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Friday, April 3, 2009

Mass Shooting Madness

The third mass shooting in the United States in just a few weeks has occurred. A gunman entered the American Civic Association in downtown Binghamton, New York, with handguns, took dozens hostage, and shot 14 people dead while they were studying to become U.S. citizens. Preliminary reports say the killer was an Asian male wearing a bright green nylon jacket and dark-rimmed glasses. Though not positively identified yet, reports say his body was found in the building with a hunting knife jammed into the waistband of his pants, apparently the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. According to a report in Time (April 19, 2007), mass killing (five or more victims) represented less than 1% of all homicides 25 years ago, and still does today. Among children, the overall violence figures are actually plummeting, with the number of children under 17 who commit murder falling 65% between 1993 and 2004. Still, when a mass murder occurs, the pain and suffering caused by the senseless act damages and influences many people. Does it also help push other potential mass murderers to commit violence? What can be done to stop the crazed shooters from committing such horrible acts of violence in America? Regardless of people's views on gun control and their interpretation of the rights provided in the Second Amendment, mass shootings in America occur far too frequently. If guns do not shoot themselves, but people do shoot others, the problem may indeed find its roots in the American psyche. Who are these people who shoot scores of innocent victims with no remorse? Would they be able to inflict such carnage without the availability of firearms? The American Journal of Public Health (Miller, Matthew, Deborah Azrael, and David Hemenway; December 2002) conducted a study that concluded "the United States has higher rates of firearm ownership than do other developed nations, and higher rates of homicide. Of the 233,251 people who were homicide victims in the United States between 1988 and 1997, 68% were killed with guns, of which the large majority were handguns." The ATF estimated in 1995 that the number of firearms available in the US was 223 million. ("Bureau of Justice Statistics Selected Findings"). True, the United Kingdom, which has one of the lowest levels of gun ownership and one of the lowest rates of intentional gun deaths, since 1968 does not allow self defense alone to be considered an acceptable "good reason" for firearm ownership. Yet, Norway, another nation having a large amount of civilian owned guns has a low gun crime rate. Is it the availability of guns or commonly unidentified mental problems of individuals that contribute most to the mayhem? Michael Welner, professor of psychiatry at New York University, says, "There has never been a neuro-anatomical localization of mass shooting behavior."

And Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and conflict at Northeastern University in Boston, author of more than two dozen books on murder and criminology states: "We're still in the dark about where this comes from."(Neely Tucker, Washington Post)

Part of the problem with research is that the killer often kills himself, so analyzing and interviewing the murderer is impossible. Although most seem to be male (95%) and loners who feel alienated, they often look normal and kill for various reasons, making accurate profiling difficult.

Mass murderers are not serial killers operating on highs like drug addicts; instead, they are usually depressed, angry, and humiliated men who develop shooting fantasies for months until some small personal loss sets them off.

"It's about suicide," Michael Welner says. "It's about tying one's masculinity to destruction." Mass killers just want to kill as many people as possible. They do not simply "snap" but instead plan to carry out a mass killing without any indication of when they will do it.

The Federal Government has found that risk factors include feelings of narcissism and other kinds of emotional turmoil, such as depression, substance abuse or some kind of childhood trauma. It seems many mass murderers are already angry and highly sensitized to setbacks. "If the world outside the home seems to be conspiring in the mistreatment, the sense of invalidation grows worse still." (Time, April 19, 2007) Feeling powerless, these people hit back with rage, often seemingly directed at the whole world.

Reportedly, all mass killers also tend to disengage from the people around them. It seems the gunman has long since convinced himself that the world brought the carnage on itself. Because nobody is exempt from membership in that world, nobody's exempt from the line of fire either. "You forced me into a corner. The decision was yours," were among the most disturbing lines in the suicide videos that Cho (the Virginia Tech gunman) left behind. (Time, April 19, 2007)

Mass murder is really an act of confusion and cowardice. In some sick sense, the purpose seems to be to give the murderer the last word. At least for a time, people will become more fearful that they or someone they love will become a victim of mass murder. Even if that chance is statistically almost impossible, fear, because of the senseless acts of a few in the last few bloody weeks, will be significantly higher.

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