This shooter is mentally ill. This other shooter is a terrorist.

Or perhaps this shooter cracked under economic pressures. And this other shooter cracked under anti-religious racism and the pressures of war.

Whenever these violent outbursts occur, I never feel that the explanations for them are adequate. Yet how we explain them — and our arguments over which explanations are better than others — say more about our prejudices and biases than the horrible events themselves. Certain factors come up again and again: mental illness, economic struggles, war trauma, religious extremism and racism. Not all of these elements are present in every case — and based on the two most recent events, I have neglected to list other forces that strongly influence “active shooter” cases, such as misogyny and homophobia. I think a big mistake some folks make, especially those in the punditry profession (which is congenitally given to conclusion-jumping), is latching onto one of these factors in isolation from the others. Those with an axe to grind against Muslims have seized upon the Ft. Hood shooting as a case that proves all their other condemnations of Islam as a religion, political correctness, multiculturalism, and, for good measure, Barack Obama and the “liberal media.” None of that is very helpful, but it isn’t much better to cite the other factors of war, racism, mental illness, etc. without considering them all together as systemic forces that will eventually combine to produce random acts of violence, whether of the active shooter kind, or in cases of rape, domestic abuse, and/or suicide. After all, most people with mental illnesses (a nebulous category that we should refrain from generalizing upon, anyway) do not go on shooting rampages. So far Marc Armbinder is the only high profile media professional who has urged restraint:

Does shooter story today focus on Islam, on the man himself and his demons, on the Army and war? Lots of data points = context needed.

This event, like the Columbine shootings ten years ago, will be endlessly pored over. I still have not figured out Columbine, but there is at least the positive influence of The Columbine Project to help teens address the kinds of issues that were brought to light by that awful event. Armbinder is right, however: context is needed, and to fully appreciate it, we need time to think before we speak.

So, ya know, STFU.

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