“He would get mad if things weren’t his way. But (his mother) always had him in control.”
— a neighbor about the Umpqua, Oregon assassin
I’m not a Scientologist but there are times when I wish all the TV shrinks would zip it up whenever a “mass casualty” incident happens like Roseburg, Oregon’s Umpqua community college massacre. The therapeutic clichés keep pouring out of their ever-ready mouths, muddying the waters and piling up nonsense.
Here they come so easily spouted: “psychopath”, “sociopath”, “lack of empathy”, “abusive childhood”, “mental health disorder”, “schizophrenic”, “social and sexual reject”, “anxiety and depressive disorder”, “bipolar”, “dissociative disorder”, Donald Trump’s all-purpose “mental illness”, and my own favorite, “sick and twisted”.
Or we can relax with the brilliant diagnosis of forensic psychiatrist on TV Dr. Louis Schlesinger, “People who commit mass murder are obviously not doing well.” Thanks, doc.
The above pseudo-medical labels cover about half the U.S. population who at one time in our lives will deserve a psychiatric diagnosis.
The Archie Bunker in me, never far from the surface, says: the gunman in these school shootings is a frustrated punk who got his hands on a weapon. That’s it. Nothing fancy. Chris Harper-Mercer, the Oregon shooter, strolls into a gun shop and slaps down his credit card and in no time, because he doesn’t have a rap sheet and probably it wouldn’t matter, at least 18 people get slammed with Glock or AR15 bullets, and nine die. Easy as pie.
Once you’re in charge of a weapon reason flies out the window. I became a different, swaggering person when I carried a military .45 on my hip. After yet another school massacre the “why?” is almost irrelevant. Elliott Rodger in Santa Barbara can’t find a date, Robert Flores in Arizona is depressed over flunking out, Seung-Hui Cho shoots 32 people at Virginia Tech because he doesn’t like “rich people”, Dylann Roof at the Charlestown church massacre out of 100% pure race hatred, Fred Davis at San Diego State fears his professors will reject his graduate thesis, and so on.
Two years ago John Zawahri, “troubled by mental health challenges”, kills five people with a self-made AR15 in and around the Santa Monica school my son attended; Zawahri leaves a long letter nobody can interpret. They love writing suicide notes that would get them an ‘F’ in class.
Looking for a pattern? Many multiple school assassins are from “broken” homes, which is easy to do since half of all American marriages end up in divorce, and about a quarter of families are single parent like Laurel Mercer’s.
As night follows day the next cliché rolls out: “gun control”. A platitude without teeth. How about making high capacity mags illegal, prison time without parole for gunshop owners, bullet rationing, gun shows banned, a few little things like that?
If Jonathan Swift, the 18th century clergyman-satirist, was alive today he’d also insist on “parent control”, to burn enablers at the stake. Or at least make them suffer the torment of yet another pseudo-psychological diagnosis. Who was minding the store when Chris Mercer assembled 14 weapons, including a $700 rifle, plus body armor and high capacity magazines? Not Laurel Mercer whose Facebook page supports “open carry” laws. “And when the mood strikes…I sling an AR, Tek-9 or AK over my shoulder, or holster a Glock 21 (not 22), or one of my other handguns, like the Sig Sauer P226, and walk out the door. I find the shotguns are a little too cumbersome to open carry.” Some mama.
And what about “media control”? It’s a dead cert that some killings are copycat absorbed from over-the-top televised coverage. (We know this is true from Mercer’s website.) Unconstitutionally, why not limit reporting a major incident only to local media but censor to zero national coverage with its inflammatory images. Whoops, there go the network ratings.
Best of all, the “Australian option”. After a series of 1980s massacres, the federal government, led by Liberal (i.e. conservative) John Howard and backed by public opinion, cajoled each Australian state government to abide by the 1996 NATIONAL FIREARMS AGREEMENT that restricted almost all civilian guns, including imitations, as “prohibited weapons”. Licensed guns may hold a maximum of 10 rounds only. Air pistols were as hard to get as prohibited guns. All semi-automatics and pump action shotguns were banned. The laws were accompanied by a buy-back scheme which CUT THE RISK OF DYING BY GUNSHOT BY OVER 50%. Introducing uniform gun laws, prime minister Howard said, “We do not want the American disease imported into Australia.”
Australia like us has its violent, gun-riddled “wild west” frontier history. It’s definitely not a non violent nation. Ever watched a riotous game of “Australian Rules Football”? No player leaves the ground unless they’re bleeding to death.
Australians still kill one another. But, mercifully, fewer.
P.S. Want to know exactly how American assassins get their weapons? Slate’s Christine Cauterucci and Greta Weber did the legwork.