January
9th 2011
Sadly, no surprises: young, mentally ill man murders 6 and injures 14

Posted under: American history, Gender, students, unhappy endings

The assassination attempt yesterday in Tucson of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the attendant massacre of 6 of her constituents and the injury of 13 others was apparently the work of an obviously mentally unstable young man.  Here’s a report from his community college instructor and a fellow student, in which they report that they were afraid he’d bring a gun to class.  (More details here in this earlier report.)  (H/t to this thread at TalkLeft.)

As I’ve written here before, on sadly too many occasions in the past three years, it’s clear that this massacre was the work of the same kind of person who always engages in spectacular incidents of gun violence.  It’s almost always a man, frequently a young man (under 25 or so), and it’s usually someone whose mental illness has been obvious to others for a long time.  How do these people get guns, and how would banning assault weapons not be a reasonable public health measure?  (And isn’t it sad in this country, where this scale of violence is commonplace, that we speak of mitigating the damage, rather than stopping it?  Isn’t it a shameful admission of defeat that we might see a massacre of “only” two or three people as something to celebrate?)

I’ve been working and playing hard offline this weekend.  I will return next week to post more on Tony Grafton’s call to arms, as promised.

57 Comments »

57 Responses to “Sadly, no surprises: young, mentally ill man murders 6 and injures 14”

  1. Mark Perkins on 09 Jan 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    I find it astonishing that such a clearly disturbed young man was (as far as I’ve read) never medicated or treated, and thus he was apparently able to acquire a gun legally. His previous brushes with the law appear quite minor.

    As an aside, he was shooting a standard semi-automatic handgun, which makes the extent of the devastation all the more shocking.

  2. m Andrea on 09 Jan 2011 at 11:06 pm #

    The wierd thing is the way the instructor had Loughner removed, only because they were afraid he *might* do something — and yet all this violent rhetoric is supposed to be tolerated even though many of us are afraid the nuts *might* do something.

    According to the logic used by those who are defending the right to spew anything they want, the course instructer should have just sucked it up and kept tolerating Loughner’s outbursts in class.

  3. mandor on 09 Jan 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    Is there no mental health support at community college? His symptoms were obvious, but it’s not clear if he had a chance at treatment.

  4. Mark Perkins on 09 Jan 2011 at 11:58 pm #

    “Mr. Loughner withdrew in October after the school decided to require him to take a mental health evaluation, he said.”

  5. mandor on 10 Jan 2011 at 12:12 am #

    Well that answers that question! I wonder if he was ever forcibly hospitalized/treated given his run ins with the law that I’ve seen mentioned in articles. I guess not given his ability to legally acquire the gun.

  6. Back from AHA, report on Task Force on Disability and Paul Longmore Tribute « Knitting Clio on 10 Jan 2011 at 6:13 am #

    [...] Giffords and others at a public event in Arizona yesterday.  [even more moderate terms like "these people" are demoralizing because they peg persons with mental illness as socially deviant "others" ] [...]

  7. Historiann on 10 Jan 2011 at 7:07 am #

    Press reports today say that the perp lived with his parents, so he wasn’t completely isolated and on his own. Then again, considering the levels of denial that lubricate a lot of families, maybe expecting parents to intervene is expecting too much.

  8. Perpetua on 10 Jan 2011 at 7:19 am #

    I’ve been watching a lot of cable news coverage of the even & heard a couple of gems from gun-supporting types. One Republican senator commented that we can’t “legislate” ourselves out of these situations (ie that gun control is not the answer), which would be kind of hilarious if it wasn’t so sad. Another commentator on Fox news expended his wrath about the fact that this individual had never been subject to forcible incarceration (even though he had never done anything violent or illegal). So the ability of anybody on the planet to buy a semi automatic weapon and all the ammunition they’d like AND carry it concealed wherever they want to are undisputed rights, whereas the right of someone who may or may not be mentally ill to make autonomous decision or even walk about freely is not. Interesting. There are many problems with the mental health care in this country, but not having enough power to lock people up without cause is not one them, IMO. (Fox news folks were also very quick to repeat that Rep. Giffords was a strong supporter of gun rights.)

    I can’t imagine anything will get the folks on the right to tone down the scariness of their rhetoric, but I really hope this incident gets more people to call them on it publicly.

