Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

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?


kathy a. said...

amen. i'm in full agreement about making it easier for families and individuals to get mental health help -- but if a person 18 and over does not want help, that makes it pretty hard.

we cannot involuntarily commit people who do not present as immediately dangerous to themselves or others. even if we think they are batshit.

one of the features of severe mental illness is a lack of insight -- it's actually a good sign if they see themselves falling apart. at least then, they are open to seeking help, to some extent.

even people with intellectual disabilities (mental retardation) are often able to "mask" their problems to a certain extent. they work hard at looking "normal."

high-functioning people with serious mental illnesses have a few more tools in the box than someone with intellectual disabilities. they understand even better the stigma of being labeled as "ill," and how to avoid attracting that kind of attention. they are also much better at getting weapons and planning a grand exit.

we really have to focus on the availability of guns, which are tools that are especially designed for one purpose: to kill.

Daniel said...

My hypothesis is that individuals that have concealed carry permits are more likely to be a victim of gun violence, not less likely.

I found this article which doesn't really address the hypothesis:

It seems like a hypothesis that would generate interest/study. have you seen anything related to this

Daniel said...

Another link

Tony Mach said...

Yes, Ames has written some good things. I can recommend the following about a 2009 shooting originating from the working conditions at "Pilgrim’s Pride" chicken processing plant:

"… Reader Doug sent a letter pointing out that Abu Ghraib model/scapegoat Lynndie England worked briefly at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in West Virginia but quit because she was too horrified by what she saw. …"