Comments on: Family responsibility, fantasy life, and American gun culture History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Fri, 19 Sep 2014 13:41:03 +0000 hourly 1 By: Historiann Tue, 17 Dec 2013 19:45:32 +0000 The murderer was something like 112 pounds, soaking wet. He was no hulking beast, so “testosterone” does not explain anything. Furthermore, he was dependent on his mother in every way. She fed him. She protected him from having to deal with any part of the outside world he didn’t want to deal with. She also purchased every one of the guns he used in killing her, himself, and 26 others. He was permitted to live the life of a secretive, violence-obsessed well-armed toddler by one person: his mother. She may well have had reason to fear him by last fall, but that’s because SHE BOUGHT HIM THE HOME ARSENAL.

If Nancy Lanza isn’t blameworthy, then apparently no mothering can ever be blamed. While in general I object to mother-blaming, in this case it seems entirely appropriate.

By: Kali Tue, 17 Dec 2013 18:52:20 +0000 “testosterone does not explain murderous rampages. Most men don’t behave this way, and most parents (mothers and fathers) aren’t afraid of their boys.”

However if someone is behaving this way, then they are scarier when they are bigger and stronger than you. I agree with Sweet Sue. It is quite possible that a lot of what Nancy Lanza did and went along with was because she was afraid. To blame her after the fact like this seems rather cruel. She was left alone with this ticking time bomb that nobody else was willing to help her with, and when that time bomb goes off, then it’s her fault of course for not handling that time bomb like an expert bomb-defuser that all mothers instantly turn into once they give birth, not of the others who left her alone with that time bomb.

By: Perpetua Mon, 16 Dec 2013 13:54:04 +0000 @Historiann and @Ellie – I was really struck by Ellie’s point about the coded language of affluent white suburbanhood, and immediately thought of what Historiann wrote in her next comment. One never hears of alienated African American teenagers going into a poor high school and killing a mass of people. Yet middle class white people spend an enormous amount of time blaming the poor for their poverty and violence endemic in poor communities. Yet when violence becomes endemic in white affluent spaces we act as though it is akin to a freak accident that no one could stop, prevent, or foresee, even though the same thing happens over and over and over again.

What fascinates me most about the Lanza case is the fact that he killed his mother. I’d be interested to read a professional profile of him for that reason. (If you look at family murder statistics, a son killing his mother is the *least* likely situation, by a significant statistical margin. Moreover, mass shooters generally do not hurt family members before their rampages. So clearly there are unique elements to what was going on here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the symbiotic – that’s not quite the right word, but perhaps you see what I mean – relationship that evolved between them made him feel like if he was going to die, she would have to die, too, as a kind of extension of himself.) But that is pure speculation on my part. I’m not a psychologist.

By: Historiann Sun, 15 Dec 2013 14:52:02 +0000 Sweet Sue: testosterone does not explain murderous rampages. Most men don’t behave this way, and most parents (mothers and fathers) aren’t afraid of their boys.

Ellie, you make good points about the denial operating within communities as well as families. White, middle-class enclaves are **exactly** where these mass-murder rampages happen: in universities, in high schools, and in shopping malls. To some extent, denial is maybe a reasonable defense against always feeling vulnerable. But denial also (as you and truffula suggest) lets people off the hook from recognizing problems with isolated young men & doing something about it.

That said: the Arapahoe High situation appears to be very different from the Sandy Hook murders in that the would-be murderer wasn’t socially isolated. Also, he apparently bought the shotgun and copious amounts of ammo himself, as he was 18. He came to school to settle a score with his debate coach, although the amount of ammo and the molotov cocktails on him suggest he may have intended greater damage than he inflicted.

A 17-year old girl remains in critical condition this morning. She was apparently shot in the head randomly.

By: Ellie Sun, 15 Dec 2013 10:40:35 +0000 Here’s the quote that jumped out at me in the NYT article yesterday: ““You just think you were in an area where it would never happen,” said Dan Sheehan, Megan’s father.” In a place so close to Columbine, where the same article says the kids have been trained since elementary school to respond to such a situation.

By: Ellie Sun, 15 Dec 2013 10:33:42 +0000 Just to clarify, it was truffula’s point about people not wanting to see themselves that got me thinking about the “This doesn’t happen here” response, although you were talking about nternal family dynamics. In terms of the political consequences, though, isn’t there a smilarly raced and classed set of assumptions at work there, too about when single parenting should be seen as pathological and this requiring society’s intervention?

By: Ellie Sun, 15 Dec 2013 10:24:11 +0000 I think truffula makes an excellent point–at the same time that American culture normalizes male violence in its collective cultural fantasy life, it racializes and classes that same violence in the “real” world in ways that also hinder legislative action. Hence the people interviewed last year in Newtown who said something to the effect of “This is especially shocking and horrifying because we didn’t think this could happen someplace like *here,* to people like *us.*” There was a very similar quote in something about the Colorado shooting just yesterday, where “here” and “us” is code for wealthy suburban communities and white people with money. The unspoken assumption, of course, being that such violence is something that happens “there” (cities) to “them” (poor people of color).

This strikes me as just as, if not more pernicious than the gun mag culture. Although coming to the question of gun control very much from an East Coast, urban perspective, I probably underestimate the power of the latter. There must be some interaction between them, at least at a micro level, given that the mass school shootings of recent years have all taken place in wealthy, predominantly white, suburban communities. Does the combination of an alienated, mentally ill young man immersed in gun culture + the suburban “It can’t happen here” attitude mean people are less inclined to intervene? I am struck by the contrast between such non-interventions as seem to have occured in the Lanza case, and the mass interventions that have been i stitutionalizes in many urban, minority neighborhoods, where every student is presumed to be inclined to armed violence, the prevention of which justifies extraordinary, quasi-military measures (metal detectors, locker checks, zero-tolerance behavior policies, etc.).

Rather than pitting one explanatory framework against the other, it seems important to ask how the different cultural codes around guns and gun violence interact, and with what effects on preventative intervention at the individual level and on political intervention at the collective level.

By: Sweet Sue Sun, 15 Dec 2013 07:06:25 +0000 Sweet Sue: most parents are no more afraid of their boys than they are of their girls. If parents are afraid of their sons, then maybe they should reflect as to why that is. Why were they capable of raising non-terrifying daughters but apparently unable to raise sons who aren’t violent

I’m not talking about parents; I’m talking about mothers.
Adam Lanza didn’t live with his parents.

Why were they capable of raising non-terrifying daughters but apparently unable to raise sons who aren’t violent

Adam was taller and stronger than his mother.

By: truffula Sun, 15 Dec 2013 02:52:13 +0000 maybe people will change their own behavior

I think many people writing about this story are looking for ways to not see themselves in it. As long as that is the case, there will be no substantive change.

I do happen to feel connected to the story through my own life experience (albeit mild in comparison). One thing experience tells me is that you can’t understand the behaviour of the son without exmining the behaviour of the father. I tried to write this above but was perhaps too indirect.

By: Historiann Sun, 15 Dec 2013 01:28:56 +0000 But in the absence of any political will to change things, how can change happen unless people look to themselves and their families? That’s what I liked about the Collins essay. We aren’t in control of everything in this life, but we can monitor and even control to some extent what happens in our own homes & families.

Blaming parents after the fact of a mass-murder isn’t very productive, I agree. But we can learn from these examples, I think, and maybe people will change their own behavior (start locking up guns, or start thinking more critically about their sons’ engagement with violent fantasies and the rest of society, etc.)