  9. KC on 10 Jan 2011 at 7:24 am #

    Given the way our society now operates, I’m not surprised nobody was able to intervene to stop this before it happened. There must be thousands of young men out there like him, mentally unstable and prone to violence. “Only” a handful ever make it far enough to do this kind of damage, but of course that is too many.

    The obvious solution, the one that most countries seem to embrace, is to ban or extremely restrict the individual’s ability to get a handgun. But good luck with that argument in this country. Democrats who have national aspirations can’t push anti-hand gun measures and survive politically; and the courts protect our gun culture (see the ruling on D.C.’s ban from a year ago).

    Instead of trying to parse the language of the Second Amendment, I would be in favor of an amendment that (gasp) repealed it altogether, but that’s an impossible argument in this country.

  10. KC on 10 Jan 2011 at 7:28 am #

    Perpetua, regarding your last point, I actually think this incident is going to finish Sarah Palin’s chances of ever becoming president or vice president. The map with the cross-hairs on it is devastating to her, even more devastating is the fact that Giffords pointed it out at the time, and that as soon as the shooting happened, the map was pulled down, but not before it moved to the center of this debate. I don’t know what affect this event will have on political discourse, but I really think it’s going to destroy Palin’s career, even though I doubt Loughner was probably personally inspired by her or by that map. (Although maybe he was, who knows.)

  11. Historiann on 10 Jan 2011 at 7:33 am #

    Nothing will change. Everyone will pretend that this is a horrible, never-before-seen tragedy that must never be permitted to happen again, and then we’ll do nothing about it.

    The intertwining of masculinity, gun use, and political violence in this country is centuries old, and it will take centuries to disentangle them.

    I think it would be great if some public health experts did a study comparing incidents of mass-murder during the 1990s Assault Weapons Ban to the incidents since its repeal back in the early 2000s. Anecdotally, it seems like murderous rampages have been more frequent and more deadly, but it would be easy enough to figure out. But given the political cowardice of the Democrats these days, I’m sure that even if the evidence was clear, nothing would happen.

    People sure were disappointed by Bill Clinton back in the 1990s, but Jeezy Creezy, he sure seems like a Colossus of political foresight and courage now, doesn’t he?

  12. Shane in Utah on 10 Jan 2011 at 8:27 am #

    People sure were disappointed by Bill Clinton back in the 1990s, but Jeezy Creezy, he sure seems like a Colossus of political foresight and courage now, doesn’t he?

    Really? The master triangulator who foisted NAFTA and DADT on the nation, and was largely responsible for deregulating the financial system, thus leading to our current economic mess? Courage and foresight?

    Memory sure is a fickle thing.

  13. Profane on 10 Jan 2011 at 9:02 am #

    @Mark

    According to the press reports, it was indeed a standard semi-automatic handgun – but it was loaded with a 31 round clip, and the casualties were all caused with that first clip (youtube clip here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JOP65TGTMY if you can stomach the gun porn – the clip was empty in 15 seconds). A bystander prevented him from loading a second clip, and a third malfunctioned before he was tackled. Scarily enough it could have been alot worse. . .

  14. Indyanna on 10 Jan 2011 at 9:08 am #

    Even incidentally killing a gun rights judge and one of the fifty “Faces of the Nation” babies born on 9/11/01 isn’t going to change the basic trajectory of the “guns don’t kill people” mantra, Historiann is right on that. No matter of perverse symbolism will. Only some kind of coup that would weed-and-seed the extant list of amendments, and find an island or planet big enough for the crazies to take their beloved Second one to, would do that. Who was that last summer who was talking about “Second Amendment remedies?”

  15. Daniel S. Goldberg on 10 Jan 2011 at 9:25 am #

    I do not disagree with the post, but I do think it’s important to challenge the general stigma that mentally ill persons are any more prone to violence than the rest of us (see, e.g.:

    http://archpsyc.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/66/2/152; and a very nice factsheet put together by SAMHSA here:

    http://www.samhsa.gov/MentalHealth/understanding_Mentalllness_Factsheet.aspx).

    It is of course true that a certain subset of persons with certain kinds of mental illnesses may in fact be more likely to be violent, but the stigma that fallaciously associates mental illness with propensity to violence historically has and continues to do incalculable harm to persons living with mental illness in the U.S. In terms of overall prevalence patterns, persons living with mental illness are much more likely to be victims of violence than to inflict it on others (Appleby et al., 2001).

