have to shoot people to make a point or feel better somehow. 

In many cases, people can understand the anger that might propel someone to lash out towards others — but to take it to that extreme of killing others they can’t comprehend.  

In order to understand the depths of the anger, the rage, and the wrath in which the perpetrators act out their aggressions, we need to understand that anger is considered a secondary emotion. 

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Anger is an active way of dealing with feelings of sadness, despair, desperation, loss, hopelessness. When a person feels hurt, humiliated, and rejected, they feel weak and victimized.

In an effort to feel more powerful or in control and less vulnerable, either consciously or unconsciously they will project those emotions into anger. 

Anger lets them feel as if they are in control, they are powerful, they can do something to get out of their vulnerable situation. For most of us, we can get angry and resolve the anger. Unfortunately, for the perpetrators of these crimes, they harbor the resentment, frustrations, anger and build animosity.  

Their anger can be directed at people who hurt them in the past, or politicians they disagree with, or cultural or ethnic groups to which they are opposed, they find a target to unleash their anger upon. 

Again, most of humanity can repress those angry emotions and not do anything aggressive or destructive. Most of us have healthy ways of dealing with or letting go of the anger. Very healthy individuals can acknowledge the pain or loss that underlies the anger and heal it.

Clearly, the shooters were not able to do any of those things. Or actively chose not to. They want to have a voice, they want to be acknowledged, and to feel significant. So they do the unthinkable.

This is not an article condoning their behavior — it is not acceptable and it needs to change.

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My argument is solely that we need to address the mental health of individuals, to make sure that people have healthy ways of dealing with anger through anger management so they can repair the pains they’ve experienced that would propel them down a path of aggression.  

Prevention is my goal. I don’t want any more victims of similar crimes. I don’t want my family to be that close to another shooting. I want to feel safe taking my kids to a store, sending them to school or going to a mall.  

I want the perpetrators to realize there’s another way — they’re hurting and we need to acknowledge it. But, that doesn’t mean they have to hurt others. There’s healing for the pain they’ve endured. 

May we as a country look to fixing the problem before it becomes one and that is to help these individuals get the mental healthcare they need long before they turn to violence.

For the many, many families of the victims of any senseless shootings, I’m so sorry that you've gone through this. 

I’m sorry for your loss… whether it was a loved one or the sense of personal safety. 

I know you join me in the wish for these things never happening to someone else.  

Even though it will take time, I want change to begin, now. 

So, please join me in educating people that what really needs to be discussed is mental health. Help make change happen…now!

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Amy Sargent is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for over 10 years who helps people with anger issues and mental health issues.