Thursday, December 20, 2012
Not all massacres are alike
Via Balloon Juice, I came across this essay by Mark Ames, who apparently is something of an expert on rampage murder. His main focus in the linked piece is on the NRA, and I recommend it for that reason. Basically, he argues that by being batshit crazy, the NRA actually insures intense loyalty and passion on the part of its members, because it reinforces their tribalism and paranoia.
That's worth thinking about, but the point I want to make for this post is that the Newtown tragedy was not typical, in that the perpetrator had no evident connection to his targets. I have mentioned previously the socially isolated men who shoot up their workplaces when they are in one way or another robbed of their only source of dignity through their employment. The kids who attack their own schools also typically, in one way or another, feel humiliated or socially excluded.
Now we find the question of access to mental health services entering prominently into the post-Newtown debate. I'm afraid that while I agree we have problems with mental health services, that's largely an irrelevant distraction. The typical workplace or school shooter would not have contemplated getting mental health services. Workplace shooters often erupt after being fired, or disciplined, or having a conflict with their supervisors. There is seldom any indication in advance that they ought to get mental health treatment, and even if somebody thinks there is, there's no way to make them do it. Similarly, the school shooters are generally entirely unpredictable.
Now, it just so happens that Jared Loughner and James Holmes were recognized in advance as having serious mental illness, in both cases as it happens by school authorities. And their respective institutions reacted by expelling them and washing their hands of the matter. Loughner already has an official diagnosis of schizophrenia and obviously, Holmes will get one too. The Newtown shooter was also manifestly somehow wrong in the head, although we'll never get to slap a specific label on him. It's this run of bad luck which has apparently made mental health a big player in the current debate.
However. None of these people sought treatment. Putting a free psychiatry kiosk on every street corner would not have helped. The only thing that would have helped is making it impossible for them to acquire large capacity ammunition clips.
Update: An armed society is a polite society, right Mr. LaPierre?