WVU professor: Political response to mass shootings would be ‘illogical’

MORGANTOWN — A political response to the two most recent mass shootings is short-sighted and illogical, said a West Virginia University sociology professor.

The answer to preventing horrific mass shootings can’t be reduced to a single political issue, said Professor James Nolan, who is a former police officer who worked for the FBI as a unit chief in the Crime Analysis, Research and Development Unit. The focus should move from individuals’ behaviors to systemic change, said Nolan, who teaches at the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences at WVU.

“From a sociological perspective, the political response to the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton is short-sighted and illogical,” Nolan said. “For example, President Trump says that violent video games and mental illness are to blame. He fails to add in this explanation the unregulated availability of guns or the myriad of other cultural and structural antecedents to violence and mental illness.”

In American politics, the good move in such crises is to quickly identify someone or something to blame and then promise to protect people with new legislation, technologies or public policies, Nolan said.

Protecting the cultural and structural heritage and the current way of life is important to voters even if it contributes significantly to the problem, he said.

“Both on the left and the right, elected officials are pointing fingers at each other, decrying ‘criminals and terrorists’ and calling for databases of mentally ill people in order to prevent future shootings, but this is also irrational because there is no database that’s going to catch somebody the day before he or she commits a crime or identifies someone who might someday in the near future suffer from a mental illness of the type that would lead to gun violence,” Nolan said.

“In addition, terrorist and criminal acts, themselves, are often rational given a particular set of circumstances and ideology. A growing body of research in sociology and criminology shows we must get beyond the ‘bad person’ focus which ignores the sociological roots of criminal and terrorist behavior including gun violence, creates bias against many who suffer various forms of mental illness, and explains how the political system in the United States actually works against change.”


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