Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Connecticut is a relatively small state in geographic extent, but Newtown is pretty far from me in Connecticut terms. I have never been there, and I had to look it up on a map. As it turns out, though, my brother-in-law's niece attended Sandy Hook, and her baby sitter's daughter was killed. And seeing my governor and senator on TV talking about it makes it seem somewhat close to home anyway.

As for why the guy did it, the answer to that is easy: he was batshit crazy. Nobody is worried about asking Jared Loughner, for example, why he shot the congresswoman and all those other people, because we know he can't give a meaningful answer. As this story by AP's Helen O'Neil discusses, we can't say there has been an increase in these rampage killings recently. The first one I remember was Charles Whitman, who climbed a tower at the University of Texas in 1966 and shot 45 people, killing 13. I was 12 years old at the time. When I was in college, a woman in combat fatigues shot up a nearby shopping mall, and 16 year old Brenda Spencer shot up a school yard in San Diego in the "I don't like Mondays" assault. Usually they're men of course: the Luby's cafeteria massacre, the McDonald's in San Diego, that Vietnam vet who attacked children in a schoolyard, the epidemic of postal service massacres, and more recently Columbine, Virginia Tech  . . .

(As I write this, my neighbor is emptying a 12 round magazine. He needs to do that every morning.)

So these keep happening. The distribution in time may not show any obvious pattern, but the distribution in space does. The U.S. seems to be where it happens most often. Sure, there have been massacres in New Zealand, Scotland, and Canada in my memory, but each of them is unique in its particular country. (I'm leaving politically and economically motivated crimes, such as the Mexican drug cartel massacres, for another day. I'm just talking about rampage killings by unconnected individuals.)

Is it something in the culture? I don't really see any evidence of that. Charles Whitman, on autopsy, was found to have a brain tumor. Many of the perpetrators, including Loughner and James Holmes, are manifestly psychotic. We don't understand psychosis well at all; it isn't clear how the zeitgeist influences psychotic fantasies. Obviously you have to know that the CIA exists to believe it has implanted a chip in your brain, or to have heard of Alpha Centauri to believe that extraterrestrials are beaming messages at you from that particular location, but otherwise the form of the delusion is probably sui generis, in other words you could believe you were possessed by a demon. Same idea. So whether violent movies or video games actually make psychotic people violent is far from proven.

There is a pattern of workplace rampages by socially isolated men whose work is their only claim to dignity and who react when something goes wrong there, but I don't know that that is unique to the U.S.

But we all know what is unique to the U.S. The only time I have fired a rifle was at boy scout camp. The weapon had a bolt that you pushed up and pulled back to open the chamber. Then you inserted a single cartridge, pushed the bolt forward and down, and took your one shot. Guess what? If you're hunting deer, that's just as good as a semi-automatic Bushmaster with a 30 round magazine. You only get one shot and if you miss, and try shooting again at the fleeing animal, you are an irresponsible idiot. There is absolutely no reason for people to own semi-automatic weapons or large capacity magazines. They have nothing whatsoever to do with hunting or sport of any kind. They are designed for exactly one purpose, and that is to kill humans. That is the only purpose they are good for.

The arms which the well-regulated militia had the right to keep and bear were muzzle loading muskets. You'd pour black powder down the barrel from your powder horn, then shove a wad of paper down the barrel with a rod, then drop in a ball. Then you could aim and fire, once.

If I want to shoot the chuck that's eating my garden, or bag a turkey for dinner, the most I need is a double barreled shotgun. Break it at the breech, put in two shells, and you're good to go. If I had one, and I lost my marbles, I could maybe shoot two people. Not 26. It's that simple.


robin andrea said...

I'm hoping that our country can finally have a sane conversation about guns after this horrific massacre. If not now, when?

kathy a. said...


Tony Mach said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony Mach said...

(Slightly edited my comment for clarity.)

Have you considered that in cases of "workplace rage" there might be a connection to the working conditions? (Or with similar incidents at schools the conditions there?)

Yes, these people might be severally mentally troubled – but you seem to solely look into "personal" issues and completely ignore social factors.

Having been blessed to live on the other side of the big pond (and no thanks to the shallow reporting of the US media that rather obscures matters, than to enlighten the consumers of its churnalism) I know nothing about the working conditions at US postal office , nor the conditions at US schools. But I do hear a lot regarding how unions, working standards and so on are branded as socialism in your nation, and hence systematically destroyed.

So, if you really want an answer to your "Why?" questions that is anything else than "It was a random act of a mentally ill person" (and I know you don't like that answer, because it doesn't answer the question *why* there are *more* mentally ill persons in *your* nation), you should consider looking into factors that lie outside of the individual.

Just my 2 euro-cents.

Cervantes said...

Well Tony, your points are valid in general. I was just referring to this specific instance. The perpetrator was a college age kid in a highly affluent household, whose mother supported him. He was not employed, and he was not looking for work.

I am going to do a post on some of the issues you raise.