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“Guns And Mental Illness”: Maybe We Should Be Making It Harder To Get Guns, Period

It is difficult to read stories about Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old man who went on a murderous spree in Isla Vista, Calif., last month, without feeling some empathy for his parents.

We know that his mother, alarmed by some of his misogynistic YouTube videos, made a call that resulted in the police visiting Rodger. The headline from that meeting was that Rodger, seemingly calm and collected, easily deflected the police’s attention. But there was surely a subtext: How worried — how desperate, really — must a mother be to believe the police should be called on her own son?

We also learned that on the day of his murderous rampage, his mother, having read the first few lines of his “manifesto,” had phoned his father, from whom she was divorced. In separate cars, they raced from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara hoping to stop what they feared was about to happen.

And then, on Monday, in a remarkably detailed article in The New York Times, we learned the rest of it. How Rodger was clearly a troubled soul before he even turned 8 years old. How his parents’ concern about his mental health was like a “shadow that hung over this Los Angeles family nearly every day of Elliot’s life.”

Constantly bullied and unable to fit in, he went through three high schools. In college, he tried to throw a girl off a ledge at a party — and was beaten up. (“I’m going to kill them,” he said to a neighbor afterward.) He finally retreated to some Internet sites that “drew sexually frustrated young men,” according to The Times.

Throughout, said one person who knew Rodger, “his mom did everything she could to help Elliot.” But what his parents never did was the one thing that might have prevented him from buying a gun: have him committed to a psychiatric facility. California’s tough gun laws notwithstanding, a background check would have caught him only if he had had in-patient mental health treatment, made a serious threat to an identifiable victim in the presence of a therapist, or had a criminal record. He had none of the above.

Should his parents have taken more steps to have him treated? Could they have? It is awfully hard to say, even in retrospect. On the one hand, there were plainly people who knew him who feared that he might someday harm others. On the other hand, those people weren’t psychiatrists. He was a loner, a misfit, whose parents were more fearful of how the world would treat their son than how their son would treat the world. And his mother, after all, did reach out for help, and the police responded and decided they had no cause to arrest him or even search his room, where his guns were hidden.

Once again, a mass killing has triggered calls for doing something to keep guns away from the mentally ill. And, once again, the realities of the situation convey how difficult a task that is. There are, after all, plenty of young, male, alienated loners — the now-standard description of mass shooters — but very few of them become killers.

And you can’t go around committing them all because a tiny handful might turn out to be killers. Indeed, the law is very clear on this point. In 1975, the Supreme Court ruled that nondangerous mentally ill people can’t be confined against their will if they can function without confinement. “In California, the bar is very high for people like Elliot,” said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, who founded the Treatment Advocacy Center. In a sense, California’s commitment to freedom for the mentally ill conflicts with its background-check law.

Torrey believes that the country should involuntarily commit more mentally ill people, not only because they can sometimes commit acts of violence but because there are far more people who can’t function in the world than the mental health community likes to acknowledge.

In this, however, he is an outlier. The mainstream sentiment among mental health professionals is that there is no going back to the bad-old days when people who were capable of living on their own were locked up for years in mental hospitals. The truth is, the kind of symptoms Elliot Rodger showed were unlikely to get him confined in any case. And without a history of confinement, he had every legal right to buy a gun.

You read the stories about Elliot Rodger and it is easy to think: If this guy, with all his obvious problems, can slip through the cracks, then what hope is there of ever stopping mass shootings?

But, of course, there is another way of thinking about this. Instead of focusing on making it harder for the mentally ill to get guns, maybe we should be making it harder to get guns, period. Something to consider before the next mass shooting.

 

By: Joe Nocera, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 2, 2014

June 5, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The NRA Game Plan”: Blame Violence On Anything But Guns

The NRA will let one week go by and then they’ll issue a statement about the Elliot Rodger shootings in Santa Barbara. Actually, they’ll issue two statements which they always have ready to go. First they’ll say that the slaughter shows that the mental health system is ‘broken’ and needs to be ‘fixed.’ Then they’ll say that a ‘good guy’ with a gun would have stopped the ‘bad guy,’ and they’ll remind everyone that Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) legislation is impossible to get in California so there are no ‘good guys’ walking around in Isla Vista anyway.

