Another Day, Another Mass Shooting in America

October 2, 2015

I’ve been writing about boys and guns for a long time now. I was writing about it before Columbine. I’m writing about it today and I imagine I will be writing about it 20 years from now. Boys (and men) love guns and shooting them. Some shoot targets and tin cans and some shoot people. A lot of people.

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I’ve been doing a lot of talking about boys and guns for the last 24-hours after a young man in my state decided to go on a shooting spree at Umpqua Community College, killing nine people. That was the 294th mass shooting this year with a body count of 380 people killed, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker. When it’s close to home, like yesterday’s shooting in Roseburg, it hurts, but if it’s not, it can be just background noise of life in America. As President Obama put it so powerfully yesterday, we have become numb. Comfortably numb.

It’s about gender first

If all these shootings had been committed by girls and women, you better believe we would be talking about gender. We are so used to boys shooting that we don’t even see it. I was a boy and I was taught to love guns. I had plastic six-shooters and then graduated to a plastic tommy gun that shot sparks out of the barrel. The movies and TV shows I loved had gun violence and so did the video games. But I didn’t become a mass murderer.

I learned that violence was a part of my maleness. If I was having a beef with another boy in school, he’d ultimately say, “Let’s go outside and solve this like men.” That didn’t mean we were going to have a discussion about our feelings. I didn’t fight much, but I did obsess over comic books where my heroes did a lot of fighting. And I did play high school football for a while because the most violent sports were the easiest way to confirm my teenage masculinity. During practice I would bang my helmet on the bleachers to make it look I got in some “good hits.” But I didn’t become a mass murderer.

So much of the way think of “manning up” is wrapped up in violence and the best way to attack a boy or man is to attack his masculinity. But, unfortunately, the quickest way to push back against that is with violence, especially gun violence and go out like a man. When we look at the boys and men who commit these mass shootings, they usually have been emasculated in some way. They have been bullied, or had a wife leave them, or lost a job. I’ve had all the above and thoughts of retributive violence certainly crossed my mind, but I didn’t become a mass murderer.

These shooters are almost always suicidal. The ones that aren’t killed by police or their own bullet, like the Charleston church shooter, just chicken out at the last minute. When right-wingers call for putting more guns in schools, movie theaters, and churches, it sounds wonderfully John Wayne, but would have zero deterrent effect. These boys and men want to die. They just want to take as many people with them as they go out the door. They suffer from acute depression, something I have known in my own life, but I didn’t become a mass murderer.

The sociopathic boy

So we know that these shooters are males (usually white, but not always), fixated on guns and violence, who have been emasculated in some way and suffer from depression. Well, that describes probably the majority of males in this culture at some point, including myself. Gender is the funnel that moves boys and men closer to this act but there has to be something more than that.

As I wrote in my 2000 book with Wayne Wooden, Teenage Renegades, Suburban Outlaws, there is a psychological thread that connected the wave of school shooters leading up to Columbine. They tended to have evidence of sociopathic personalities. Someone with Anti-Social Personality Disorder displays the classic psychopathic attributes. They are cruel and manipulative. They are driven by impulse and act without the guilt mechanism that stops the rest of us from doing bad things. They have a big devil on one shoulder but no angel on the other to balance out those dark thoughts and impulses. If it feels good, do it.

Sociopathy in boys starts early. We get the big three red flags; bedwetting, animal cruelty, and fire starting. If you have a boy who has an issue with two of those, you are probably OK. But if they’ve regularly expressed all three there is a chance you could end up like Kip Kinkel’s parents. As we learn more about the Roseburg shooter, I expect we will find a clear case of sociopathic behavior. Some of his social media postings point in that direction.

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Sociopaths are angry at the world for not giving them what they think they are entitled to. They want others to suffer the way they do and are willing to go out in an orgy of violence so the world will remember their name. And absolutely nothing can stop them (unless they can’t get their hands on their weapon of choice).

The problem with sociopathy is that we barely understand it. Some evidence points to early childhood sexual trauma. Some newer research connects it to chromosomal damage and brain dysfunction. If we don’t understand its cause, we can’t take that psychopathic kid and treat him or her (sometimes it is a female) before something big happens. So here’s our call for more mental health interventions for young people, but the reality is that sociopaths walk among us and we really have no defense against them.

Of course guns are a factor

Let’s make this simple and complete the equation. The profile of a mass shooter = Violence obsessed male + sociopathic personality + access to guns. I suppose these potential mass murderers could blow up schools, like Christian Slater did in the 1989 film Heathers, but that requires a lot of work. Guns are easy. More than a third of all American households have a gun. That’s a decrease from the 1970s, but it’s still plenty of readily available armaments.

