Belonging. Not (just) gun regulation

Posted 7/5/22


It’s June 30, 2022, at the time of this writing. Practically halfway through the year. The 181st out of the 365th day of the year. Yet, according to the Gun Violence Archive, …

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Belonging. Not (just) gun regulation



It’s June 30, 2022, at the time of this writing. Practically halfway through the year. The 181st out of the 365th day of the year. Yet, according to the Gun Violence Archive, in the U.S. alone, there have been more than 250 mass shootings this year. That’s more than one mass shooting per day.

Gun regulation is a must. It’s not an ask anymore. Americans with common sense demand this. I am not here to argue this. However, I want to offer a different lens to this conversation. We need to talk about the why. Why are more Americans indiscriminately killing others in mass shootings at higher rates than ever before? As a Student Affairs Professional, I actively work to implement student development theory at a collegiate level. As a practitioner-scholar, I study what it takes to be a successful student and what environments are needed to foster that success. One of the strongest predictors of success for college students is a sense of belonging. Community is a powerful unseen force that enriches someone’s life. Without community, isolation fills the void and erodes the human experience.

Sociology tells us that society is dictated by social norms, or the unwritten rules, which the majority adhere to because as humans we prefer patterns, not chaos. One of those social norms used to be, you don’t pick-up a gun and mass kill a group of other human beings. However, when social connectedness (or your sense of belonging is absent from reality and community does not exist) these powerful yet informal laws, regulated by communities, do not apply.

One of the most basic principles for community is a shared common purpose, obviously more challenging now in our hyper-polarized world. College athletics, for example, is how many colleges create an environment of a shared common purpose. We all want our team to be the best, so we all get behind our team, cheering them on to reach this common desired goal — the championship title! Therefore, individuals who love college athletics may get a true sense of high when they go to the local sports bar on game day — surrounded by other individuals with a shared common purpose. That sports bar, and the people occupying that space, is truly a community. That community helps define and redefine the social norms of that space, what behavior is allowed and what is not. Community in athletics is being a ‘good sport’. Even when your team loses, and you genuinely feel a sense of disappointment (you may even boo the crappy ref or the other terrible fans), you do not take a bat to the other team’s knees. Community helps dictate behaviors in our physical world.

However, community in the physical world is fragile, and erodes with the reduction of opportunities to authentically connect with others offline. As we continue to live more online in echo chambers than out in the real world, the real world becomes foreign, and individuals do not ascribe to the social norms of the physical spaces they occupy. This disconnect increases the opportunity for social norms to be violated in the real-world.

While we will continue to demand Congress and the President to legislate modern day gun regulation, simultaneously, we must challenge ourselves to create opportunities for community in our physical spaces in schools, in our neighborhoods and truly at home. Mass shootings are not random violent attacks of indiscriminate harm. Quite the opposite, they are the aftermath of the failure of community IRL (in real life). A deeply saddening reality, mass shootings are now the socialized pattern of behavior for those who lack a sense of belonging in the real world.

Devan Lalas, M.Ed., is a Cranston resident and the Associate Director for Campus Life at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences located in the historic Longwood Medical Area in Boston, MA.

guns, gun legislation


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  • umpwuggly

    You are actually stating its not the firearm (which it isn't) and then calling for firearm restrictions. Bring back the institutions without the cruelty and experimentation. As you said some people need structure and supervision.

    Now that we have computers, cell phones and social media maybe we should put some clamps on the Rights recognized in the 1st Amendment. We don't muzzle people on the way into the theater because they might yell "fire". We don't outlaw cars 'cause they might crash and kill someone.

    Thursday, July 7 Report this