The 4 Common Sense Reforms Right and Left Can Agree on to Stop Mass Shootings | Opinion

The recent mass homicide in Uvalde that left 21 dead, 19 of them children, was only the latest in a long list. There was the mass shooting in Buffalo, that left 10 dead and wounded, as well as mass shootings in San Francisco and New York City, just in recent months. Unfortunately, many of our conversations around how to put a stop to this horrific carnage are polarized and unproductive.

Many policy suggestions use mass homicides to advance other social causes such as gun control, the censorship of video games, or tackling racism or misogyny. Many of these are worthwhile goals, aside from video games which are unrelated to mass homicides (mass homicide perpetrators play fewer violent games than other males). But trying to shoehorn mass homicides into other issues distracts from what might actually reduce gun violence.

Here's what would actually work.

Red Flag Laws

For starters, gun policies should be directed at keeping firearms away from at-risk individuals while securing law-abiding citizens' access to firearms. No Australian or UK policy of seizing firearms from everyone is going to pass muster under the U.S. constitution, so arguing about this is pointless. Those on the Left should stop making enemies of law-abiding gun owners by floating plans for widespread gun restrictions. Likewise, banning specific firearms is likely to prove politically difficult, without making much of a dent in gun homicides.

UVALDE, TEXAS - MAY 28: Young girls pay their respects at a memorial to the victims of the Robb Elementary School mass shooting on May 28, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen children and two adults were killed on May 24th during a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School after a gunman entered the school through an unlocked door and locked himself in a classroom where the victims were located. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The most promising avenue appears to be strengthening "red flag" laws which bar firearm ownership from at-risk individuals. These laws would ensure that people with mental health problems associated with violence, those involved in domestic violence situations, people who have made suicide or homicide threats and those with known gang affiliations could be blocked from purchasing or owning firearms with proper court due process. Such laws are popular—even with conservatives, and could be combined with messaging clarifying legal, responsible gun owners will remain free to own all the AR-15s they like.

Long Term Mental Health Asylums

Second, we need to be honest that some mental illness is associated with violence. In addition to being nearly always male, chronic mental illness, diagnosed or undiagnosed, is near universal among mass homicide perpetrators. Certain mental illnesses such as psychosis elevate violence risk by three to five times.

Still, the vast majority of mentally ill Americans are non-violent, and predicting who will commit a violent crime is difficult. However, the vast failure of our mental health system has caused many problems. As I wrote about at length in my book How Madness Shaped History, the deinstitutionalization movement of the 50s and 60s was a colossal failure. It left many mentally ill people homeless and many others with reduced access to care. It's definitely one factor contributing to violent crime.

We need to return to a state-sponsored long-term asylum system, albeit one that is grounded in the most humane, empirically-supported care and with clear due process procedures.

By increasing care and welfare for all chronically mentally individuals, those prone to violence will be included.

Strengthen the Nuclear Family

Third, recent research I conducted with student Miranda Sanchez found that a difficult family environment is common among mass homicide perpetrators. What this means is that to end this epidemic of violence, we need to strengthen nuclear families, reduce fatherlessness and reduce stress on families with fewer means.

For some reason, the Left has neglected nuclear families (Black Lives Matter infamously included a platform opposing them), despite evidence suggesting stable two-parent families work well for kids of all ethnicities. We need more evidence on programs that are effective in reducing these trends and decreasing abuse and neglect in families.

Put Down the Pitchforks.

Finally, we need to stop making everything about culture war. This is actually what the perpetrators want: to watch us squirm.

The U.S. doesn't have any particular problem of culture; compared to Europe, our assault rate is about average and even lower than countries such as the UK, France or Belgium. We are not a violent country. We have a very specific problem of high-risk individuals accessing firearms. We need to fix that.

Unfortunately, most people, including our leaders on Right and Left, seem more inclined to point fingers and score moral sanctimony points than do the hard work of persuading and compromising on data-based solutions.

We need to walk back the increasingly nutty and unworkable positions people have adopted as part of larger culture wars and put people in charge who are willing to work together from the data to offer real solutions.

Chris Ferguson is a professor of psychology at Stetson University and author of How Madness Shaped History, Mortal Combat: How the War on Violent Video Games is Wrong and the mystery novel Suicide Kings.

The views in this article are the writer's own.