'that's when it ... got started: When I began thinking I was special'
November 21, 2014 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Since September 11, 2001, according to the START terrorism database, there have been twenty lethal terrorist attacks in the United States, resulting in the deaths of forty-six people. There have been, at most, a handful of assassinations. According to the FBI, from 2001 to 2011, there have been nearly 250 mass shootings, defined as the death of four or more people. According to USA Today, whose data on mass shootings is considered at least as reliable as the FBI's, there have been 191 mass shootings since 2006, with 34 described as "public" shootings—seemingly random events, stranger to stranger. Nearly a thousand people have died; many more have been wounded. What America feared after the 9/11 attacks—that it would be perpetually attacked by outsiders calling themselves Americans—finally has transpired, only with an awful twist: It is perpetually attacked by Americans who call themselves outsiders.

American Psychological Association: Threat assessment in action - "Psychologists are leaders in the growing field of threat assessment, working with law enforcement and security professionals to prevent violence before an attacker strikes."

The Role of Warning Behaviors in Threat Assessment: An Exploration and Suggested Typology [PDF], Meloy, Hoffmann, Guldimann and James, Behavioral Sciences and the Law, Behav. Sci. Law (2011)

School and Campus Threat Assessment: Past Lessons & Future Issues [PDF] and The School Shooter: A THREAT ASSESSMENT PERSPECTIVE [PDF] from the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.

Premeditated Mass Shootings in Schools: Threat Assessment, Twemlow et al. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Volume 41, Issue 4, Pages 475–477, April 2002, and PubMed.
posted by the man of twists and turns (47 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
You can throw all the statistics and facts you want at it, but gun rights so GTFO.

It's utterly mind-bending to me.
posted by nevercalm at 11:07 AM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


The threat assessment angle in this is fascinating, but...

I recall reading somewhere that the growth of mass shooting incidents is best attritbuted to the non-stop media focus on their motives and mindstate. That, for damaged or troubled young men who feel unheard and hopeless, seeing an entire country spending days weeks or even months focused with laser precision on what went through a shooter's mind is basically the best way they can imagine to be heard and make a name for themselves.

Talking about our country's misaligned focus on what threats to prevent is great. This article feels more like part of the problem, though.
posted by shmegegge at 11:14 AM on November 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


I can buy a gun with no background check, but I have to take my shoes off at the airport.
posted by entropone at 11:20 AM on November 21, 2014 [8 favorites]


This Charlie Brooker piece featuring Dr. Park Dietz always comes to mind.
posted by pipeski at 11:22 AM on November 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think this phenomenon is a testament to the utter inadequacy of US mental health care.
posted by bearwife at 11:24 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can buy a gun with no background check, but I have to take my shoes off at the airport.

Feet so fab they are absolutely dynamite?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:27 AM on November 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


An interesting thing about the rise of mass killers is the simultaneous decline of serial killers. Why is that?

A half-baked theory: Could it be as simple as security cameras? In the past, a serial killer who wanted attention could capture the nation's fear for months; a serial killer who didn't want attention could keep going for years. Being a serial killer is much harder with all-pervasive surveillance that we have now, so if you want to do lots of killing, mass killing is now the only practical option.

Could it be as simple as that, or is there something psychological/generational going on?
posted by clawsoon at 11:29 AM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Gun rights are white rights, the "war on terrorism" is fear of the foreigner.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:30 AM on November 21, 2014 [13 favorites]


That first bit? Just preamble, ignore it. The second half of the 2nd is all you need apparently.

Most stringent gun regulation on the books and its on THE book, too bad the fab five on the supreme court didnt feel like it was worth the paper its printed on.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:32 AM on November 21, 2014


entropone: "I can buy a gun with no background check, but I have to take my shoes off at the airport."

Like I always like to point out to you kneejerk liberals - THERE AIN'T NO RIGHT TO SHOES IN THE CONSTITUSHUN.
posted by symbioid at 11:32 AM on November 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


"The School Shooter: A THREAT ASSESSMENT PERSPECTIVE" is from 1999. Just wanted to point that out.
posted by I-baLL at 11:33 AM on November 21, 2014


Talking about our country's misaligned focus on what threats to prevent is great. This article feels more like part of the problem, though.

On the other hand, just not talking about it in the hope that deliberate silence can protect us from the anger of violent men has a nauseating familiarity, and doesn't seem like a just or rational response.
posted by clockzero at 11:36 AM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


I recall reading somewhere that the growth of mass shooting incidents is best attritbuted to the non-stop media focus on their motives and mindstate.