    (I’m not at all accusing Historiann of making this error, but especially in these kinds of situations, the point seems like it might be worth bringing up).

  16. Historiann on 10 Jan 2011 at 9:33 am #

    Shane–I have never said that Bill Clinton was any kind of progressive hero. In fact, I have described him here as a very good conservative president. But I have to contradict your portrayal of him “foisting” DADT on the nation.

    Eighteen years ago in the winter of 1993, the newly inaugurated President Clinton tried to desegregate the U.S. military and permit lesbians and gay men to serve openly in our armed forces. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell and a leading Blue Dog Democratic Senator Sam Nunn immediately opposed this and ginned up a great deal of opposition to the new President’s plan. Clinton was forced to accept the compromise position “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This was a bit of an improvement policy wise, because previously the military could investigate suspected servicewomen and men for homosexuality. (There is a lot of evidence that suggests there was actually an increase in surveillance and discharges of gay & lesbian soldiers & sailors, so the policy’s implementation was also a failure.)

    Was desegregating the armed forces the best use of Clinton’s political capital out of the gate? There are strong arguments to be made that it was not, and that it may have played a role in dooming his plans for HCR. At the time, Clinton was criticized for serving too well his LGBTQ supporters, but for the past several years Clinton haters never seem to remember the true history of DADT. Blame Colin Powell, Sam Nunn, and the other Democrats who were too weak and too wimpy to end discrimination. Clinton clearly didn’t have the political chops to see through his plan to end discrimination in the military, but no one ever wants to give the man credit for trying to do something that Democrats eventually caught up to and accomplished eighteen years later.

    /threadjack

  17. Historiann on 10 Jan 2011 at 9:41 am #

    Daniel–I don’t mean to stigmatize the mentally ill here. I think maleness and the availability of guns are much better predictors of the potential for murderous violence than mental illness. But the cases of mass-murder, family murder, or stalker murder I’ve written about here for the past three years have for the most part featured young men with diagnosed or suspected mental illnesses.

    These situations, in my view, appear to be caused by a number of factors, but not incidental is 1) the historical and contemporary association of men with gun ownership and use, 2) mental illness, and 3) the widespread availability of high-caliber weaponry in the U.S. Take away any of these factors–sex, gun access, or mental illness–and the number of incidents like these plummets.

  18. Historiann on 10 Jan 2011 at 9:45 am #

    Don’t miss Tom Tomorrow’s latest.

    The penguin speaks for me.

  19. Daniel S. Goldberg on 10 Jan 2011 at 10:04 am #

    Historiann,

    I understand your view. My point, such as it is, is that it’s probably less safe to speak of a link between mental illness and violence than it is to speak of a link between a very, very, very small subset of mental illnesses that may, with the addition of a number of other factors, be reasonably strongly correlated with violence.

    The general discussion of a link between “mental illness” as such as violence is, in my view, unsupported based on the best evidence.

    JMO.

  20. mandor on 10 Jan 2011 at 10:15 am #

    If you’re interested in the study of guns/gun control from a public health perspective, check out the work of Garen Wintemute at UC Davis.

  21. Historiann on 10 Jan 2011 at 10:30 am #

    Thanks, Mandor. His work looks really interesting.

    Maybe I don’t have a comprehensive enough view of the field, but it strikes me that M.D.s and esp. those with MPHs are pretty unanimous in their conclusion that fewer guns mean fewer injuries and deaths. (And it’s not just the pediatricians, whose patients can’t legally own guns and whose patients are overwhelmingly the victims of gun violence rather than the perps.)

  22. mandor on 10 Jan 2011 at 10:31 am #

    One of the main things I remember from Wintemute’s work is how most guns that end up in the hands of criminals/on the black market entered the market through a legal sale. It’s not relavent in this case, but it gets at the notion that restricting guns sales is somehow going to leave the population vulnerable to crime.

    The other thing I remember him talking about is how easy it is to quickly (and legally) purchase a gun at a gun show. No waiting period and no background check, depending on how you purchase it.

  23. m Andrea on 10 Jan 2011 at 10:49 am #

    Well, it’s pretty obvious to me anyway that the mentally ill are no more likely to commit violence; and yet, since the repubs are spinning this as a lone nutcase who perpetrated this crime “because he was crazy” then unfortunately this will help to entrench in the public’s mind that crazy = violent.

