During the last weeks of March, tragedy struck as a 28-year-old man entered a Catholic elementary school in Nashville and opened fire, killing three 9-year-old students and three adults. Within minutes, social media, particularly Twitter, exploded with reactions. People from around the world were quick to note that the gunman did not fit the typical profile of a mass shooter. While he was male and white, he identified as a liberal voter, not a far-right follower, challenging the media’s long-held narrative that all school shooters fall to the group of far-right extremists.
For years, the media has perpetuated the idea that school shooters are motivated by right-wing narratives and ideologies which Democrats have utilised to further their stances on gun restriction and ownership while simultaneously instilling a sense of superiority in Republican citizens. Yet, Aiden Hale, a self-proclaimed Democrat, disproved the notion that “only right-wing extremists resort to gun violence” by following the same steps of past mass murderers.
It was at that moment when it became clear that one’s political party of choice does not define one’s behaviour. In contrast to the events in Columbine and Parkland, the United States was now dealing with the consequences of a supporter of the party that (ostensibly) campaigned for gun restriction and Democratic principles of equality, justice, and camaraderie.
The events in Nashville demonstrated that it is not political allegiance but rather a distorted sense of ethics and problem-solving that motivates individuals to plot and carry out such heinous deeds. Ultimately, the gunman, like many who came before him, acted based on his own conception of morality and justice. Hale’s actions highlight that in a country with anarchic gun regulation, the political spectrum has become meaningless. In addition to failing to acknowledge the fundamental triggers and causes of catastrophic school shootings, both Democrats and Republicans have sought to politicise the problem. By doing so, they have initiated a never-ending blame game that seeks to persuade the public that our political affiliations determine our conduct. Yet, it is now evident that political ideology alone cannot prevent or drive a person to commit mass murder.
If anything, the massacre in Nashville should serve as a wake-up call for Democrats and Republicans alike. It is more than obvious that many Americans, regardless of who they vote for, have become dependent on firearms as a means of coping with inward wrath or despair, often triggered by untreated mental illness. Thus, rather than politicising the issue and blaming each other for indoctrinating criminals, the focus should be on mental health and support networks to prevent such tragedies from occurring again. Were these individuals bullied? Were they on similar types of medication? Were their parents or guardians present in their lives? Did schools intervene when evident red flags surfaced in students’ conduct?
If American politicians were to realise that political inclinations do not automatically lead someone to violence, perhaps then they could shift their focus to issues that can affect everyone alike, from right-wing voters to left-wing thinkers. Maybe then we would recognize that regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum, we can all suffer from mental illness, we can all be bullied, we can all feel suicidal, and we can all experience such frustration that causes us to make irrational and inhumane decisions.
It is not men that kill, it is not white people that kill, it is not Republicans that kill, nor is it transgender people, or Democrats, or women, or Black people, or outcasts, or loners, or the ‘quiet ones’. There is no single profile that fits the stereotype of a school shooter because it simply does not exist. And perhaps, if we acknowledged this, we would be able to realise that extremism transcends the boundaries of the political spectrum and identity; it is a separate entity. It is not a product of our ideology but a consequence of other issues that are disregarded in the name of polarised politics. In the end, regardless of who a person votes for, they can all succumb to drug misuse, untreated mental disease, or addiction to violent extremist virtual algorithms.
I would like to emphasise that the purpose of this piece is not to victimise shooters; rather, it demonstrates that political ideology alone cannot motivate someone to conduct such horrible atrocities. The objective of this article is to underline that if we were to examine beyond the political connections of individuals who execute such acts, we would be able to discover distinct triggers and/or situations that might lead someone to justify mass murder as a feasible and ethical solution to a problem.
In an era of polarised politics, it has been the norm to assess an individual’s conduct based on their political choices, and as a result, we have ignored other aspects, such as mental health concerns, bullying, and drug use, that contribute to gun violence. Essentially, I believe that the school shooting pandemic in the United States is not driven by politics, but rather by psychological threats that pose a danger to both the left and the right.
Moreover, I hope to bring focus to the limitations of the media and politicians’ portrayal of school shooters and the need to look beyond political ideology to identify the root causes of mass shootings. For it is not just politics that motivates individuals to conduct such crimes, and a shift in emphasis towards mental health treatment and other potential triggers is required for a more effective and bipartisan response.
Featured image: Illustration by Ben Jennings. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/picture/2018/feb/15/ben-jennings-florida-school-shooting-cartoon