The truth is that neither statement is true and or ever been true. But they sound like they’re true, which gets the NRA off the hook. They can promote gun sales all they want but also come down on the side of safety and responsibility because it’s the mental health system that needs to be fixed, right?

Last week Dr. Richard Friedman, a professor of psychiatry, explained that the link between mental illness and violence is tenuous at best and accounts for less than 5% of overall violence at worst. Which means that if every nut lost his guns, the 10,000+ gun homicides we endure each year would drop by a whole, big 500 or so. Wow — talk about ending gun violence by ‘fixing’ the mental health system. Some fix.

As for all those ‘good guys’ walking around with guns, the FBI says there are roughly 300 justifiable homicides each year, a number that hasn’t changed even with the CCW upsurge in the past year. Yeah, yeah, every year armed citizens ‘prevent’ millions of crimes just by waving their guns around in the air. I also know that Martians actually did land in Parrump.

The self-satisfied folks who really believe that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people,’ simply refuse to accept the fact that if you pick up a gun, point it at someone else and pull the trigger, that the result is going to be very serious injuries or loss of life. There is no other way, including running over someone with a car, that has such a devastating effect. The NRA gets around that problem by promoting, with an almost mystical reverence, the notion of using guns for self defense. John Lott’s nonsense to the contrary, there is absolutely no evidence which proves that guns save more lives than they destroy.

Now don’t get me wrong. If you’re already sending a comment about how Mike The Gun Guy is really Mike The Anti-Gun Guy, why don’t you save the HP comment screeners a little time and at least wait until you read this entire blog? Because believe it or not, I’m not anti-gun. I have said again and again that 99.9% of all gun owners are safe and responsible with their guns. I have also said, but it bears repeating, that we should be able to figure out how to end gun violence without making lawful and careful gun owners jump through more legal hoops, including expanded background checks.

This morning I received an email from one of the largest internet gun-sellers who is dumping new, name-brand AR-15s for under 600 bucks. These are guns that were selling for twice that much a year ago and, as the email warned, “any sudden media attention to political situations, restrictive laws and regulations can drive prices through the roof again overnight.”

The gun industry sits on the horns of a dilemma. They can moan and groan all they want about gun control but it is high-profile shootings that ignite the debate which then leads to stronger sales. The NRA claims that it’s all about safe gun ownership but let’s not make it too safe. Because if we do, it will be more than just a couple of Tea Party politicians giving away free AR-15s.

 

By: Mike Weisser, The Huffington Post Blog, June 2, 2014

June 3, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Giving Killers Coverage, Not Platforms”: Perpetuating A Culture In Which Violence Is Rewarded With Notoriety

The stone-faced young man stood on the sidewalk last week near Union Square holding a large, hand-lettered sign on a hot-pink piece of poster board. It read: “I deserve hot blonde women.” I wondered if this could be an ironic piece of feminist political commentary or if it was intended to seem hostile.

In any case, it was clearly inspired by the shooting near the University of California at Santa Barbara about a week before. The killer, Elliot Rodger, set out to target beautiful young women, he said, because they had rejected him sexually.

But it’s a far more extreme kind of “inspiration” that worries Ari Schulman, who thinks and writes about the effect of media coverage of mass shootings. After The Times posted both the 141-page written manifesto and a video statement issued by the California gunman last week, Mr. Schulman wrote to me. He made the case that publishing those statements — which he sees as a form of propaganda — perpetuates a culture in which violence is rewarded with notoriety.

“There’s an unspoken agreement that if you are frustrated and angry, that all you have to do to get your feelings broadcast is to kill a lot of people,” Mr. Schulman, the executive editor of The New Atlantis, a quarterly journal devoted to technology and society, told me in a later interview. He spoke of a “conscious copycat effect” that can be seen in the string of mass killings, from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Newtown, Conn.

The media, he says, “have been nearly perfect participants” in the “ritualistic response” that incentivizes these horrific episodes. It’s past time, he believes, to rethink that and to change it.