I think I saw a UK "Newswipe" segment that made such an argument, but it doesn't explain why, say, the widespread coverage of the Anders Breivik shooting in Norway didn't produce more mass shooters in that country. In addition, increases in mass shootings in the United States seemed to have had the paradoxical effect of decreasing coverage of the topic over time, both because news media folks are scared by the flak they get from gun owners and also because a mass shooting where "merely" two or three people are killed is sadly no longer considered as newsworthy.
posted by jonp72 at 11:36 AM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Like I always like to point out to you kneejerk liberals - THERE AIN'T NO RIGHT TO SHOES IN THE CONSTITUSHUN.

Wasn't there something about "well regulated" in there though?
posted by Talez at 11:36 AM on November 21, 2014


An interesting thing about the rise of mass killers is the simultaneous decline of serial killers. Why is that?

A Slate piece claimed sensational crimes play into a larger societal narratives:
What child abductors were to the '20s and serial killers were to the '70s and '80s, terrorists are to the early 21st century. After 9/11, fear of social unraveling has been replaced by anxiety over airplanes, bombs, and instant mass annihilation. Stephen Griffiths isn't the new Jeffrey Dahmer. The Times Square bomber is.
Except it ignores mass shootings, as highlighted in this post. But I think copycat crimes are a real issue, so if you replace the 9/11 nonsense with another broad
social collapse," you might find a trend, or not, depending on how you define "mass murder."
posted by filthy light thief at 11:41 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Speaking of school shootings, there's this rather harrowing close call reported yesterday from thejasond123, possibly the victim of first shot fired at the FSU campus shooting. Be sure to check the photo gallery (SFW).
posted by Catblack at 11:41 AM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


This fits well with the NRA's stance that the only solution to gun violence is more guns (Slate). That some innocent folks may get shot are a risk the NRA is willing to accept.
posted by tommasz at 11:44 AM on November 21, 2014


A friend of mine studies terrorism professionally, and unlike the linked article, she sees a lot of overlap between the mass shooters and the (mostly) young men who get swept into terrorism. It still comes down to young men feeling at a loss, feeling as though they're not meeting their societal standards, looking for a way to show/prove their manhood, their importance, to the world.

In the US, because of the media representations of heroic last stands and gunplay, it comes out looking like Adam Lanza. In some other places you get young British-born Muslims who are convinced by online jihadis that the best way for them to make a place in the world is to travel to Pakistan (or Syria or or or) and join up with radical Islamists.

There's something to that, I suspect. I do agree that in the US we'd be better off if we stopped publicizing the names of these kids, because a lot of it has to do with wanting notoriety.
posted by suelac at 11:44 AM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine studies terrorism professionally, and unlike the linked article, she sees a lot of overlap between the mass shooters and the (mostly) young men who get swept into terrorism. It still comes down to young men feeling at a loss, feeling as though they're not meeting their societal standards, looking for a way to show/prove their manhood, their importance, to the world.

Feel free to throw GamerGate into the mix, also.
posted by empath at 11:48 AM on November 21, 2014 [14 favorites]


Feel free to throw GamerGate into the mix, also.

While they are objectively terrible, I don't think GamerGaters have actually murdered anyone yet? Although it is interesting to note that both Elliot Rodger and GamerGate seem to have spent some time incubating in Wizardchan.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:59 AM on November 21, 2014


A long time back I saw this statistic that stated (numbers here all rough guesses) that when the percentage of single males between the ages of 16 to 24 reaches a certain percentage then war breaks out. The Middle East has been this way for quite awhile. What is it with young males? Either they are shooting at someone for real or they're shooting at someone on a screen.
posted by njohnson23 at 12:00 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Hartford Courant has an article about Adam Lanza and the spectacular failure that was his mental health issues. Even when all the signs are there and people notice them it still might not make a difference.
posted by Talez at 12:04 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Be sure to check the photo gallery

wow medieval studies saved this guy's life
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:09 PM on November 21, 2014


wow medieval studies saved this guy's life

Comment from a different posting of one of those pictures: "That book was so boring even the bullet couldn't get through it."
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:12 PM on November 21, 2014 [20 favorites]


While they are objectively terrible, I don't think GamerGaters have actually murdered anyone yet?

Some angry young men have guns, others have twitter.
posted by empath at 12:15 PM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I had to quick-edit my comment because with all of the abstractness in the gun debate, it's a nice (non gory) reminder of what a bullet actually does. It could have hit him elsewhere just as easily, and there would have been 4 wounded (or worse) instead of 3.
posted by Catblack at 12:15 PM on November 21, 2014


What is it with young males? Either they are shooting at someone for real or they're shooting at someone on a screen.

