There’s an important lesson to be taken from the shooting at the Garden State Plaza that occurred earlier this week.
As a first responder, I have a very different perspective on things versus the general population. This perspective often ends up putting me at odds with most of the people I interface with on a daily basis.
Here is the back story (source): A 20 year old man named Richard Shoop entered the Garden State Plaza Monday night around 9:20 PM Eastern time and began firing rounds into the ceiling. No mall patrons were struck by bullets or injured in the ensuing hysteria.
Firstly, I feel for this young man’s family. They have experienced a tremendous loss. On Monday night, members of his family lost a brother, a son, a relative. Those that so quickly condemn him as a monster must remember that he is a person too, that he had feelings, and that he has a family that is going through a very rough time right now. Care should be taken when speaking about the deceased as they are no longer here to counter your statements. Unless you have walked in that person’s shoes, you will never know how they really felt. It is very obvious that this man has suffered and felt that this was needed to escape his troubles.
People are very quick to blame the availability of firearms and violent video games as the cause of events such as this. I have a very different view of the matter at hand. In my opinion, society as a whole and the healthcare system are two of the biggest root causes of this issue. People as a whole, at least in the culture of the United States, are very self-centered. This fact is not lost on anyone, I assure you. People are too preoccupied with their own problems rather than anyone else’s. As a direct consequence of this, most people are not alert to their surroundings. For example, in Mr. Shoop’s case, he did reach out to speak to a friend in the days before he took his life. His friend did not take the call. What if his friend did? Perhaps this young man would still be with us today. However, it is also not fair to pin it to the friend. He was unaware of the mental state of his friend. It always seem to be the inconsequential decisions we make such as not taking a phone call that turn out to be critical.
At this point in the post, I feel it necessary to tangent slightly to a more general but related topic. I was raised in a family that owns several firearms. I learned from a very young age that they must be handled extremely carefully and are not toys. Proper education at a very young age is critical. I can honestly say that I have never in my life handled any firearms that my family owns. They are kept locked away very carefully. I have a tremendous respect for guns and when it comes time for me to own them, I will make sure they are stored correctly. My children will never be able to get their hands on them without me being there. The proper procedure for handling and utilizing guns must be explained and taught to children at a young age.
With that being said, the healthcare and educational systems are equally to blame for this problem. Healthcare and education professionals are not recognizing mental illness at an early enough point to make a difference. Doctors, nurses, teachers, and guidance counselors are four major groups that have, in my opinion, dropped the ball. There needs to be more training to recognize that something is wrong.
I hope Mr. Shoop is resting in peace at this time, free of the demons that haunted him and led him down this path. I do not forgive him for what he did. I do not condone what he did. I think that his actions were despicable and selfish. It was extremely irresponsible and inexcusable to do what he did.
Hundreds of police officers descended on the mall in a matter of minutes. Many of these officers abandoned their posts in their towns, leaving people unprotected. I realize that other officers were called in to fill the spots, but they were not instantly there. There was definitely a very big opportunity for criminals in the frenzy after the 9-1-1 calls started flowing in, and innocent people could have been hurt. Many additional officers that were off the clock left their families behind and made their way for the mall. In addition to the police officers, dozens of ambulances responded to the mall. Many of these EMT’s left their families behind as well. As these people made their way to the mall, they had no idea what they were heading into. If Mr. Shoop happened to turn his gun towards the first responders, perhaps some of them may never have returned home.
To conclude, I am grateful that they found him. He was a threat to society and the threat has been neutralized. People who are willing to take a gun into a crowded public place are very dangerous. When you are in a state of mind that allows you to go fire a gun in a mall, they are only a stone’s throw away from taking it a step further and turning the gun on others, not just his or herself. I want to be clear here: I am NOT saying that this young man in particular would have ever done it, but rather just making a generalization about it.