He was not alone, among Times readers, in considering this question. I heard from a Hunter College professor, Steven M. Gorelick, who wrote that he wondered “what might have gone into the decision by The Times to post the chilling video made by Mr. Rodger before he went on his killing rampage.” He wondered whether this was “a simple case of the public’s right to know, or whether there was any substantive discussion about any kind of possible negative impact that posting the video might have had.”

For most journalists, the instinct to publish what they know — rather than to hold back — is a strong one. Yet nearly every article reflects judgments and decisions about what to use and what not to use.

Unlike many news outlets, The Times did not cast the video and written statements in a sensational light — but it did publish them.

Kelly McBride, who writes about journalism ethics, believes “there’s a democratic value to publishing and referencing Elliot Rodger’s manifesto. The 22-year-old mass murderer left us a 141-page window into his deranged thinking.” But, she recommended in a piece for Poynter.org, “don’t just publish it, add context. Perhaps the most valuable thing journalists can do would be to get psychiatrists and psychologists to annotate the document.”

Mr. Schulman sees a different middle ground, he says. The barrier to publication of these documents and videos should be higher, and the media attention paid to them far less — “maybe no more than a passing mention that it exists.”

And The Times wrote a story last December about people in Colorado who, based on similar thinking, want the media to stop publishing even the names of mass killers. Their idea — more extreme than Mr. Schulman’s proposal — has gained some traction. 

I talked to The Times’s national editor, Alison Mitchell, about the issue. She told me that decisions about whether to use this kind of material are not made lightly.

“In every one of these cases, we think about it. It comes under a lot of discussion, and is not done reflexively,” she said. In this case, the video and manifesto were so integral to understanding the motivation for the crimes, she said, “we would have very consciously not have been telling a big part of the story.”

Times readers “want to see and judge for themselves,” Ms. Mitchell said. “It’s a disservice to try to shield them.”

As a lifelong journalist, my instincts, predictably enough, line up with Ms. Mitchell’s. In general, I don’t believe in holding back germane information from the public.

When I started writing this column, I had the notion of leaving out Mr. Rodger’s name. But it proved impossible, just as, however appealing it might be, it would be impossible for news organizations to leave out the names of other mass killers.

I find Mr. Schulman’s reasoning thought provoking, though. Many factors enter into these outbursts of violence: gun availability, mental illness, sometimes misogyny, and more. Media attention is undeniably one of them. And the idea of playing down a killer’s “manifesto” is, at the very least, worth consideration, on a case-by-case basis. We may have no choice but to name the killers, but we are not obligated to provide a platform for every one of their twisted views.

 

By: Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor, The New York Times, May 31, 2014

June 1, 2014 Posted by | Mass Shootings, Media | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Misogyny Crosses Lines Of Race And Culture”: Elliot Rodger’s Half-White Male Privilege

The widespread recognition that Elliot Rodger’s killing spree was the tragic result of misogyny and male entitlement has been a little bit surprising, and encouraging. Why, then, has it been so hard to get his race right?

From the left, headlines (including on Salon) have labeled him “white,” though most stories at least nodded to his Asian heritage (his mother was ethnic Chinese Malaysian). Chauncey DeVega’s fascinating piece on Rodger’s crime as evidence of “aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome,” a malady that includes other white male mass killers from Columbine’s Eric Klebold to Newtown’s Adam Lanza, didn’t mention his status as half-Asian.

When commentators noted the omission, DeVega (whose work I admire) doubled down in a follow-up piece,“Yes, Elliot Rodger is white!” He argued that Rodger “constructed an identity for himself as ‘Eurasian’ and proceeded to internalize American society’s cues and lessons about power, privilege, race, and gender. He then lived out his own particular understanding of what it means to be white and male in the United States.”

Not that I have a lot of sympathy for Rodger, but it twists his already twisted story to label him simply white.

Predictably, the right is having a lot of fun with progressives’ calling Rodger white, because denying Rodger whiteness gives them another reason to deny white male privilege entirely. Meanwhile, the wingnut white supremacists over at the New Observer are calling the Isla Vista killings an anti-white “hate crime,” ignoring that its first three victims were Rodger’s three male roommates, who were of Asian descent. It won’t be long until Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity join that party.