In case you have not noticed, we have a fairly fucked up society. We put kids in school for 13 years telling them: sharing is caring; the most valuable things in life are free; it's what you look like on the inside that matters; save our planet for future generations, etc. etc. ... while capitalism, materialism, superficial appearances, and complete disdain for the future of the planet are the actual powers that be.

We tell them that it's wrong to use violence, and to "use your words," and then, when they turn 18, we take the poorest and most desperate of men (and women) and train them as killers, all while our country bombs the shit out of whomever is the target of the month.

Confronted by the hypocrisies, inanities, and indignities of modern life, and ridiculously armed ... some men are going to blow. I am only surprised it doesn't happen more often.

What I am curious about is why they are all male.

The person with a gun—hell, an arsenal. The person we feel powerless against, because we don't know who he is. All we know is what he—or she—is going to do.

Nonsense. Name the one female mass shooter (I think she shot 6-7 people way back when I was a kid) in the U.S. ever. You can't.

From the "male" link above: "educators and officials probably need to view mass murders not as random events, but as stemming from a common cause."

Yeah, no shit. Growing Up Absurd is once again relevant here.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:17 PM on November 21, 2014 [18 favorites]


Feel free to throw GamerGate into the mix, also.
Jack Thompson's "overblown claims" that violent video games would spawn real-life violence seemed more astute than anyone expected. (Remember, correlation <> causation, but sometimes "contributing factors" need to be factored in) Too bad Thompson and his followers were worse scumballs than the gamemakers. Fortunately, a vast majority of the maladjusted young men drawn into #gaming aren't capable of doing anything bigger than making threatening meme images and posting them on Twitter, but a "Gamergate Massacre" seems almost inevitable, considering the overall atmosphere. And I personally consider Grand Theft Auto V's new "first person mode" to be just amplifying the 'giving them bad ideas'; sorry, players, but I always considered it violence-porn* and every upgrading of the graphics toward 'real life' is grossly irresponsible; but hey, since the game came out, mass shootings have ONLY increased howmany percent? (repeat disclaimer over correlation <> causation).

What I am curious about is why they are all male.
Of course, you could also blame "Feminism" for making more young men into "outsiders". After all, it is an unacceptable shock to many male egos that they are NOT the Center of the Universe and too hard for many men's minds to accept that they can't assume 50%+ of the population to be subservient to them. Elliot Rodger Syndrome - not as rare as we might wish.

*please don't tell me you've played it and enjoyed it; it won't improve my opinion of GTA, just worsen my opinion of you
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:31 PM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


What I am curious about is why they are all male.

Tend to self-describe as either Christian or Satanist, too, though that correlation's a lot weaker than the gender one. The guy who shot up FSU this week was very publicly Christian (that is, he liked to show-off and talk about how Christian he was on his FB feed all the time--he was a performative Christian).
posted by saulgoodman at 12:31 PM on November 21, 2014


Jack Thompson's "overblown claims" that violent video games would spawn real-life violence seemed more astute than anyone expected.

Really? Hasn't overall violence gone down pretty dramatically as video game participation has gone up?
posted by clawsoon at 12:34 PM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm a little curious about the number disparity. The Esquire article says nearly a thousand killed in the past seven years, whereas this NYT article says about half that many in twice the amount of time (486 in 13 years).

It doesn't affect the arguments, but it seems weird they're so far apart.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:37 PM on November 21, 2014


clawsoon, I thought that was due to the success in locking up all the black males.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:37 PM on November 21, 2014


I'm not proposing any connection between the two, BTW.
posted by clawsoon at 12:39 PM on November 21, 2014


clawsoon, I thought that was due to the success in locking up all the black males.

Are you even trying to be serious about this? I actually thought there was some recent study linking games and violence, but maybe I am misremembering.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:43 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


It gets complicated BECAUSE correlation<>causation but 'contributing factors'. There may actually be some types of violence that violent video games do prevent by providing an outlet (like the porn-to-rape relationship trigger or relief?), but for Certain Kinds of Violent Acts, the mass shootings which are an all-male, mostly-white thing... well, it's damned complicated and I'm sorry I brought it up, okay.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:52 PM on November 21, 2014


" Too bad Thompson and his followers were worse scumballs than the gamemakers"

Are you say saying that game makers are scumballs?

"upgrading of the graphics toward 'real life' is grossly irresponsible"

What? The original game was a pixilated top-down view of cars... I assume you mean the 3d version... Is the responsible thing to do not to increase the resolution of games? What?

For someone that describes Thompson and his followers as scumballs, your rhetoric seems to be in alignment with his worldview.
posted by el io at 12:59 PM on November 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


What is it with young males? Either they are shooting at someone for real or they're shooting at someone on a screen.