    Btw, did you all see this:

    http://www.csgv.org/issues-and-campaigns/guns-democracy-and-freedom/insurrection-timeline

    Really quite excellent.

  24. Perpetua on 10 Jan 2011 at 11:00 am #

    @ m Andrea & Daniel: Yes, the pro-gun lobby always latch onto the “lone crazy guy” theory because then they don’t have to address a) right wing extremism or b) gun legislation. They all pretend, as H. notes above, that what happened was an entirely unpreventable terrible accident. Or, as I pointed out, that the mentally ill should be locked away (rather than guns), which I found troubling for the reasons that you put forward, Daniel. We see this same rhetoric every time a physician is threatened or murdered by an anti-abortion activist. No matter how many Dr. Tillers there are, no one will ever put Operation Rescue on the terrorist watch list, or even call them on their role in inciting violence.

    We all know how it works: violent white men are lone crazy guys, unconnected from larger patterns of behavior or group responsibility. Violent men of color are terrorists/proof of the inherent violence of certain groups, etc etc etc.

  25. Knitting Clio on 10 Jan 2011 at 11:17 am #

    I agree with Daniel S. and if you follow the trackback to my blog you will see that it’s not just the right who are focusing solely on the “lone nutcase” argument.

    Another issue that hasn’t been addressed is access to mental health care — see this post by Amanda Marcotte:

    http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2011/01/09/giffords-shooting-raises-questions-rhetoric-health-care

  26. Historiann on 10 Jan 2011 at 11:26 am #

    Knitting Clio–you’re right, it’s not just the right wingers. I just watched some clips on the Sunday programs (I was out of media contact all day yesterday) and I was struck by the language folks used to describe the killer. It was pretty shocking, IMHO.

    I agree with Perpetua’s and mAndrea’s meta-analysis, and I also agree that access to mental health care is important. But, in this case, where a young man lived with his parents while attending community college and then was dismissed from community college because he refused to submit to a mental health screening–well, I’m not convinced that access to mental health care was a decisive factor.

    When families refuse to acknowledge or treat a problem, what can the rest of us do? In a world where the poorly and opaquely written Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is Gospel in both legacy parties in Washington, it seems like all we can do is try to stay out of the way of men who own guns.

    Staying away from men who own guns, especially high-powered/semi-automatic guns, rather than staying away from mentally ill people, seems to be a good personal health preservation measure.

  27. mandor on 10 Jan 2011 at 11:44 am #

    This Mother Jones interview with Laughner’s high school friend has some decent background info.

    And since my family has been dealing with the issue for the past 20 years, let me say that it is incredibly difficult to force a person over the age of 18 to get mental health care if they don’t want it, even if they are obviously in need of it. Even if you can obtain a court order for hospitalization/treatment, that is a temporary measure.

  28. KC on 10 Jan 2011 at 11:46 am #

    Agreed. I’d like to register everyone who has a high-powered weapon, like they do with sex offenders. I’m not joking. It seems to me it would be useful information to have.

  29. KC on 10 Jan 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Yeah, to mandor’s comment, I wouldn’t be comfortable forcing people into mental health care except in circumstances where they have already attempted to act out in violent ways. I think a better, more just solution to the problem is to eliminate access to weapons, but as Historiann has noted, that ain’t gonna happen. And as Daniel has noted, I’d have real problems with shifting the blame for these types of incidents away from the gun culture and towards the mentally ill.

  30. Historiann on 10 Jan 2011 at 11:53 am #

    Thanks, mandor. This part of the Mother Jones article (p.2) struck me:

    One of the last times Loughner and Tierney saw each other, a mutual friend had recently purchased a .22-caliber rifle. Until then, Loughner had never shown much interest in guns, Tierney says. “My friend had just gotten a .22, and Jared kept saying we should go shooting together.” But Tierney and the friend who had bought the .22 demurred. “We were sketched out,” Tierney says, “and we were like, ‘I don’t think Jared’s a good person to go shooting with.’” That was in February or March 2010. After that, Tierney didn’t hear much from Loughner.

    This sounds almost identical to the comments from his community college classmate. Many people seem to have recognized this man’s danger to others, and to have connected that danger specifically to gun use and gun violence.

