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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mass Murder: A Rising Tide - But What is the Cause?

Red shows increase in "massacres"
David Kopel, author of the Law School Textbook "Firearms Law and the Second Amendment" (Aspen, 2012) has some interesting comments on youth and unusual violence in the WSJ recently.

Basically gun-related murder has been declining (for a variety of reasons including better medical triage of victims) over the last few decades in all categories but one.

Mass murder.

As is shown on the chart at the left and according to the article "In the 1980s, there were 18. In the 1990s, there were 54. In the 2000s, there were 87."

A slow and significant increase year to year.

The chart plots this against video game sales in units sold.

Of course, this chart does not show causation but rather correlation.  More video games sold implying more mass murders.

But any number of other societal "ills" that have been on the increase, including government debt, could have been used as well.

Kopel claims that media such as cable TV violence plays a roll.

Kopel also points out some interesting things:

First. "The media rarely mention the mass murders that were thwarted by armed citizens at the Shoney's Restaurant in Anniston, Ala. (1991), the high school in Pearl, Miss. (1997), the middle-school dance in Edinboro, Penn. (1998), and the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. (2007), among others." (I linked to the Endinboro incident, the rest are easy to Google.)

I don't live that far from Edinboro and I had not hear of this until writing this article.

Second.  Gun crime has been over all steadily decreasing even in the face of the availability of assault rifles, 30-round clips and other "dangers" forms of firearms and accessories.

And finally and most interesting is this (which was also true in Sandy Hook): "At the Clackamas Mall in Oregon last week, an active shooter murdered two people and then saw that a shopper, who had a handgun carry permit, had drawn a gun and was aiming at him. The murderer's next shot was to kill himself."

These people are not fearless criminals, or people out with a blood vendetta, they are cowards.

Cowards taking the cowards way out.

In Clackamas the shoot had a large number of rounds and intended to kill many more people than he did.

But when faced with a challenge he shot himself.

Apparently this was true in Sandy Hook as well.

 In Colorado the shooter was apprehended unharmed.  Another sign of simply "giving up."


Why do you do this and then suddenly stop?

I think the answer is simple.

Its what happens in video games.

First, in any shooting video game when you are overwhelmed by "bad guys" you die only to be reborn a few seconds later with another life.

Second, there are no consequences to the violence you might do while alive in the game because when you are reborn to your new life the scenario usually starts (mostly) over.

Third, there is never any "harm" done to your person.  The screen will turn red with fake blood, the controller will shake in your hand, but nothing bad happens to you.

Fourth many people enter a kind of "fugue state" when they play games - especially in final "battles" at the end of various challenges.  The players are psychologically dissociated from their surroundings, i.e., don't respond to input from outside the game.

(Now I am not meaning to imply this as any form of excuse but instead as an observation of fact.)

So at least superficially these shooters act almost as if the real world is the "game world."

And someone pointing a gun at them triggers them to kill themselves.

But wait, isn't shooting yourself with a gun exactly the same as someone else shooting you with a gun?

I would think so...

In war people fight bravely until the end, they don't kill  themselves.

But clearly, at least in the mind of these shooters, taking their own life with a gun is different than someone else doing the exact same thing?


Again, I think it has to do with how they imagine themselves to be in their game "fugue state."

I am in charge of me while I am doing this.  The appearance of someone else is disrupting my fantasy essentially.

A fifth element here is what I will call, but again not excuse, "mental susceptibility to faux reality."

(Most video game makers display warnings about dire consequences to using them, e.g., seizures and other bad mental effects....)

This may be induced or aided by any number psychological drugs to aid in depression, etc. - all or most of which claim "thoughts of suicide" as a side effect on the print outs you receive with them.

People literally (and perhaps with the help of drugs, video games, or just on their own with the help of an illness) imagine their way from where they are into a fantasy world where they are doing things for real.

Of course, shooters like Charles Whitman at the University of Texas in 1966 had no video games.  Nor even our modern culture to blame.

Whitman even left a detailed account of what was happening to him, for example, he wrote "However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts" and "To Whom It May Concern: I have just taken my mother's life. I am very upset over having done it. However, I feel that if there is a heaven she is definitely there now [...] I am truly sorry [...] Let there be no doubt in your mind that I loved this woman with all my heart."

So it seems clear that people like Whitman simply had an irrational urge (he love's his mother yet he kills her) to do these things, and as he writes, he himself does not understand why.

So my thesis is simple.

Video games and modern life with its culture of violence (TV, media, copycatting), lack of close contact, work over family, and so on exacerbate tendencies toward this kind of killing (such as Whitman).

Hence the rising tide of mass murder.

The tendency has always been there but today the societal governors that limited it have been removed, e.g., video games (like sniper games) reenforce this kind (like Whitman's) of thinking.

While guns are convenient tools for someone like a Whitman or Lanza the cause (and therefore the treatment, is societal).

Kopel also points out that today there are fewer beds for the mentally ill than any time since 1850.

And one final point - prior to the 1960's or early 1970's mentally ill people were put into hospitals - not allowed to run loose in society unchecked (today we require mentally ill to "take their meds" - someone who hallucinates for example - how much sense does this make???)

People like Abram Hoffer had discovered (there is also a documentary on his work) that diet could be used to cure mental illness.

So perhaps its as simple as modern society creating an environment where lack of proper nutrition is sending people over the edge.

In any case, and regardless of whether my thoughts make sense or not, there is a rising tide of mass murder (which, by the way, can be accomplished with many other things besides guns).

If we don't do something about the cause no one will ever be safe.

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