School shooter here. Have you read Lord of the Flies? We are just like that. No guns and we sharpen sticks.

Years ago, my favorite sport was going out in the woods and picking teams and having a bb gun fight. Or we would sit in the mall with a cup full of ice and a straw, chew the ice and blow it through the straw with incredible velocity at the back of people's necks. We threw snowballs at cars on sunken roads where the occupants didn't have a chance of getting to us. We lit things on fire and blew things up.

All the while we were getting bullied by big guys and our asses kicked in school while our Moms were freaking out about Speed Racer and the latest study about cartoon violence. We never told our parents we were getting abused by other kids.

We'd trained ourselves in methodical violence for years while never effectively fighting back against the guys who were making school hell for us. Those guys were on the HS football team at that point, lifting weights and snorting powder off their desks and popping pills to make them bigger.

One day, one of these guys grabbed the fries off my friend's tray and squished them into a greasy ball before sitting down behind me. I took that greasy ball and massaged it into his blow dried hair and everybody went "Ohhh!" He beat us both. The crowds were chanting and thick and staff could not see what was going on.

So we planned a school shooting. The five of us on the school roof during a night game with our school's greatest rival. Our school should have won, but the quarterback kept getting pinged in the helmet during crucial moments, wide receiver takes one to the calf and goes down, kicker takes a bb in the earlobe going for the extra point. Nobody could figure out what was going on because there was no sound at that range. They were looking for underground stingy things at half time.

We left the bb guns on the roof, mingled with the crowd, retrieved the guns later. Nobody figured the event out until years later, but when the football team started extracting bbs they did suspect us, and left us alone after that night. There was some respect. We suddenly started getting better grades because we were not afraid of them anymore.

None of them got the sports scholarships they wanted. Some of that was on us. Several became police officers in my hometown. My "fireteam" all went into government service. 3 of us survived and those cops are wary at reunions.

My son is half me and half my abused ex, and that is a genetic handful. We have a tradition of "stupid stories about my childhood" on Friday nights. I wish something better for him. His best friend is the smallest male in his class and violently stuck up for his friend until this year. Now he gets an adult. And adults seem better now.

And that is what I have to say about being a successful school shooter. Still think they deserved it.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:43 PM on November 21, 2014 [18 favorites]


Whenever people start talking about "threat assessment" I think of my friend, who has to this day never owned a gun, and the time he was pulled out of class in middle school and searched "for weapons and explosives." He's never, um, owned a bomb either, needless to say, and nobody ever figured out exactly what the deal was except that he'd drawn some stuff with weapons in it. Who knows, maybe another kid sicced the authorities on him to be "funny?"

So anyway I always think "who's going to be assessed and then what?" But I dunno maybe it would be good to have somebody a little smarter thinking about that sort of thing.
posted by atoxyl at 3:33 PM on November 21, 2014


An interesting thing about the rise of mass killers is the simultaneous decline of serial killers. Why is that?

Obamaphones.

Serial killers prey primarily on the poor and marginalized. At least in 2014, such people are within easier reach of the 911 system.
posted by ocschwar at 3:35 PM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Talez: The Hartford Courant has an article about Adam Lanza and the spectacular failure that was his mental health issues. Even when all the signs are there and people notice them it still might not make a difference.

But here we'll never know. He was a very sick young man, and his mother just let him drop out of the world.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:39 PM on November 21, 2014


What I am curious about is why they are all male.

Jackson Katz has a theory about why it's always young men; he thinks it's because American culture (among others) conflates masculinity with violence, control and aggression. His newest documentary on the issue, Tough Guise 2, is well worth a watch.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:00 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Take the high school student in New Bedford, Mass., for example, who told a teacher in 2001 that several of her classmates were discussing plans to bomb and shoot people at the school. The tip made its way to law enforcement professionals, who found bomb-making materials, instructions and plans to carry out a Columbine-like attack.
The New Bedford incident is the first known example of research on threat assessment being used to prevent an attack, according to Marisa Randazzo, PhD, the former chief research psychologist at the U.S. Secret Service. One of the investigators in the case had read a Secret Service report on threat assessment in schools by Randazzo and colleagues and reacted accordingly. Since then, there have been many more examples of other averted attacks, she says.
So this i s the primary success case that their touting as an example of the importance of 'threat assessment' (done by 'threat assessment professionals' no less).

But does it take a PHd to realize that if a student is actively discussing plans to commit an act of terrorism with fellow students, and the students themselves go to the school to raise an alarm? What exactly is the role of 'threat assessors' here? This seems a case of someone who is a high school teacher (no offense to teachers) figures out there may be a viable threat - and then they go to law enforcement professionals - 'hey, this kid has been discussing blowing up the school'. That seems like pretty easy stuff.