  31. thefrogprincess on 10 Jan 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Perpetua’s comment gets at what I’ve been thinking about the most: the quickness with which this culture rushes to declare that the white men who have mowed down or blown up tens and hundreds of people “lone wolves,” “mentally ill,” “not a symptom at all of our culture,” “nothing could have been done to prevent this.” But when men of color fail (though not without trying) to blow up planes or Times Square, then immigration must be rethought, new scanning technology must be put in place, and the words terrorism are thrown around with vigor. I struggle to think how being gunned down at a political meet-and-greet, or ducking in a store to avoid being mowed down in a mall (as a friend of mine did in the Omaha shooting), or dodging flying bullets in French class, or having my child blown up at daycare is somehow so normal as not to classify as “terrorism.”

  32. Historiann on 10 Jan 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    Race colors everything–and certainly it colors the use of gun violence and political violence. There is always a rush to disaggregate politics from violence when it’s a white male perp. (The only exception I can think of is the VTech killer, who was Asian, although there was some discussion of his alienation at VTech in part because of his ethnicity.)

    When no black or brown men can be found in planning violent attacks, sometimes we make them up, as in 1995 in Oklahoma City when early speculation turned to Islamic terrorist violence.

  33. Comrade PhysioProf on 10 Jan 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    If the Oklahoma City sicke-fucke violent right-wing anti-government rhetoric-fomented terrorist attack–which killed 168 people–didn’t lead to a toning down of sicke-fucke violent right-wing anti-government rhetoric, then why on earth would anyone think that this will?

  34. thefrogprincess on 10 Jan 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    Yeah, I thought about VT as well, and while ethnicity was certainly brought up, he too was quickly placed in the “lone wolf” category.

    Another way of thinking about it is that most of the black/brown “terrorists” would also fit into the “lone wolf” category, or at least they are similarly alienated from society. But that too is ignored, in favor of patting down toddlers and confiscating mouthwash.

  35. webfoot on 10 Jan 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    Here in Oregon we have two recent cases of politically motivated bombing plots, one involving a disaffected young man of Somali heritage who was helped along by the FBI to develop his plot and one involving a disaffected older white dude and his son who built the bomb all by themselves. The latter two killed a police officer and were convicted of aggravated murder. The former was arrested with his FBI-supplied dud bomb and awaits trial. Just guess which one folks call a terrorist.

    I know it is too simple but it is hard for me to not see this incident in Arizona as an angry (for whatever reason) young man who decided to take it out on a woman. He’s got plenty of resources available to him that will tell him this is reasonable.

  36. FrauTech on 10 Jan 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    I’m not sure fewer guns would necessarily equate to fewer murders if at core you have a violent society. I guess given all this took place in Arizona I’m surprised there was no person there with their own concealed weapon who couldn’t take out the perp.

    I definitely support more regulations around gun ownership, but I think a lot of people misunderstand what that can do in effect. I’m not sure what the magazine limit is in Arizona, but say it was the more strict 10 rounds in California. Meaning any magazine in any gun can not carry more than 10 rounds. Unfortunately, most people who go on killing sprees or commit these crimes are able to separately purchase larger magazines from out of state. Modifying a rifle from semi-automatic to automatic is ridiculously easy. I know it’s fun to focus on these very few mass killing cases, but most murders/violence in this country are not mass killings and restricting legal magazine size doesn’t do anything for the majority. And with a gun owning culture, sure you could outlaw ALL guns but there’s enough of the culture here that you can bet criminals will still get their hands on them. I support longer waiting periods and more strict registration requirements to become a gun owner. I don’t think a mental health evaluation would be out of order. I think efforts that focus on the licensing and the people would be loads more effective. Unfortunately, people just throw around words like “automatic” or “semi-automatic” without knowing what it means. To me it’s like the war on drugs, you can punish all you want but not focusing on treating addiction or causes of addiction is folly.

  37. rustonite on 10 Jan 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    My sister is a psychiatrist who does psychological assessments for hospitals- basically, her job is to decide if, when and for how long someone should be committed. She does all ages, but she focuses on adolescents/young adults. She’s said that it’s very, very hard to make a determination on someone under the age of 25 without cut and dried, screamingly obvious symptoms, because in that age range the “normal” range of behaviors includes acts that in adults would be signs of a psychological condition. In her words, “everyone under the age of 18 is a sociopath, and that’s normal.”

