I just moved out of Boulder, Colorado, a few months before the King Soopers shooting that happened.
I loved living there, as it was one of the few times I actually felt safe after a lifetime of experiencing gun violence.
Growing up, I was robbed at gunpoint, experienced home break-ins, and ran away from nightclub shootings—all before I was 21 years old. I also experienced an active shooter situation at a middle school where I was facilitating an anti-bullying workshop. I saw the terror in the eyes of these seventh-grade students, and I know the fear of not knowing if this would be your last day on Earth.
After experiencing so much gun violence and being involved in gun reform efforts, like March for our Lives, I realized I needed to take a mental break from this kind of work.
But it didn’t mean that I could take a break from the reality of the world we live in. I ended up in the privileged Boulder bubble where I had a temporary illusion of safety.
I enjoyed living in a place where I did not have to worry about violence as much.
I even moved to the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, thinking I’d escaped it.
Until one day, when I drove to the bottom of the mountain’s dirt road to get the mail, and I was swarmed by police with their guns drawn—they were looking for a suspect who had run into the mountains. I rushed back up to make sure my partner and roommate were safe and to get us out of there.
I couldn’t believe that I was once again in the middle of a dangerous situation, but this time it was in the middle of nature in one of the “safest” places in Colorado. And now, a few months later, this horrible shooting has happened in the same city where 10 people’s lives were taken.
Boulder was ranked the #1 best place to live for Quality of Life last year. Gun violence can happen anywhere. Mental health is just one ingredient and an important one. But we need to discuss all of them, including the gun culture of America.
I’ve been to 49 states and haven’t been able to escape it.
And I’ve finally come to this conclusion:
I do not feel safe anywhere in the United States.
Every time a shooting happens, people who get interviewed say, “I can’t believe this happened here of all places.”
But by now, we have to accept the reality of the country we live in.
Violence can happen anywhere, at any time.
As I saw the footage, I realized that this could have easily been me. This is a grocery store that I used to shop at regularly when I lived in Boulder. I had several friends sharing on Facebook that they were in that store earlier that day. One of the victims, Lonna Bartowiak, owned a local clothing shop called Umba, a place that I have shopped at myself. Overall, we are a tight-knit community in Colorado, so it feels like it impacted all of us in some way—regardless of if we knew one of the victims or not. It could have easily been one of us.
And each time a shooting happens, there are conversations about the cause of the shootings and some say it’s not the right time. But when shootings happen so regularly, it’s always the right time to talk about it, especially when nothing is being done about it in between. We have to talk about it while the emotions are high in order for people to remember why it is so important for us to figure out the solutions and to stop politicizing common sense.
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When the conversations do happen, they are mostly single-topic focused, which is why they tend to miss the mark on this multi-layered issue.
For example, the argument of mental health is a common one.
The conversation around mental illness is complex, especially in the “conscious” community, which has a tendency to spiritually bypass psychological issues and sometimes even use their personal beliefs to glorify mental disorders (and even profit off of them). Many people do not have a clear understanding of mental illness and how it impacts their own lives, let alone the ripple effects it has on the greater community.
But let’s not blame mental health alone.
People who struggle with it are more likely to be victims of violence than the creators of it. Instead, it should be seen as one ingredient in the recipe for disaster that gun violence is. And as we learn more about what happened, it is important to see which ingredients are present in the shooter.
About the Shooter:
The shooter’s older brother, Ali Alissa, said he was “very anti-social” and paranoid, adding that, in high school, he would describe “being chased, someone is behind him, someone is looking for him, even when nobody was.”
When he was having lunch with his sister in a restaurant, he randomly said, “People are in the parking lot, they are looking for me.” She went out, and there was no one.
“We didn’t know what was going on in his head. The guy used to get bullied a lot in high school. He was an outgoing kid at first, but after he went to high school and got bullied a lot, he started becoming anti-social.”
One of his recent Facebook posts said:
“Yeah if these racist Islamophobic people would stop hacking my phone and let me have a normal life I probably could.”
His brother said, “It was not at all a political statement, it’s mental illness.”
So there is a clear history of this individual being paranoid that he was being watched and followed. It is important to acknowledge the presence of this “ingredient,” but is it fair to say that mental health issues alone would lead somebody to do this?
Some would say that the solution is gun reform.
In this case, Boulder’s assault weapons ban, meant to stop mass shootings, was blocked 10 days before this grocery store attack.
Colorado is also an open-carry state, but we can’t magically place well-trained and armed people in all corners of our society just waiting for these random, unexpected situations to happen, and for them to be in the perfect place and time and to win a gun battle. Even if some say it could be helpful for symptom management and death reduction, it would not address root causes.
What the research is showing is that there are multiple risk factors to the profile of mass shooters:
> Male (typically young, white men)
>> Easy access to guns
>> Unchecked or misdiagnosed mental health issues
>> Father issues
>> Bullied in school
>> No friends or community
It is important for us to reflect on the cross-sectional risk factors and psychological profiles of these mass shootings. Gun reform should be our top priority, but we can’t stop there.
Below is a TEDx talk that I gave that discusses the cross-sectional risk factors and psychological profiles of these mass shootings. The long-term solution has to be a cultural shift in our society. I am not suggesting that what I present here is the ultimate solution to this problem. It is far more complicated than that.
But what I hope it does is at least spark dialogue and expand our focus on discussing multiple issues and how they intersect, instead of having polarized debates over one specific issue, like mental health, and unfairly putting all the blame on it.
At the end of the day, we must do better as a society.
What are your thoughts after watching this video?
What are the top elements that create these shooters, and what is missing from the conversation? Discuss below.