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The Not so Common Sense View of the Uvalde Shootings

A Take from Sociology

By Lucas Díaz-MedinaPublished 12 months ago 6 min read
The Not so Common Sense View of the Uvalde Shootings
Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

According to popular belief, there is this phenomenon we like to call common sense. This thing called common sense is supposed to help guide us in our everyday decision-making, from mundane acts in the privacy of our homes to public acts that may affect complete strangers. Generally, common sense reminds us to keep our hands out of fires or to not drive our cars where people are walking.

That same common sense also helps most of us realize that gunning down other human beings brings unspeakable hurt and suffering. In this same vein, common sense should help US society and its governing bodies understand that the more unfettered access to guns we have in a community, the more likely deaths by guns are going to occur. Or, to put it another way, the less guns we have circulating in our streets, in the hands of less people, the less number of deaths by guns are likely to occur. Statements such as these ignite reactions similar to the one recently offered by Representative Lauren Boebert. But don’t let such a weak argument trick you. Your common sense should tell you that she’s comparing apples to oranges, and we all know that such comparisons don’t make any sense, don’t we? Or do we?

On May 24, 2022, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott began his press conference after the Uvalde shooting this way: “to begin with, let me point out the obvious, evil swept across Uvalde yesterday.” Such an observation after a horrific event is par for the course. We shrug our collective shoulders and think to ourselves, sure, that makes sense, evil did that. In fact, it feels like common sense to us. Evil people do evil things. We are not evil, but evil people are real and sometimes they will do things that harm others. No one can deny this logic.

Two days after the mass shooting, a different take on why it happened began to circulate on the internet, encapsulated by this question: “Was the shooter in TX an illegal alien?” Ouch. Here, the observation not only harkens to Governor Abbott’s statement about evil, but back to Trump’s 2016 campaign speech about Mexicans, in which the connection between evil and “those people” seems to make sense. If you agree with Trumpers and other extreme right-wing ideas that people who enter this country without proper documentation are “evil,” then the common sense belief is that the shooter must have been one of “those people.” Of course, the shooter wasn’t, which Reuters had to clarify for audiences in this fact check piece. Regardless, such detail is beside the point. The point of such language is both to confuse common sense, if any exists at all on this matter. This would be the more cynical understanding.

But I’d like to offer a less cynical view, one aided by sociology. In this view a set of shared, or common ideas about incarnate evil, and by extension, about who is or ought to be considered evil, creates a collective, social understanding in which all blame for bad things done by a bad person is solely the responsibility of that bad person. This, I believe, is the mainstream common sense on such matters.

For millions of people in this country, this common sense says that the world is filled with individuals who have total control of their own lives 100% of the time. This strong idea about complete individual autonomy in decision-making naturally leads to the belief that evil acts are committed by evil individuals. It also leads people to believe that the bad that they experience is because of the bad in them. Of course, there is no shortage of politicians who reinforce this in their campaign messages about who deserves social support and who doesn’t, but I digress.

This way of thinking, by the way, aligns with the typical Hollywood trope that fuels most stories about heroes and villains. If we follow this line of thought, then one can see how Governor Abbott may simply be espousing the values taught to him by the cultural environment to which he belongs, to which we all belong. Evil people do evil things and what happened in Uvalde was the act of an evil person. Regardless of what side of the aisle you fall on when it comes to guns, this way of understanding is generally alive and well in what most may consider common sense. However, there is another view.

A not so common understanding, which some have grasped (hopefully you, as well), is that this very view of individuals ignores the many other contributing factors that influence a person’s life; such as family, romance, work, and all the other institutions (both private and public) and their systems with which people interact. Considering these factors means that there are social influences, both small and large, near and far, that relay ideas about what to value and how to live in the world. In sociology, undergraduates entering the discipline are taught that to fully grasp such social factors they have to use a sociological view in order to understand how social norms and values are established and how they work on us.

Applying such a perspective opens up our view to the myriad social structures (both formal and informal) that indeed influence how we behave in the world. For example, relatively strict seatbelt regulation and law enforcement across the U.S. has shaped our behavior. Most of us almost automatically reach for our seatbelts when we sit in a car. This is an example of formal institutional structures (laws and enforcement) creating a social norm (our behavior). When our family reinforces a host of norms, or when our peers in school, at work, or in some other social setting, do the same, these are examples of informal social structures that also shape our behavior.

Using this view, we cannot be so certain that the Uvalde killer was evil incarnate, which in turn implies that our very social structures are not blameless in these types of situations. Instead, this type of understanding creates a different common sense about the Uvalde shootings, one in which the formal and informal social structures in this society can be seen as participants in creating the type of cultural environment that enables would-be shooters to achieve their desired ends. When political campaigns openly portray candidates showing their “love of guns” credentials across the U.S., for better or worse, these messages are promoting a view in which gun ownership is idealized as the apex of individual strength and power.

The not so common sense view would perceive these messages as part of a set of formal and informal social structures that combine to create a toxic culture that has fetishized gun ownership and equated this with human rights. When the Onion re-issued its now all-too-familiar headline for the 21st time, it was trying, through its unique brand of satire, to make us all aware of what has become our common sense on such shootings. Missing from the fictional testimonies and reactions is the not so common sense that our formal (commercial manufacturing and sales, legislative, and law enforcement institutions) and informal (beliefs about rugged individualism) social structures have created the society in which these types of shootings have become the norm. Until the not so common sense view becomes more common, these events will continue, and perhaps even worsen. Some have argued that we need more resistance on this all-too common way of living, certainly, and part of this will require of all of us to make a concerted effort to un-learn what has become common and re-learn, or learn anew the not so common sociological view that we’ll need if any change is to happen for our children.


About the Creator

Lucas Díaz-Medina

I'm a Dominican immigrant living in the New Orleans area since the 70s. A father of two, I've been a service worker, war medic, ER tech, pro fundraiser, nonprofit leader, city bureaucrat, and now a PhD'd person, but always a writer.

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