    There was really very little his family or school could have done before this incident, even if he had been to a mental health professional. All of his earlier behaviors were on the immature end of the normal range. If anything, it’s a compelling argument for increasing the age at which one can purchase a firearm to 21 or 25 (which will never happen, but still).

  38. The Rebel Lettriste on 10 Jan 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    I agree that nothing will change. And I also agree with Historiann that the salient information is not whether Loughner was deranged (which he was/is. Just look at his mug shot, where he is smiling this terrible cracked smile), but that he was a deranged young man with access to automatic weapons. Male + deranged + guns = not good for the rest of us.

    What may happen is that there will be legislation proposed to LOOSEN Arizona’s already lax gun control laws–the better to arm the average citizen so that s/he could take out the Loughners of the world.

  39. FrauTech on 10 Jan 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    The Rebel Lettriste- I don’t see how AZ laws could get more loose. I mean, it sort of negates their argument by the fact that nobody else in that supermarket had a gun and could take down the shooter. That’s an extremely common gun rights argument (mutually assured destruction). I’m not sure what else the AZ gun lobby could ask for. I mean sure, hummer-mounted artillery guns or personal RPGs but I don’t know how any of those could be argued as effective to have stopped this.

    I like rustonite’s idea for age limits. I’m not sure if there are any age limits currently, I’m pretty sure children can own shotguns at least possibly rifles.

  40. LadyProf on 11 Jan 2011 at 1:07 am #

    Thirding the insight by Perpetua and others about ascribing dangerousness to the Other and safety/entitlement to the dominant. If you’re a member of the ruling caste and you hurt other people, it’s terribly important for all of us to remember that you acted alone. Your sickening behaviors must never be ascribed to any other member of your caste. That would be wrong–it would be discrimination! Meanwhile, those of us outside the dominant caste have to worry every time one of our sub-tribe acts out or is perceived to have done so.

    Women make handy repositories for blame whenever a man harms other people. See, for example, the blog chatter that claims the Arizona homicides were Sarah Palin’s fault.

  41. Feminist Avatar on 11 Jan 2011 at 6:02 am #

    On the ‘under 18s are sociopaths’ theme- as a non-US person who watches a lot of US tv, it often strikes me how violent depictions of high school are in the US, like in Glee. The constant bullying in hallways, the pent up anger in almost every social group in the school, and the acting out violently against each other actually shocks me- and is not ‘normal’ (that is for all teenagers in all times and places) in my opinion. Many, many of the acts- like slushies in the face, let alone more violent acts- would have a child expelled immediately in a UK school (perhaps the reality is also different in the US)- but it troubles me that this sort of violence between teenagers is seen as ‘normal’. Or, that high school is portrayed as something to be ‘survived’ until adulthood when ‘things get better’. What other social group- perhaps other than criminals- would you put in to an institution and allow them to torture each other for several years, with no redress or avenue of escape.

  42. Historiann on 11 Jan 2011 at 8:51 am #

    Feminist Avatar: in case you forgot, we’re AMERICANS!!! That means that we’re entitled to representation without taxation, because any money or resources put into schools (or prisons) detract from where all of the money and authority should reside: in the patriarchal, heteronormative, nuclear family. If parents of high-school aged children really loved them, they’d devote the full-time resources of one parent (guess which one?) to home schooling them!

    Just look how well his family’s loving care worked out for Jared Loughner and his fellow Tucsonites!

    FWIW, I don’t watch Glee or any teenybopper shows, but my bet is that the conflict and violence they depict are amped up for dramatic effect. But I think your point stands: how do violent representations of high school affect children’s (and adult) expectations of what’s normal in high school?

  43. Feminist Avatar on 11 Jan 2011 at 10:34 am #

    Oh, it’s the mother’s fault. Of course, why didn’t I realise?

  44. KC on 11 Jan 2011 at 10:34 am #

    I’ve seen Glee a couple of times, and that aspect of the show doesn’t seem to me to be particularly exaggerated based on my experiences in an American high school. I remember lots of bullying and tormenting, threats, the occasional kid arrested for bringing a gun to school–and I went to a fairly exclusive private Catholic school. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a violent school, but there was a lot of pent-up anger, a lot of acting out, a lot of (overwhelmingly male, although with rare occasion girls were involved) aggression.