Why is it so hard to recognize Rodger as of mixed racial descent? It certainly doesn’t negate the role white entitlement and privilege played in his “syndrome.” Rodger is at least partly a victim of the ideology of white supremacy, as well as its violent enforcer. He struggled with his status as half-Asian, writing “I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian.”

Elsewhere he explains:

On top of this was the feeling that I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with.I envied the cool kids, and I wanted to be one of them.

He dyed his hair blond, trying to fit in, but the dye job left him with blond tips and black roots, a sad metaphor for a racial mixture he couldn’t accept.

Merely labeling Rodger white, and his problem one of “white privilege,” also obscures the role of class in heightening his toxic sense of entitlement. He wondered: Why would “an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? I am descended from British aristocracy.” He believed his aristocratic background, his gorgeous home, his Armani shirts, Hugo Boss shoes, and shiny BMW – not just his race — entitled him to blond women. He even had a narcissistic mantra he said to himself to boost his confidence: “I am the image of beauty and supremacy.”

Of course he saw a racial hierarchy where he, being half-white, is near the very top of the pyramid, below white men but, as half Asian, still above every other race and racial mix. He degrades “full Asian” men as “disgusting” and mocks them for not being half-white like him. Then he’s aghast when he sees “this Asian guy who was talking to a white girl. The sight of that filled me with rage … How could an ugly Asian attract the attention of a white girl, while a beautiful Eurasian like myself never had any attention from them?” Every attempt to “explain” his isolation and loneliness unravels. There is only one explanation: the evil of beautiful, blond white girls.

Asian and mixed-race writers and scholars are beginning to chafe at the erasure of Rodger’s multiracial heritage. “His anti-Asian self-hate,” Sam Louie writes, “was evident when he wrote of his two Asian roommates. ‘These were the biggest nerds I had ever seen, and they were both very ugly with annoying voices.’” Calling them “repulsive” and “idiots,” Rodger even suggests in his manifesto that their race played a role in their murder. “If they were pleasant to live with, I would regret having to kill them, but due to their behavior I now had no regrets about such a prospect. In fact, I’d even enjoy stabbing them both to death while they slept.”

In the New Republic, Hua Hsu wondered why the media was so quick to label Rodger “the white guy killer” and ignore his Asian heritage. “Perhaps, in this reading, he was not a benefactor of ‘white privilege and entitlement’ but someone vexed by its seeming elusiveness.”

“The media, as usual, has oversimplified his identity and experience of race in typically binary terms, which miss the complex nuances and grey areas of that identity and experience,” University of California, Santa Barbara, sociology professor G. Reginald Daniel told me via email. (Daniel is also the editor in chief of the Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies.) “My feeling is that some of his many issues are related in part to his struggles with or questions about how ‘white’ he was or was not allowed or perceived to be.”

This is not to suggest that mixed-race people suffer from emotional problems (aside from the fact that all humans do). That’s a danger, because people of mixed racial descent have long been stigmatized as unhappy or somehow lacking, going back to the awful “tragic mulatto” stereotype. “He had some really serious and deeply clinical mental anguish beyond these concerns [of identity],” writes Daniel, who has long argued against notions (found among people of all races) that all mixed-race Americans are somehow troubled or racially untethered.

The Rodger coverage underscores that our traditional American black-white, victim-victimizer view of  American race relations is failing us in a world where Asians are the fastest-growing “minority” and Latinos the largest. Dismissing Rodger as white implies that Asians can’t be racist on their own, that it was only his white half that made him hate black people and Mexicans. Labeling him Asian, or making the preposterous suggestion that he committed an anti-white hate crime, ignores that he was both the prisoner of white entitlement and supremacy as well as its avatar.

To suggest that other races and other cultures don’t treat women as property is to miss how prevalent that attitude is. Sadly, misogyny and male entitlement come in every color and culture.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 31, 2014

June 1, 2014 Posted by | Mass Shootings, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Madness Has No Rights”: Will Americans Ever Be Ready To Challenge The Gun Cult?

