“Your decision to commit cold-blooded mass murder also begs of us to look in the mirror…We are a people who can watch a young man like you spiral into murderous rampage without choosing to intervene before it is too late.”
“As a nation, we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address this issue. After Columbine, after Virginia Tech, after Tucson, and after Aurora, we have done nothing.”
Two statements made by Mark Kelly, husband of former US congresswoman Gabby Giffords, victim of mass murderer Jared Loughner, during Loughner’s court proceedings in Tucson.
Yet another horrifying shooting spree in the United States. And yet another “quiet”, “shy” loner-turned-suspected killer, with few human connections and a noticeably withdrawn demeanour. Obviously, a “normal” human being does not commit an act of this nature… something went very, very wrong inside the perpetrator of this crime, inside his head. All our decisions, all or problems, all our acts of hatred, brutality and inhumanity are born in our heads. If a person has no empathy for another, committing an act of abuse or violence against them becomes possible. An act of violence on this scale suggests a gross lack of empathy. The cause(s) of that lack of empathy and deep hatred, in this case, are yet to be revealed.
Preventative and regulatory restrictions in the outer world (i.e. guns & arms related laws) can greatly reduce the frequency and severity of these horrific events by restricting access to the weapons that would otherwise be used to commit these crimes – arguably, these measures are absolutely worth pursuing. That being said, a mature society would also address the inner causes of violence… and address, both collectively & individually, the conditions that “create” the kind of person who is so profoundly alienated from fellow human beings, that he would conceive, and then choose to commit, such acts, causing/creating so much pain.
There are many kinds and causes for mass violence itself, and it is neither accurate nor wise to point to mental health issues as an absolute common denominator amongst the perpetrators of these acts. But as details emerged of this shooting, I found myself expecting news that family dysfunction and/or severe psychiatric illness played roles in creating this particular suspect. When you combine fairly easy access to weaponry, (and the suspect involved here had access to a cache of deadly weapons that were REGISTERED to his mother), with likely untreated (or poorly treated) psychiatric problems, you have a recipe for violence. Senseless, seemingly indiscriminate violence.
Former acquaintances of the alleged killer have painted a fairly unsurprising picture of what he was like, but the spotlight is also on his family. A friend of the suspected gunman’s mother Nancy, in an interview with a major television news network, said that the woman “was a collector, she was pretty proud of that. She always mentioned that she really loved the act of shooting.” The friend, Dan Holmes, also said that the mother had concerns for her son’s alleged instability of disposition, but that it was unclear whether or not those concerns were being addressed: “I don’t … think she ever got major help for him. She just tried to handle it on her own. It was something she was definitely disturbed about.”
Back in July, Mother Jones online published ‘A Guide to Mass Shootings in America’ (the article has been updated a few times since). 62 firearm mass murders occurred in the United States between 1982 and 2012. The majority of the shooters in these cases had acquired the murder weapons legally (quite appalling, when you consider the nature of many of the murder weapons). Of the mass killers, 44 were white males, only one was a woman, and the average age of them was 35. And what was going on inside their heads? Various things… but 38 of them displayed signs of mental health problems prior to the killings, and at least 35 of the killers committed suicide on or near the scene.
Then there is the factor of cultural and societal influences. ‘America is a Violent Country’, Duke University sociologist Kieran Healy published on his website back in July, after the Colorado shootings, which prompted him to update an old post about comparative death rates from assault across different societies (note that “assault” here doesn’t distinguish between the mechanism of death – gun violence, knifings, etc). His graphs indicate how much more violent the U.S is than pretty much all other OECD countries – although the numbers of deadly assaults within the U.S have decreased over time. Interestingly, Political scientist Patrick Egan says that gun ownership in the states is, on the whole, in decline. But in relation to mass shootings, 6 of the 12 most deadly of these incidences have occurred in the last five years.
What is going on?
And what happened, in this case? That is the question everyone there is asking, as details are released about how the perpetrator, decked out in combat gear, shot his way into the school and committed unfathomable cruelty. By now the “how” is pretty clear. But the deeper, essential question, that progressive humanity must ask, is why. Why the culprits are so alienated from their families, peers, communities – fellow human beings – in the first place.