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Coping With Tragedy And Ending Gun Violence In the United States

Jae C. Hong
AP Images
A woman holds a candle at a vigil to honor shooting victims on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, in San Bernardino, Calif.

In wake of recent mass shootings in Paris, Portland, and San Bernadino, and with the 3rd anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting on Monday, many struggle to cope with loss and fear, as these events seem to be happening with more frequency. 

Brent Robbins, associate professor and psychology chair in the Department of Humanities and Human Sciences at Point Park University says that tragic events such as these often lead to generalizations made about groups of people as a way to simplify and make sense of a situation.

“I think that is in a way, an attempt to cope with the complexity of the issues that are going on, and I think it is also, to some extent, a result of some of the polarization that happens as people respond to the tragedy,” Robbins says.

Robbins claims that often times, these generalizations demonize people of certain faiths and ethnic groups, as well as people suffering with mental illnesses.  This can create stigmas that are hard to combat.

As far as coping mechanisms, Robbins explains that there are two types of coping responses: problem-focused coping, wanting to find a solution and act; and emotion-focused coping, or emotional reflection.  Problem-focused coping is usually where issues lie in tragedy response, according to Robbins.

In relation to legislation regarding mental health rehabilitation and gun control laws, Robbins noted that Americans have been forced to give up civil liberties in response to terrific events in the past.  He questioned if policy making should be driven by fear, or if civil rights should be maintained in addition to protection.

“There’s a real danger when we’re right in the aftermath of these kinds of tragedies to engage in ‘knee-jerk’ reactions and maybe push through policies politically that are something we will likely regret.”

Rather than act with haste in response to horrific events, Robbins says that it is imperative to take a step back and critically think in terms of anxiety and fear.  Besides seeking professional guidance to cope with the effects of mass shootings and acts of terror, Robbins suggests several home remedies.

“The best thing that you can do is meditate; find meaning and purpose; stop, reflect, don’t always immediately act, and then when you think through the correct action, go ahead and take it with confidence.”

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