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There is some important information for you 2nd Amendment advocates I’d like to share. All our constitutional freedoms are negotiated. You have freedom of speech but you do not have the freedom to slander or shout “fire” in a crowded movie theater. On your next air flight, tell the attendant that you have a bomb and then try to hide behind the 1st Amendment. The same thing with the right to keep and bear arms.

The 2nd Amendment, authored in 1789, does not give you the right to keep and bear nuclear arms. It also does not give children, inmates, convicted felons the right to own handguns. The courts constantly negotiate and update our constitutional freedoms. You do not have the right to own a TEC-DC9 assault weapon unless the Supreme Court says you do. And if you don’t believe that, you don’t understand how America works.

So there is a way to have sensible gun laws that limit the access of certain kinds of people to certain kinds of (high power) weapons. The rest of the world can do it, why can’t we? I share in the president’s frustration over how hard it is to get over this hump. I thought after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2012 we had finally had enough. But, apparently, we haven’t.

Get ready for more carnage

The good news is the gun violence, in general, has been on the decline in America since 1993. Things are getting better and most of can sleep at night knowing our family is not going to be mowed down by a crazed gunman. But the model of mass shooting as a glorious suicide is now part of our culture and we can chose to accept that. (The “Columbine Effect“)

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There is going to be more bloodshed and body counts. Students are going to continue to die as well as people in churches and in movie theaters and in work places. We will call for prayers and hold vigils and then forget about it until it happens again, probably tomorrow. Boys love their guns and if a few of them are sociopathic and shoot somebody else’s boys, or girls, or mommies, or dads, that’s the price we pay for “freedom.” It’s the American bloodsport that we’ve become accustomed to.

This is a complex issue that no simple solution is going to fix. But if we look at the issue of violence and masculinity, sociopathy, and gun access together, we might have a few less days like yesterday.

Note: As feminists have acknowledged, there are some very positive aspects of masculinity, like care for the family. Those are the boys we want to raise and you don’t need guns to do it.

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15 thoughts on “Another Day, Another Mass Shooting in America

  1. I think that very specifically bullying and exposure to violence needs to be addressed for long term prevention of sociopathy and psychopathy. Bullying is a factor for development of sociopathy and psychopathic personalities. Statistics I have read are that 1 in 4 kids are bullied in school. 50 million kids in public schools for 2015. Genetically 1% of the population is psychopathic. The relevant genes passed on the X chromosome, so also genetically psychopathy is a strong factor for males.

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  2. Just today I see the coward stated [Quote ] “The more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”

    This follows several days of the news media (worldwide) showing images that he himself probably placed on social media for us to see. Images trying to look tough, wearing a green muscle shirt, another wearing a red shirt and holding a rifle. The media is fanning the flames, encouraging other unstable cowards to follow suit.

    The frequency of school shootings is increasing now at an alarming rate, followed by the endless talks as to ‘why’ and how to prevent it from happening again. It’s like the weather, everybody complains about it, but nobody does anything about it. Gun laws are looked at, some changes made here and there, but it still continues. Gun control is a hot topic, but they will continue to get guns. We have to attack the problem at the source, that being the shooter.

    I’m not sure if it would take presenting a bill to Congress, but I think a national registry of some sort should be created. It would be called the Cowards Act. Whether taken alive, or killed in committing their heinous act of murdering unarmed innocent people, they would be pronounced what they are, cowards, and added to the registry.

    If such a bill were passed, it could spell out certain guidelines that could prevent giving the shooter the notoriety they are seeking. It would instead label them a coward. Other than an approved image from a law enforcement source, it would make it illegal to display other images. The only notoriety the shooter would receive would be that they are now officially, dead or alive, and forever pronounced a coward.

    Knowing the consequence, this would have impact not just on the shooter looking to restore his masculinity with false ‘macho notoriety’, but possibly have impact on their family as well. They might seek help to prevent either themselves or a family member from committing such a crime, and being further shamed by being officially entered into the Cowards Act database.

    Hopefully someone out there will be in a high enough position to champion this idea. Something has to be done, and it has to be done now.

    I can’t imagine the heartbreak of the families who have now had their dreams shattered by the cowardice act of one single shooter.

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  3. I believe that if you want to own a gun, then you should be reqd. to take gun safety courses, be licensed, carry gun registration & insurance. With what Dr. Ben Solomon Carson said. In a war, you want the best weapons to fight against those who you’re fighting against with such as guns, artillery, etc. The side with the better weapons & military strategies wins the war. If Germany, Italy & Japan had the atom bombs, they would have used them against us & we’d possibly still be dealing with them today.