    The funny thing was that the school had a rule that any student who got into a fight, even if they were defending themselves, was automatically suspended. You would think this type of no-nonsense rule would work, but instead it just encouraged the bullies who probably didn’t care if they got suspended or not. I distinctly remember a really messed up kid who decided to spend my sophomore year making my life a living hell, all because I “looked at him funny once.” He would threaten me every day, and he physically attacked me on more than one occasion. Stupidly believing in the “no fighting” ethos of the school, I never fought back, and as a result life just got worse and worse, until he finally went away at some point, but this was after many months, really a full year. I remember being afraid that the kid would bring a knife or a gun one day, but I never told the principal or any of the teachers because of schoolyard rules about not “squealing” on fellow students. I guess I just hoped somebody else would notice and put a stop to it, but nobody ever did.

    If I had it to do over again, I would have defended myself and taken the suspension. But this was years ago.

    And again, I just want to emphasize, this was at an elite Catholic private school, not racially diverse, made up almost entirely of affluent kids from the suburbs. I think white male suburbia produces quite a few Jared Lee Loughners, only a few of whom actually end up killing people.

  45. rustonite on 11 Jan 2011 at 12:43 pm #

    RE: KC, Feminist Avatar

    In the US, schools generally don’t suspend students for anything less than felony violence, because under NCLB, a suspension counts as an absence and will lower your funding for the next year.

  46. Stephen on 11 Jan 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    Historiann,

    I’m sorry you didn’t respond to Daniel Goldberg’s second/last post, because despite not meaning to stigmatize the mentally ill, that’s exactly what you did. I imagine you do not tend towards broad generalizations in your teaching or writing, but you certainly have here.

    Admittedly, you seem to have lost heart as you wrote (caps mine), but your words are worth revisiting:

    “…it’s clear that this massacre was the work of the same kind of person who ALWAYS engages in spectacular incidents of gun violence. It’s ALMOST ALWAYS a man, FREQUENTLY a young man (under 25 or so), and it’s USUALLY someone whose mental illness has been obvious to others for a long time….).

    The succession of conditionals only serves to give the sentence a sort of plausible deniability. The damage is nonetheless done from the start, as you “clear[ly]” identify the “kind of person” who does these things. That “kind” includes the incredibly broad category of people who are mentally ill. By some estimates, mental illness will effect over 46% of the American population at some point in their lifetimes, and over 52% of all people between the ages of 18-29 (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1ANYDIS_ADULT.shtml). 1 in 2 of our students is capable of a mass killing! No, wait, that can’t be right…

    And it’s not right even if you limit to 1 in 2 of our male students. According to the NIMH, 18-29 is not the age group with the highest incidence of mental illness (that would be 30-44), nor is there any correlation between gender and “mental illness.”

    Even if you forgive the broad generalization of “mental illness” and limit your discussion to what the NIMH classifies as “serious mental illness,” it still isn’t right. Here, 18-25 is the age group of highest incidence, but women are twice as likely as men to suffer (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/SMI_AASR.shtml). To be sure, the definition of “serious mental illness” is still quite broad, including many diagnoses that the lay person would not normally associate with violence (e.g., autism, eating disorders), but at least it’s a slightly narrower category.

    Unless you’re a psychiatrist (and often even then), someone’s mental illness isn’t obvious to you. That they’re “depressed,” “upset” — sure, we can tell that about other people if we’re sympathetic observers, but from a clinical standpoint, that’s about as useful as the way we bandy about the idea of someone being “totally psychotic” or “a complete sociopath.” To lump the mentally ill together as a group from which, among other things, mass murderers are “usually” drawn is, well, offensive.

  47. Historiann on 11 Jan 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    That’s strange. I was offended by the assassination attempt on an elected official that injured 13 and killed 6 bystanders.

    I’m not going to address the refined sensibilities of how we talk about mental illness in this post. That kind of talk, it seems to me, shades into letting the killers off the hook for their murderous rampages. (And as I’ve written here before, plays into a media narrative that becomes all about the murderers while the dead are ignored.) I acknowledged that the guy was mentally ill, because to me that seems more immediately clear and determinative of his actions than all of this talk about “the rhetoric” on talk radio and TV. The Tucson killer looks to me like just another dude who picks up a gun and shoots at women, children, and men, in part out of a sense of masculine entitlement.

