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Monday, 26 October 2015 09:39

Freitag commentary: Mass Murders in America

Written by  Carl Freitag

Posted October 26, 2015
Guns, People, Mental Health… cont'd.
A timely essay written two years ago.
-- SCPA Editor


Mass Murders in America

By Carl Freitag

In January 2013 I wrote the following essay in response to the mass murder in Tucson.

Of the top five rampage shootings in history, four of the murderers were diagnosed as psychotic in some way. Seung-Hua Cho of Virginia Tech killed 32 students. Adam Lanza of Newtown, Connecticut killed 26. George Jo Hennard of Luby’s cafeteria of Kileen, Texas killed 23.  James Huberty of McDonald’s, San Ysidro, California killed 21.  Charles Joseph Whitman at the University of Texas killed 14.

Add Jared Loughton of Tucson who killed 6. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Columbine who killed 13 and James Eagan Holmes of Aurora, Colorado who killed 12.

Almost all of them were psychotic. Many were schizophrenic and were known to be weird, had sessions with psychiatrists or counselors and were, to use an understandable term - “crazy.” or to use the more clinical term, “bonkers.” Of the 62 cases of mass murders in the last 30 years, 38 of the murderers had known mental health problems. Ironically, of the 62 cases of mass murder not a single one was stopped by a civilian using a gun.

Of the 30,000 plus people a year killed by guns most are everyday suicides or killings of one or a few people. Murderers in multiple gun killings are a unique group and are classified in one of three ways: as mass murderers when at least four people are killed in a single incident; spree killers, like the D.C. snipers who killed in multiple locations; and serial killers who do their work over a long period of time, like Ted Bundy and Aileen Wuornos. Here I am discussing only the first category, mass murderers.

The people I referred to as “crazy” were mostly classified as schizophrenics. Schizophrenia is a baffling disease. Probably all of us have had contact with one. We know that one percent of the population is schizophrenic. That makes three million people who might possibly have lost touch with reality. Once considered a functional disorder it is now known also to be genetic and physiological.

A schizophrenic not on psychoactive drugs is likely to experience delusions and hallucinations. Remember a delusion is believing in an idea or thought that is obviously false. Paranoid delusions are probably the most common and have the most dire consequences. Hallucinations are mostly auditory and sometimes visual. When they hear voices many think God is talking to them. A dangerous situation is when they hear commands because they sometimes follow them. The problem is a schizophrenic does not distinguish between their delusions and hallucinations and reality. They seem to be socially awkward and end up being shy loners. It’s difficult for them to make friends because they are weird, inconsistent and appear to be dangerous.   

There was a deinstitutionalization of mental patients about 50 years ago. We thought with so many effective drugs available to control psychotic behavior they would be better off not confined to a hospital. However, not all ex-mental patients have a loving environment to go home to and many were released to the streets, flophouses, homeless shelters and prisons. Many of the “bag ladies” you see are in this group. Of course, few of these uncontrolled ex-patients continued their medications.

Almost all the mass killers seem to be young men who have never been diagnosed or if they have, they do not get continuing care. Many of the individuals and their families deny that they are vulnerable and do nothing to help them. If no one is watching, even those who take their medications start feeling so good that they don’t think they need them any more and eventually have a psychotic experience.

Could we stop the carnage if we identified those who were most likely to kill? Apparently not, because there are thousands upon thousands who fit the description of troubled young men. The sad truth is the great majority who kill were outwardly normal people, are not on anyone’s list.

Even if we tried to identify every possible person who may turn out to be a mass murderer many will slip through the cracks. As the system is set up there are many wide cracks, plus psychiatrists admit they cannot reliably predict who is going to be violent. Even when the problem is obvious we generally do nothing about it. 

I think gun manufacturers and sellers welcome periodic mass killings since sales greatly increase immediately after the slaughter. It’s like the cost of doing business. There were people lined up at the Melbourne Gun and Knife Show on December 29, 2012 anxious to buy their assault weapon before they were banned. Bushmasters were selling for twice the price they were only a month before. Now those new owners can get their “Mancard” reissued as the ad for Bushmaster says.

Obviously the second amendment was designed to build a militia to support and protect the country and put down insurrection. The controversy over the amendment was settled recently when the Supreme Court ruled that all citizens have the right to own guns, but right-wingers have again rewritten history. They insist that the framers wanted everyone to have guns so they could resist the tyranny of their own government. That’s why they say they need powerful weapons like semi-automatic rifles with large magazines. This false narrative is used to prevent the banning of these dangerous guns and makes possible the increasing frequency of mass murders in America.

It seems we are looking everywhere for a solution that will not cripple gun sales. It’s like talking about lung cancer and not mentioning cigarettes. Since we are admittedly incapable of identifying and treating those most likely to kill, it seems logical to consider the availability of these dangerous semi-automatic weapons.  

We have already passed the tipping point of public concern. Now the gun lovers are becoming more verbal. Even the horrendous slaughter of young children will not deter them. As I wrote recently in a letter to the editor, …”politicians cannot deny that they think their reelection is more important than preventing the steady reoccurrence of these senseless tragedies.” Like the gun manufacturers, they think it’s just collateral damage or the cost of doing business.  

I expect that if the congress does pass a gun control bill it will be insubstantial and full of loopholes. A real law would ban all semi-automatic guns and large magazine clips. I have no faith in my government to overcome the power of the gun industry and the NRA lobbying arm so it is highly likely that we will continue to have periodic mass murders in America.

Carl Freitag is a retired psychology professor and a member of the Space Coast Progressive Alliance.


Last modified on Monday, 26 October 2015 09:44
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