The Symptom is Not the Disease

The Symptom is Not the Disease
The Symptom is Not the Disease

Fayetteville, AR –-( The mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, FL has put the country back on the cycle of calls for thoughts and prayers and #GunReformNow from the various choruses that parade across our political stage each time we go through these tragedies.

Note that I’m using the word, tragedy, properly here to mean a bad end that comes about through a flaw in the nature of the characters involved. Tragic heroes flail and stumble through the course of the play, declaring their desire to avoid the disasters that their own actions are causing. And the audience cringes at the irony since we know how things will turn out.

Our tragedy is not that as a nation, we’ve chosen not to impose the kinds of gun controls that one of the choruses keeps demanding. Those controls, just like thoughts and prayers, are busywork designed to make us feel that we’ve accomplished something—or to make us feel that we did the best that we could in the face of remorseless fate.

Debating this subject leaves me feeling like Tiresias, the seer in Greek mythology who is ignored or reviled by the heroes and the choruses until the truth finally dawns on them. There are solutions to violence, but they are things that both sides have so far been unwilling to work together on.

For one thing, as has been the case in many of the famous cases of mass shooters, the current example in Florida gave multiple warning signs before committing his act of horrific violence. The shooter made threats of violence repeatedly and has been reported as having abused his ex-girlfriend. These are criminal acts as well, and if we are intent on reducing mass shooting specifically and violence in general, treating threats and domestic abuse seriously is a good place to begin. Unfortunately, law enforcement attends more to the aftermath of crimes than to prevention.

We also need to address what makes disaffected people feel that killing lots of their fellow human beings is a good idea. No, mental illness and being bullied in school do not inevitably lead to violence, but both diminish the quality of life of many in this country, and dealing with those would go a long way toward reducing the social pressures that lead some to lash out.

The point here is that mass shootings are a symptom of a disease. Going after the symptom without understanding what causes it means that we’ll never have any effective solution. Now some will say that in disease management, we do treat symptoms, but that’s only when we know that the treatment won’t make things worse. Children who have fevers aren’t given aspirin, and if someone goes to the emergency room complaining of a headache, the doctors and nurses will perform tests to distinguish among strokes, tumors, and sinus congestion before administering drugs.

By analogy, if we push for bans on classes of firearms without figuring out what makes someone want to kill a lot of people, such would-be killers will use trucks or cans of gasoline or some new tool that we haven’t realized could be employed in that way yet.

The real question here is whether we will seek solutions that work or will continue repeating the failures of the past.

About Greg CampGreg Camp

Greg Camp has taught English composition and literature since 1998 and is the author of six books, including a western, The Willing Spirit, and Each One, Teach One, with Ranjit Singh on gun politics in America. His books can be found on Amazon. He tweets @gregcampnc.

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Calls for banning assault weapon look-alike rifles should be met with (louder) calls for a complete ban on the use of this type of weapon by Hollywood in any movie or video game. How twisted would the situation be where we allow the film industry to continue to glorify and make bank on the very weapons now considered too dangerous for us to possess! The first AR-15’s advertised to civilians in the 60″s were disparaged with the slogan “Made by Mattel”. What changed them into the most popular rifle today? One of the factors surely was their heavy use by… Read more »


I suspect the root cause that underlies most of our social violence, which is held not only inviolate, but is actually lauded by modern American liberals, is the culture of “Victimhood.” While it may be wrong to blame individual victims, it is certainly not wrong to blame the social applauding of victims. I believe our modern obsession with being victims is directly responsible for our mass murders. I defy anyone to find a mass murderer in the last 40 years, who did not identify himself as a victim, and consider his murders to be a symbolic, if not specific, revenge… Read more »

Ron Linder

Another shooting by another disenfranchised loner!! Makes one wonder how many of the students that are crying for change ever attempted to befriend the loner? We’ve all known “loners” in High School, and the pressure was on to NOT associate with them or we might lose our “social standing”. Most of those “loners” got over it and lead productive lives, although some committed suicide, without looking for their 15 minutes of infamy. Perhaps working with the “loners” to help socialize them would address the root cause of the problem, which is the preferred method of problem solving!!


reality check: most of these “loners” are loners because they are so caustic they have driven away even those few who tried to associate with them. Recently, “background” details of the Las Vegas shooter, the Orlando nightclub shooter, the Texas church shooter, the South Carolina church shooter (prayermeeting creep), and this most recent on, all had individuals coming forward who described having to get away from this guy because he WAS so caustic. When kids grow up being coddled and soothed and excused for rotten behaviour, and their peers commanded to “give them space”, not confront them or call them… Read more »


OK Greg, nice article as far as it goes but “..what makes disaffected people feel that killing lots of their fellow human beings is a good idea”? You haven’t mentioned anything. Are you familiar with scholarly work on the subject of social dynamics such as “Why Is The United States The Most Homicidal Nation In The Affluent World?” ?


What many people do not understand is that laws do not prevent crime. They only punish it AFTER it has been committed. The only way to stop a crime from being committed in the first place is for individuals to decide that they aren’t going to pursue criminal actions in the first place! Want to prevent school shootings? Teach your children proper respect for life and that firearms are for the protection of human life as much as anything else. Teach children positive outlets for their emotions. Teach children respect for other people – both their classmates and their elders.… Read more »

Herb T

Elimination of gun free zones and survival training is practical, common sense ideas/suggestions! Whiner liberals will not let it happen.

Ansel Hazen

Too many people have been killed because of Joe Bidens 1990 gun Free Zone bill. I really don’t care to expend much effort in understanding the thought process behind what drives these nuts. I just want them to meet with a response that would make the Fist of God proud. End Gun Free Zones, and pass National Reciprocity. Fill every public venue and gathering place with POTG carrying concealed. The only idiots that continue to try after that will be those who want to go down in flames anyway. We can certainly help them on their way without further loss… Read more »