The Wake Up Call Question About Mass Shootings

Why do so many of us want to own weapons designed to kill human beings, weapons designed for mass murder? What is it that makes us terrified of losing those weapons?

Students Under Siege: The Real Reasons Behind America's Ongoing Mass Shootings and How to Stop ThemThe following article is from my book Students Under Siege. In light of our recent news that is full of political chaos and violence, I hope sharing this excerpt can help keep the big concerns for all of us in mind. You can read or listen to the rest of the book here. Invite your discussion group to join as a community in focusing on the “Questions for Reflection and Discussion” in the back of the book. Please let us know how these discussions go. Thank you!

The Toxic Sea

We have been living in a rising sea of stress, anxiety, and fear for decades. Toxic stress comes from anxiety and fear. Anxiety is caused by threats or perceived threats that are beyond our control. Fear comes from the anticipation of or the appearance of things or situations that threaten us directly. Threats may be physical, emotional, psychological, or all of the above. I wonder if, through repression and denial and the illusions of positive thinking that things are always getting better, we have become adjusted to living with toxic stress, anxiety, and fear. I wonder if we no longer realize how prevalent they are and how much they dehumanize us. Have we become like fish who aren’t aware they are swimming in a very polluted ocean?

At a subliminal level we must know we are living in a society where we are feeling increasingly threatened and powerless.

The reality is we don’t feel safe. Our jobs do not feel secure. Our streets don’t feel safe. Medical costs can wipe us out. College costs can bury us and our children for decades. Getting a decent job at any age, at any level, has become a challenging, humiliating experience.

And the list goes on. In addition, as you students in Parkland have discovered, we don’t feel like we have any power in our democracy. Nor, in general, do we feel like our government on any level gives a damn about our welfare.

Could it be that this demand for assault weapons in our society is trying to teach us how much we fear the ruthlessness that dominates our world? Doesn’t the NRA offer a community for people who are afraid and want a solution? Don’t too many of us want and feel the need for a gun simply because deep inside of ourselves we want to have a personal sense of empowerment as a human being?


This path of thinking led me to wonder why people in other developed nations aren’t as frantic to have killing machines as we are. Of course, I also wondered why they are not shooting each other at anywhere near the same rate as we are. Well, I’ve lived for a number of years in some of these countries, and while they have their problems, their citizens simply feel a lot more secure than we do. I believe there are several reasons they feel more secure.

To begin with, they have better job security. Their jobs can’t be jerked out from under them. When industries change, the transitions are managed and they have comprehensive safety nets. In general, the countries respect their citizens’ right to be able to enjoy the rewards of hard work, have faith in the future, and keep their communities intact.

In addition, these countries have healthcare for everyone for life. And no matter what you have heard from politicians and vested interest groups, their systems are better on the average than ours, which is by far the most expensive in the world. The last time I looked at the World Health Organization’s statistics, we were ranked thirty-seventh, just ahead of Cuba.

Then, these countries have free university training. Young adults and their families are not saddled with huge educational debts for decades.

Moreover, they have a livable minimum wage. People who work can hope for a decent life.

They also have respectable retirement benefits. Good retirement benefits and medical care help everyone face the future without dread.

Plus, and what really stuns me, they are more democratic than we are. In general, wealth and political influence are much more separated than in this country. Campaigns are short and stop a few days before elections to give citizens time to think and make their decisions.

I would also like to point out that these developed nations are not, in fact, socialist. They all have free-market capitalist economic systems.

It’s Dark Under the Bed

Listen up, students at Parkland. You are on the right track. Get out the vote! Change needs to be deeper than we let ourselves think. I am staggered when I look at other developed countries and how they support their citizens. I believe we have been sold a pack of very destructive lies that such support here would impose gigantic tax burdens and hinder individual freedoms. We don’t consider how much money these benefits would save in other social costs such as law enforcement, prisons, medical costs, and reducing the high costs of addiction, depression, and anxiety, which are epidemic in our society. Nor do we consider how these benefits would save our corporations and businesses money, making more small businesses possible and making our large ones more competitive in the world market.

But here’s the biggest thing we ignore, what all of our anxieties and fears add up to. I believe so many of us want our guns in the hope that they can give us power over the fears, often the desperate fears, and even the desolation that we are hiding in our hearts, afraid to admit to ourselves.

Too many of us are afraid of losing our jobs, of being diminished in them, of losing our community and our place in it, of feeling humiliated and helpless or actually disgraced, of losing our savings, of becoming impoverished, of losing hopes and dreams or being robbed of the capacity to have them, of being victims of crime—and most of all, of being dehumanized and stripped of personal worth and power in the general pool of our society.


You students in Parkland, and I hope many are joining you, must keep demanding for this to become a turning point in our history. This is a time we must seek to understand the sources of our fears, our polarizations, and the ways we are dehumanizing each other. We must examine how we have created a culture that is diminishing and alienating so many of us—especially our young people. Facing the cause of our frightening reality and speaking the truth to ourselves can give us the ability to reclaim our democracy and lead us into a new and revitalized future. Understanding these mass shootings must start with this step.

Categories: Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris, Book Excerpts and Resources
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