    That’s what’s interesting to me, but I realize that might not be what you care about. Surely there are at least as many mentally ill women out there, and (the professor at UA-Huntsville last winter aside) yet they don’t pick up guns and commit mass murder. Go figure.

  48. KC on 11 Jan 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    The only woman who really went on a shooting spree that I can think of is Laurie Dann, who killed a second-grade boy in a shooting spree in Illinois in 1988. That was the first school shooting I remember growing up. It really scared me at the time, but compared with more recent events it seems tame now.

  49. Stephen on 12 Jan 2011 at 9:18 am #

    What your last post suggests is part of my point, exactly — being young and male may be significant causative factors, but being “mentally ill” is not. You mention mental illness because you see it as being “determinative” — my point is that it’s not. If you say he had X diagnosis and *that* was determinative, well, although you (and I) would be grossly unqualified to make that judgment ourselves, at least that would be a fairly focused statement.

    Personally, I hardly think aspiring for greater precision in language and fewer sweeping generalizations about broad classes of people represents “refined sensibilities” on my part.

    Nor do I see this as “letting the killers off the hook” — I see it as not putting the mentally ill as a group *on* the hook.

    As for whether the media focuses only on the killers, while the dead are ignored, while I’m not sure I agree with that view, I understand the point. Surely, it has in part to do with our inability to comprehend how someone could do something so awful. But how does reinforcing stereotypes and biases help our understanding?

    Nothing I said suggests that I am not, “offended by the assassination attempt on an elected official that injured 13 and killed 6 bystanders.” But since when does our moral outrage entitle us to slander the innocent? That’s the logic upon which objections to the Muslim community center near the World Trade Center are based.

  50. Historiann on 12 Jan 2011 at 9:36 am #

    Buh-bye, “Stephen.” Please find another blog to bother with your insults.

  51. KC on 12 Jan 2011 at 10:48 am #

    I didn’t see any insults in that post, at least no ad hominems.

  52. Historiann on 12 Jan 2011 at 11:40 am #

    I find the accusation that I “slander[ed] the innocent” insulting, especially when I was writing about someone apparently quite guilty of mass murder.

    This blog is not about the sensibilities of talking about mental illness and whether or not it’s polite to talk about the mental illness factor in mass murder. This is a feminist blog, and it’s my blog, so I can talk about what I want to talk about and ban whomever doesn’t stay on topic.

    This thread is YET AGAIN proof that gender is indeed the most obvious factor in mass incidents of gun violence. We want to talk about just about everything BUT the fact that it’s guys & guns that are the problem.

    Anyone who has a problem with this is free to take their business elsewhere!

  53. KC on 12 Jan 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    Okay, fair enough. I think you are correct in what you are saying about “guys & guns,” and I found Stephen’s first post in the thread overly accusatory. I just wasn’t sure if I had missed something.

    As I said above, I think white, male suburbia produces its fair share of Jared Lee Loughners, regardless of how we want to label their mental afflictions. I have nothing but sympathy for anyone struggling with mental illness. My problem with this incident is the easy availability of guns and the culture that encourages people to act out in violent ways.

  54. Is “gringo” offensive? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 15 Jan 2011 at 9:11 am #

    [...] a break.  The only people I’ve seen or heard mention the murderer’s race are a couple of commenters on this [...]

  55. mandor on 18 Jan 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    I thought of this post today when I read echidne’s post Did Misogyny Influence Jared Loughner? All sorts of evidence of his hatred towards women it seems.

  56. Historiann on 18 Jan 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    mandor: I read the evidence from the Times story last night, but didn’t have the heart to write about him again. This is why I think he has more in common with the other mass murderers we’ve heard from over the past few years: VTech, Northern Illinois, the guy who murdered women in his health club in Pittsburgh. Many, if not most of all of the murderers I’ve written about here over the past three years are or were sexist heterosexual men who have (duh!) dysfunctional relationships with women.

    Thanks for the link to Echnidne. It’s all so utterly predictable. (And here’s more for the folks who think that too few guns are the problem: two CA high school students accidentally gravely injured by a gun brought to school by a classmate.)

  57. The gendered expressions of mental illness and violence : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 26 May 2011 at 7:24 am #

    [...] sure you all heard yesterday or this morning that the Tucson gunman who intended to assassinate U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and who murdered 6 of … was found incompetent to stand trial for his crimes.  Instead, Jared Loughner “will [...]

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