Thursday, January 26, 2023

One-Sentence Character Studies of Mass Shooters

The NY Times is running a long, sad feature that consists mostly of one-line statements made about mass shooters. A typical sample goes like this:

He was bankrupt and had liens on his property.
Eight killed and six injured in San Francisco on July 1, 1993

He was evicted and his wife and daughter left him.
Six killed and one injured in Paso Robles, Calif., on Nov. 8, 1992

His wages were being garnished for child support.
Four killed in Watkins Glen, N.Y., on Oct. 15, 1992

He began hearing voices and talked about committing violence.
Four killed and 10 injured in Olivehurst, Calif., on May 1, 1992

He lost his job and his water heater broke.
Five killed and one injured in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Feb. 9, 1996

He had schizophrenia and stopped taking his medication.
Five killed and three injured in Bronx, N.Y., on Dec. 19, 1995

He was upset about a performance evaluation at work.
Four killed in Los Angeles on July 19, 1995

He was fired and had sought help at a mental health clinic.
21 killed and 19 injured in San Ysidro, Calif., on July 18, 1984

He was upset that his wife had left him.
Six killed in College Station, Tex., on Oct. 11, 1983

He ranted in his classroom and was suspended from teaching.
Eight killed and three injured in Miami on Aug. 20, 1982

He was in a pay dispute with his employers.
Six killed and four injured in Grand Prairie, Tex., on Aug. 9, 1982

He became reclusive and avoided all social interactions.
Four killed and one injured in Coraopolis, Pa., on July 21, 1980

He began hoarding food and planning for the end of the world.
Five killed and 11 injured in Daingerfield, Tex., on June 22, 1980

He thought his family and co-workers were trying to poison him.
Four killed in Warwick, R.I., on June 17, 1978

The message of the authors is that most of these people were obviously risks to the community, but either nothing was done about them, or not enough, and they call for much more investment in community mental health care. Based on what I know, that seems to be true in some cases but not others. Hundreds of thousands of American men have their wages garnished for child support, and many are mad about it, but most never shoot anybody. Most people hoarding food for the coming collapse of civilization seem pretty harmless, too. Looking backward it is easy to say of many, "he was obviously headed for trouble and somebody should have stepped in," but without knowing the future that becomes very difficult, and in some cases you would have to look much more deeply than this to have any clue that a real crisis was coming.


Anonymous said...

This stuff is all over the place
He was upset about a performance evaluation at work.
I'm not sure what the NYT proposes as a solution here? Nobody ever gets a bad performance evaluation?

He was fired and had sought help at a mental health clinic.
This guy actually went to a mental health clinic, and it didn't do anything.

Let's remember the Columbine shooters were in Anger Management Therapy at the time.

G. Verloren said...

"most of these people"

Correction, most of these men. Every single example here is male, and that is in line with the statistical fact that about 98% of all mass shooters are male.

So that's one obvious and overwhelming correlation which powerfully suggests direct causation.

Another is that all of them were emotionally distraught somehow, which raises the issue of men in this country and the problem that many of them don't know how to control their emotions, due to a variety of cultural factors.

Women get just as upset as men, and yet for every 49 men that lose control of their emotions and go shoot people, only 1 woman does the same. Our culture doesn't tolerate emotional outbursts from women as much as it does from men, and consequently they are taught by society to better control their emotions. Women are also not as stigmatized for seeking assistance with their mental health, whereas men in our culture are practically intentionally taught to live their entire lives emotionally stunted.

And then, of course, there's also simply the fact that mental healthcare access in this country is abysmal - many people who WANT mental health assistance either cannot afford it, or lack the time for it, or sometimes simply don't have any close by enough for them to reach.

That said, not everyone who needs help wants it, and we as a society are REALLY BAD about getting help to people even when they don't actively seek it out - see our problem with getting help to people who DO actively seek it out, as well as issues like our homelessness problem.

People like to wring their hands and say "Well how could we have known?", but the fact is in a huge number of cases we know well beyond any shadow of a doubt that a specific individual needs help, and we simply choose to ignore them and leave them be. The police routinely are interacting with obviously disturbed individuals, but their response is never to try to get those people help - if anything, the police will act in ways to make the situation worse for those people instead.

Of course, all of these thorny problems would be moot if we simply addressed the final obvious and overwhelming correlation - access to guns. If emotionally distraught men didn't have free and easy access to guns, we wouldn't have all these shootings. (We might still have other kinds of violent crime perpetrated by them, but that's what happens when you refuse to treat mental sickness as well as perpetuate a culture of Toxic Masculinity, so don't be surprised there.)

Anonymous said...

Fantasy. This idea that you just 'get people help' and the problems just vanish like a puff of smoke is pure fantasy. Ask anybody that actually works in mental health care. It's like saying, "Why are people dying of cancer? Why don't they just get cured? Why don't they just get help" Mental illness is not a simply cured problem, sorry.

>and we simply choose to ignore them and leave them be
Why are You just choosing to ignore them?

>The police routinely are interacting with obviously disturbed individuals, but their response is never to try to get those people help
Blatantly false. The problem is many of the people don't want help. That's the problem with drug addicts and the mentally ill, part of the problem is they DON'T KNOW THEY HAVE A PROBLEM.

G. Verloren said...


Spare us. Other countries do not have the problem of mass shootings. Other countries have far fewer problems with the mentally ill. Other countries have a fraction of the homelessness we do.

What are they doing differently? The exact same things you ignorantly claim "don't work".

People in other countries have far fewer barriers to getting help, and to the government ensuring they get helped even when they don't want to. Socialized healthcare means even the poorest, most desperate individuals can get treated for both physical and mental sickness. Advanced police training means officers responding to disturbances can better assess the needs of individuals and take actions to get them help - such as calling in psychiatric specialists. More robust social services mean that the known mentally ill get checked up on more frequently. Better labor laws mean that people who have workplace grievances have formal channels via which to seek redress, rather than the usual American scenario of being powerless. Stricter gun control laws mean that even when someone still manages to slip through the cracks in all other regards, they almost by definition will not have access to a firearm.

We are the only affluent country that deals with this problem. We have mass shootings every single day of the year. Our rates of gun violence are on par with active war zones in third world countries. And yet people like you insist that every sensible suggestion anyone makes to help fix our problem "won't work" despite it clearly working in other countries.

Shove off.

Anonymous said...

And other countries have higher levels of homelessness, mental illness, drug addiction, alcoholism, and the like. Do some have less? Yes. Do some have more? Yes.
Maybe try dealing with some actual facts and numbers.

Shove off

Anonymous said...

Why is the US suicide rate 10.1 while Socialized Medicine Countries That Know How To Deal With Mental Illness like Belgium is 18.4, Austria is 13.8, Finland is 16.5. Why aren't people getting help? I thought these countries ALL DO IT BETTER? Why is our Abysmal Mental Health System producing a suicide rate equivalent to Canada and Germany?

United States 10.1
Canada 10.2
Germany 10.3
Iceland 10.4
Norway 10.9
Slovak Republic 10.9
Sweden 11.1
Denmark 11.3
New Zealand 11.9
Czech Republic 12.7
Austria 13.8
Poland 13.8
France 14.6
Finland 16.5
Belgium 18.4
Japan 19.4
Hungary 21.0
South Korea 24.7

Anonymous said...

G. Verloren said...

I love the bad faith shift from the topic of gun crime to the topic of suicide. We're done here.