    Most of those killed by Nazis during WW2 were not Jewish & Red Army lost millions of soldiers fighting Nazi Germany. Read & heard descendants of Holocaust victims talk of how they lost an aunt, uncle, cousin, etc. during Holocaust or Shoah. Many non-Jewish Slavs also had relatives killed by Nazis during Holocaust in the death camps. These people imply their relatives killed were innocents. Yes, there were kids, school teachers, housewives, etc. killed by Nazis in shootings , gassings, etc. HOWEVER, some people killed by Nazis were Stalin’s henchmen & henchwomen. Some of the people who were killed in Nazi deaths camps were Communists & Communism has killed more than Nazism, so you can find cases where a future Stalin, Lenin, Kim Il Sung, Mao or other Commie was killed by Nazis in concentration camps. Not all the millions killed by the Nazis were nice people.

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  4. There are only wrong and bad choices which President Harry S. Truman had. My view always will be that the atom bombs should have been dropped in other places in Japan with fewer civilians death but admit that there is no guarantee there would be surrender. There was no guarantee that Japan would surrender after Hiroshima and Nagasaki as they had not surrendered after Tokyo and other cities were bombed with so many civilian deaths. If it goes to an invasion, many more civilians get killed and Japanese would have used women and children soldiers. Japanese boys would fly planes in kamikaze missions. In Okinawa, families committed suicide such as Japanese women with their children would jump off of cliffs to their deaths.

    Fascist Italy did use nerve gas believed mustard gas attacks against Abysinnia (now Ethiopia) during WW2. While there were Italians who followed Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini (il Duce), there were Italians who opposed him and there were Italians who tried to protect Jews from the Nazi Germans. Hitler rejected all ideas to use the nerve gases Sarin, Tabun & Soman while the Nazis did use Zyklon B gas and Carbon Monoxide. But in the book 3d Reich @ War, Prof. R.J. Evans raises that the Nazis did in a few cases kill prisoners in nerve gas experiments in the concentration camps. If Italy, Japan and Germany had the atom bombs, they would have used them as the Japanese airforce had used parachuted fleabombs against China were many were killed in biological warfare. The daisy cutter bombs used during the Vietnam War were bombs that exploded and did not have fleas. We did use Agent Orange herbicides to kill crops during Vietnam War.

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  5. Again, I believe that if people want to own guns, they must go through same procedure as owning a car, such as licensing of gun owners, insurance & background checks. They must require marksmanship for hunters & hunting must be for food, not sport. I don’t go to PETA extreme but I have no problem with hunting as long as there is no poaching & animal is quickly killed, which is why marksmanship must be required. I agree with Rush H. Limbaugh & Patrick J. Buchanan on hunting-hunting for food is fine but hunting for sport is wrong. I can tolerate hunting wild goats, deer, ducks, pheasants, hares, rabbits & squirrels for food as long as animal is quickly killed & eaten for food. But I can’t tolerate hunting animals just because it’s there.

    If people want to hunt deer, pheasant, ducks, hares or rabbits for food, then as long as they are swiftly killed, then I have no problem. I know hunters who agree with me and they oppose poaching & believe in the idea of eating their kills. Nature as known can be cruel. Though PETA would differ, I would rather see a hunter quickly shoot and kill a quail, duck, deer or rabbit and eat their kill vs. a python killing a rabbit. Yes, the python is doing what is nature, but nature can be cruel.

    I also have other thoughts to Holocaust. Before saying this, it’s not controversial to talk about Nazi Germans, Fascist Italians or Imperial Japanese. I don’t blame post war Germans, Japanese & Italians for WW2 because those born after war are innocent & not to blame for parents deeds. But to Soviet Holocaust of 1930s. Jews were Holocaust victims but in the former USSR, it was Stalin’s Jewish henchmen who committed the Soviet Holocaust which took more lives-yes there were many non-Jewish henchmen but it’s controversial to talk of first. #skilled in the Holodomor are way more-people were starved and worked to death, tortured, shot and killed in Dubno, Kolyma, Krasnogorsk + other Soviet GULag and deaths being forced to work building the Trans Siberian Railways. Holodomor took more lives. And Stalin’s henchmen such as Lazar Moiseyevich Kaganovich, Genrikh Grigoryevich Yagoda, Yev Mekhlis and others were Jewish, yet you get called anti-Semite if you mention this truth.

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  6. Something else with killing. Killing with a gun is scary, but knives are scarier. It was wrong for 6 million Jews to have been killed during Holocaust be it starving & working prisoners to death (most deaths), shootings, gassings & in some cases experiments. Again, more non-Jews were killed by Nazis. Atrocities worse than Holocaust. Rwanda, Angola, Liberia & Congo where people were maimed worse than Einsatzgruppen shooting & killing Jews. Nanking, Bataan, etc. Japanese soldiers following Bushido (Samurai way) bayonet POW are scarier than Einsatzgruppen. Japanese soldiers were stronger than German soldiers esp. as following Bushido, they were martial arts experts & Banzai charges. On Allies side, Red Army was the worse than Japanese. With fear, those are scarier than Nazis. When it comes to terror there are incidents worse than Holocaust-Rwanda, Angola, Liberia & Congo atrocities where people are maimed are worse. Yes, Rwanda, Angola, Congo where people were killed with machetes & maimed are worse than Einsatzgruppen shooting & killing because more terror with first.