Another week, another disturbed young man, another mass killing spree. It’s come to the point where episodes like Elliot Rodger’s murder of four men and two women near the Cal-Santa Barbara campus have become so frequent in America that the crime scene tapes have hardly been removed before people turn them into political symbols.

At which point any possibility of taking anything useful away from the tragedy ends. I certainly have no answer for the eloquent cry of Richard Martinez, whose 20 year-old son Christopher, a stranger to the killer, was shot dead in the street.

“Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA,” he cried. “They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’s right to live? When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, ‘Stop this madness; we don’t have to live like this?’ Too many have died. We should say to ourselves: not one more.”

Such is the downright Satanic power of the gun cult in this country, however, that Martinez may as well never have spoken. Every poll available shows that Democrats, Republicans and gun owners alike favor, at minimum, stronger background checks aimed at keeping semi-automatic killing machines away from disturbed individuals like Rodger.

Yet nothing happens, basically because Second Amendment cultists exercise a stranglehold on the political process. If the Newtown, CT massacre of elementary school children didn’t cause a rethink, no misogynist shooting down sorority girls is going to change a thing.

It’s really quite bizarre, but until some certifiably conservative politician takes on the NRA and wins, spree killings will remain a depressing feature of American life. We could make it much harder for deranged people to acquire arsenals without greatly inconveniencing legitimate gun owners, but we haven’t got the guts to give it a serious try.

Then there’s the customary inadequacy of our laws relating to involuntary commitment of persons deemed an active threat to themselves or others — very roughly the legal standard in most jurisdictions. I got into an online debate recently with Lindsay Beyerstein, a young journalist whose work I admire. She argued that Rodger should be classified as a “misogynist terrorist,” who targeted a sorority house as part of his “WAR ON WOMEN” (his words).

“Here’s why he did it,” Beyerstein wrote. “He was distraught because he had never had a girlfriend. He was enraged because he believed he was entitled to sex and adulation from women. He believed that women would never be attracted to him because women are sub-human animals who are instinctively attracted to ‘brutish,’ ‘stupid’ men, instead of magnificent gentlemen like himself. Women, in his view, should not be allowed to make their own decisions about whom to have sex with, because, as subhuman animals, they are incapable of choosing the good men.”

All true. However, I thought calling it terrorism was beside the point. The specific content of a psychotic person’s delusions has little reference to anything outside his own mind. It’s a funhouse mirror version of reality. I’m guessing Rodger was a big porn fan with no understanding of real women.

Beyerstein convinced me I’d spoken too loosely. Nothing released about Rodger so far shows clear evidence of mental illness — defined as a treatable brain disease like schizophrenia.

So we settled on a New Jerseyism: agreeing that Rodger was one sick pup. Not exactly how Tony Soprano would phrase it, but safe for newspapers. Sick enough that his own mother called police after seeing his bizarre YouTube videos ranting about wicked “blonde sluts” who ruined his life — pure paranoid ideation, in my view, but I am not a psychiatrist.

Where I live (Arkansas), the standard for involuntary committal to a lockdown mental health facility is basically the aforementioned “danger to oneself or others” — pretty much regardless of diagnosis, although psychiatric testimony helps. Alas most people don’t know how the system works. Petitioners have to be both sophisticated and determined to get anything done. Most families just hunker down and pray.

That tends to be true everywhere. In the case of Elliot Rodger, there should have been better two-way communication. California authorities say sheriff’s deputies who visited his apartment found a polite, shy kid who seemed no threat. (His posthumous manifesto expresses fear the cops would find his guns and mad videos.)

But shouldn’t there have been two-way communication? Maybe instead of just dispatching deputies, they should have talked with his mother first. Maybe she’s an alarmist; maybe not. I’m told some California jurisdictions do this as a matter of course.

Liberals and conservatives alike worry overmuch about the rights of mentally disturbed people. This isn’t the USSR. Nobody’s hospitalizing eccentrics or dissenters. Madness, however, has no rights. Acting otherwise is like letting children play in traffic. Alas, it appears Americans will face the problem soon after enacting sensible gun laws.

In short, probably never.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, May 28, 2014

May 31, 2014 Posted by | Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association, Politics | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

   

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