You’ve all been there. Someone just cut you off, banged your mirror, or gracefully shown you the bird. This is America, it happens. Most of us just laugh it off or curse obscenely about likely-impossible things you wish upon another, like being impaled by a unicorn.
The same is true when it comes to playing your favorite game online. Sure, things can get heated. Obscenities are thrown about one’s mother, but for the most part, no one gets hurt.
These are all normal reactions to anger. You let it out and you take a breath and calm down.
What isn’t normal is taking out a pistol and murdering someone over something petty.
In August, two particular events happened that put this emotional management problem into perspective. First, was the Jacksonville, FL shooting at the Madden tournament, and the other was the Florida Uber driver defending himself and his passenger from a man threatening to shoot.
On Aug 26, David Katz, a gamer involved in the tournament, opened fire on his fellow gamers, killing two of them and injuring 10 more before killing himself. Earlier that day, Katz lost a match in the tournament. Alexander Madunic, a gamer who was shot at the Madden tournament, told CNN that, “He was kinda upset about that, so I’m guessing that had something else to do with it, too.”
In the same month, on Aug 29, Jason Boek follows Robert Westlake and his passenger from a local bar believing his on again/off again girlfriend had taken the Uber. Boek attempted to run the Uber driver off the road. Having successfully halted Westlake’s vehicle, Boek exits his truck, announces that he has a pistol, and asks Westlake, “You want me to f***ing shoot you?”
In defense of himself and his passenger, Westlake fired one round and stopped Boek in his tracks. Having stopped the threat, Westlake calls the authorities and renders aid to Boek.
So, how does a case involving an emotionally unstable gamer relate to the Uber shooting?
Both cases involve firearms for two very different reasons.
On one hand, Jason Boek, who did not have a firearm at the time, and David Katz were willing to use deadly force to cause harm to themselves and others.
On the other hand, Robert Westlake was willing to put himself in harm’s way to defend himself and his passenger from being victims of violence.
The biggest factor in both of these cases, only days apart, is how Boek’s and Katz’s reactions to emotional distress were met with violent outcomes. Katz lashed out at his fellow gamers in reaction to his loss at the tournament. Boek exhibited the inability to control his emotional response to his estranged girlfriend supposedly leaving the bar. To the general population of America, these overreactions are well outside the norm, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
The Trace, a non-profit news organization, released an analysis that showed an increase in overall firearm-related road rage cases, from 247 in 2014 to 630 in 2016. Also, according to a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study, nearly 80 percent of drivers expressed significant anger, aggression or road rage” while operating their vehicle. 24 percent of drivers admitted to trying to block another vehicle from changing lanes, and 12 claimed to purposefully run another vehicle of the road.
Unfortunate as it may be, Boek had a history of violence and evidence of methamphetamine use inside his truck. Alcohol abuse could have played a role in the deadly shooting. According to a University of California study in 2015, “deaths from alcohol-related firearm violence equal those from alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes for men.” The same numbers could possibly be applied to incidents involving narcotics and methamphetamine.
In the Jacksonville shooting, mental illness was the object of investigation. David Katz had been seen for “psychological and emotional issues” and was still able to buy two handguns in the previous months, according to the CNN report.
Even if Katz had a serious mental illness, there is evidence he is in the minority. Epidemiologic studies show that the large majority of people with serious mental illnesses are never violent.” However, there is a large population of self-reporting people in the United States that have “patterns of impulsive angry behavior and also possess firearms at home (8.9%) or carry guns outside the home (1.5%),” according to the National Comorbidity Study Replication. It also states that “only a small proportion of persons with this risky combination have ever been involuntarily hospitalized for a mental health problem” and will unlikely be subject to current laws prohibiting individuals like Katz from purchasing or owning firearms.
Right now, the majority of the media focus on the firearms that were used. With the Uber shooting, commentators on social media claimed that Robert Westlake should have driven off and that his use of deadly force should have been avoided. Pundits look at it as another reason to change the “stand-your-ground” law in Florida. In the Madden shooting, many question how and why some with mental health issues had access and ability to purchase firearms in the first place. But, the question they seem to be avoiding is Are we doing enough to treat those with substance abuse and emotional management problems?
The answer is no. No, we are not.
The focus is too much on the tool used and less on the problems that the individual had at the time. Had the law been amended to include risk-based assessment of those emotional management issues, the Madden shooting may have been prevented. At the same time, as a concealed-carry owner Robert Westlake was within his rights under the law to defend himself and his passenger from a violent, possible intoxicated individual willing and able to cause bodily harm or death. Had Boek found help or been able to manage his emotional response properly, he would still be alive today. But, we should not condemn Westlake for his attacks as a lawful citizen.
Firearms have their uses. They can protect and defend life and property like our Founding Fathers intended. However, you should not forget that they are a tool operated by humans. Demonizing the tool does nothing to fix the problems of substance abuse and violence toward others. Instead, we should focus on replacing the laws that have obvious problems and strengthening enforcement of those already on the books.