Now, later they talk about in another incident a shooter had written some troubling poetry. The thing is, if every troubling dark poem lead to a threat assessment team and law enforcement... Well, they'd be reading a lot of teen poetry. (disclaimer: I wrote some dark poems a long time ago, when a teen).

So it looks like there are teens that could have used some mental health care before they went off the deep end. Yup, we knew that. Are the only teens that might receive mental health care the ones that are deemed as a possible violent threat? (yeah, but we aren't going to start giving them the care either, so thats a bit of a nonstarter).

It's a bit ironic that a man with untreated psychiatric illnesses attempted to kill the president who slashed mental health funding (an article about this), but here we are.

Until we get back to a point where people with mental health issues have access to care, we can expect a ton of unexpected consequences. Adding 'threat assessors' into the mix to try to identify potential school shooters seems like adding unneeded complexity and diverting resources from basic mental health care.

Later in the APA link it talks about how most students that are threatened do not report it. They refer to it as a code of silence - to me it is a wise move for kids not to report violence or threats against it - schools allow bullying and kids know this is true (particularly against unpopular groups of kids or popular groups of bullies).
posted by el io at 12:04 AM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


After all, it is an unacceptable shock to many male egos that they are NOT the Center of the Universe and too hard for many men's minds to accept that they can't assume 50%+ of the population to be subservient to them. Elliot Rodger Syndrome - not as rare as we might wish.

I'm directly related to a school shooter. I held him as a baby. I grew up with his father (who killed himself ~5 years before the shootings), I've slept in the same rooms in his grandmother's house that he eventually did, I was born and raised in the same impoverished town where the shooting took place.

I remember his grandmother talking during a family reunion and she said "We tried. We took him to doctors and they put him on a handful of pills. We told them it wasn't helping so they just put him on more and more."

My father came from a family of 13, 8 of them boys. I have a picture (taken at the same house, coincidentally) from a 1981 family reunion where there are dozens and dozens of men and boys lined up. I'm on the far right, with my father's hands on my shoulders.

I think of that picture as the zenith of my father's side.

Five years ago I attended a funeral in that area and there were three of us remaining from that picture. I realized that I was the eldest male, save for one reclusive uncle who lives in the middle of nowhere and never goes out. I was only 36.

I don't know what the root cause is as to why all these men have died, but I do know that the shooter was born at the bottom of the pile of a proverbial meat grinder.

Yes, I know what literally killed my relatives - alcohol, drugs, suicide, diabetes, violence, neglect - but I also know that it wasn't whatever sort of BS "Elliot Roger" tripe. The fact that Metafilter fosters this sort of thinking is a sad reflection on the current state of the site.

That's all I've got.
posted by Setec Astronomy at 8:18 AM on November 22, 2014 [9 favorites]


The Mr. Yuck story needs to become a screenplay; pronto.

I think the trouble with today's youths is that the violence option is too easy to come across and execute. I'd prefer revenge in the form of a diabolical prank or vandalism that teaches a lesson but doesn't end in a funeral, like the climax of National Lampoon's Animal House.
posted by Renoroc at 8:33 AM on November 22, 2014


Fortunately, a vast majority of the maladjusted young men drawn into #gaming aren't capable of doing anything bigger than making threatening meme images and posting them on Twitter, but a "Gamergate Massacre" seems almost inevitable

Try 0.000%. An enormous number of people play violent video games. Pretty much none of them ever pick up a gun and shoot someone.
posted by straight at 9:01 AM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'd prefer revenge in the form of a diabolical prank or vandalism that teaches a lesson but doesn't end in a funeral

Just ends with them being processed into the juvenile system.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:06 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


The Mr. Yuck story needs to become a screenplay; pronto.

Thanks. I made some serious mistakes in the telling of that story. I was hoping to explain just how somebody gets so pissed off that they contemplate lethal retaliation. When Columbine hit the fan, I was a wreck. That could have been us. We were pumping the Daisy 880's and Crosman 760s far beyond recommended pressure and it is lucky we didn't hit anyone in the eye or puncture an artery.

The youngest reader of Metafilter is in my lap. "You did that?" I did. "That is illegal. Let's go back to the girls don't poop thing." I guess that there is some rough level of equivalence there. Boys don't cry. Girls don't poop. What a shame for all of us.

I just want this little guy to learn something from my mistakes. I could have gone to my guidance counselor or the bad-ass Vice Principal. (And why don't you ever hit back? You are too small?) We just wouldn't do that. My son is going to be different.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:48 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


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