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  7. As I think read this, it makes me think about how boys are brought up. I was brought up around guns. I still remember my grandfather buying me my first rifle from a Sears and Roebuck catalog. I was always taught about the safety of firearms. In America (especially in the Southern states), many young boys are brought up with guns and playing football. It’s all about that “boyhood” coming into “manhood.”

    Over our history, just about all of the mass shooters have been males. With the latest shooting in San Bernardino, there was something different. The difference in this time a woman was involved as a mass shooter. When the shooting happened, I immediately thought it was white men who got pissed off and went on a shooting spree. I NEVER expected a woman to be involved. Knowing how you are and your education, do you think the media or any other organization is going to talk more or less that there was a female involved?

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  8. As I think read this, it makes me think about how boys are brought up. I was brought up around guns. I still remember my grandfather buying me my first rifle from a Sears and Roebuck catalog. I was always taught about the safety of firearms. In America (especially in the Southern states), many young boys are brought up with guns and playing football. It’s all about that “boyhood” coming into “manhood.”

    Over our history, just about all of the mass shooters have been males. With the latest shooting in San Bernardino, there was something different. The difference in this time a woman was involved as a mass shooter. When the shooting happened, I immediately thought it was white men who got pissed off and went on a shooting spree. I NEVER expected a woman to be involved. Knowing how you are and your education, do you think the media or any other organization is going to talk more or less that there was a female involved?

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    1. The San Bernardino had all sorts of weird red flags. Top of most is that appears that the female was the one who instigated it and used the dude for her attack. But if 99% of attacks are similar, there’s always gonna be that 1%.

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  9. Randy-though this is not a mass shooting, it is about a Murder 2 cases where I think the woman Julie E. Harper’s punishment was excess, see http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Julie-Harper-Second-Degree-Murder-Sentencing-Jason-Harper-365435371.html Hope you can share you thoughts to Julie Elizabeth Harper’s sentence which I think is excess & here’s why.

    Did not see trial (haven’t been to S. Calif. since 2001) but 40 years seems excess for facts of this Murder 2 case. She wasn’t credible when it came to assault & battery. She was credible as far as verbal abuse goes. Jury in 1st trial rejected Murder 1 charge with hung jury, while 2nd trial convicted her of Murder 2. Think she should have gotten 18 to 25 years in prison rather than 40. It’s sad that this woman’s kids don’t call her mom anymore as possibly her husband’s parents have told her kids to reject their mom. She is their mom & her dead husband’s parents should @least try to have their grandkids to try to forgive her though she killed their dad.

    Yes, there are violent women as in 2013 Jodi Ann Arias trial in Arizona (which I saw on Internet). But I would not compare this woman to Jodi. What Jodi did-stalking her ex-boyfriend, then 1 day killing him in shower by stabbing him to death and cutting throat was worse. What’s worse is that Jodi accused her ex-boyfriend of being a gay pedophile. What Jodi Ann Arias did being haughty along with her defense experts was much worse than Julie Elizabeth Harper. Julie is guilty of Murder 2 which jury convicted her of. But I think she should have gotten less time such as 18 to 25 years in prison rather than 40.

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    1. Florida & California laws (or other states which have this) should be changed regarding mandatory minimum for using gun in a crime. If some1 is stabbed to death or beaten to death with club & a Murder 2 conviction, then it’s 15 minimum (AZ law has 10 year minimum for Murder 2 with presumptive sentence of 15 if no past felonies), but with gun, Calif law adds 25 & Florida as of 2015 adds 20. Shitty rubbish, as killing with knife or club can be worse than killing with gun putting a bullet in some1’s head. In this case, Julie quickly killed him by shooting him-likely a quarrel which went bad & shot him in argument. While I don’t know these people as I have never met Julie E. Harper-she is right that you don’t know all that happens behind closed doors as with domestic violence assault & battery, kept secret from neighbors, friends & family. He insulted her, though that gives no right to kill.

      I don’t care for guns, but to incr. punishment as gun was used is wrong as killing with guns usu. victim is killed fast while killing with knife or club, victim not always killed fast. Junky drunk drivers killing others can be worse with motive as drunk drivers often have past DUI(though usu. not homicide) & they usually kill strangers in wrecks who did nothing wrong but drunk drivers who kill get less time than she did. Murder 1 convictions regardless of weapon used should have life sentences in almost all cases with no parole possibility, but Murder 2 & manslaughter convictions using a gun should in most cases have parole possibility.

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