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Searching For Motive

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Tim Craig reports in the WaPo, "State police officials said Thursday that it will take months to determine why Adam Lanza massacred students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as investigators struggle to assess his mental state prior to the shootings."  Among other problems, Lanza attempted to destroy his hard drive, so it will take some special techniques to get any useful information from it.

This is just one more way that this case contradicts our initial thoughts.  Some in the media, both old and new, were saying immediately afterward that the media should not mention Lanza's name, show his picture, or ask about him, because postmortem infamy is what motivates killers in these kinds of cases.  Yet it appears in this instance that Lanza tried to conceal, rather than promote, whatever it was that motivated him.

Charles Krauthammer has this column, also in the WaPo.  He has no problem in principle with gun control but notes that the last assault weapons ban did not work and the new legislation being proposed will not work, either.  Lanza would have killed just as many children if he had been armed with a weapon that was not classifiable as an "assault weapon."  Psychiatrist Krauthammer notes the problem with involuntary commitment laws and how stronger ones might have allowed Jared Loughner to be committed, but as Steve pointed out on this blog, it is unlikely that would have made a difference in Lanza's case.

More generally on the search for solutions, Debbie Dingell has this op-ed:
Demonizing the NRA or gun owners in general gets us nowhere. A fresh round of old proposals for gun-control laws won't work and will be followed by the renewed frustration of different factions going to their respective corners to fight instead of seeking real solutions.

We, as Americans, need to be willing to acknowledge that we have serious social problems and have to get at the root causes for so many of these horrific scenes: mental illness, failing educational systems, lack of job opportunities, the disintegration of families. We need communities more willing to identify behavior problems early on, to express zero tolerance for bullying, to implement processes that protect individual liberties yet flag potential problems.

Most important, we must remove the stigma of mental illness so that those who need help get help. We need law enforcement agencies that understand problems when they are identified, along with systems that support parents, teachers and employers in intervening and getting help to those who need it.

I don't have all the answers. But I know two things. Decades later, I still feel the fear of that night when I was 12 years old. And while ordinary Americans do not need access to assault weapons, I also know that banning all guns won't "fix" the problem. We need a new dialogue that doesn't pit people against each other but that focuses on how we all work together so that all Americans, especially our children, can feel and know they are safe.

Okay.  The dialogue needs to include a frank discussion of our downward cultural spiral, a subject Dingell touches around the edges.  The decline of personal responsibility and sense of duty lies at the core of much of our problems.  Instilling in our children that sense of responsibility needs to be a primary goal as we move forward.

3 Comments

We are a culture, as Krauthammer puts it, soaked in violence. You can't even watch a Sunday afternoon football game without ads for realistic horror movies and shot 'em up video games.

I never realized this with such acuity until I had children.

I'm not saying that there's a 1:1 correlation between violent video games, horror movies, gangster rap, etc and violent behavior, but it's just ludicrous for people to dismiss it outright. After all we are social creatures and we're shaped by our environment.

It is difficult to attribute motive to this individual, but not so hard to find evidence of the motivations and triggers of the class of mass shooters. Clayton Cramer's 1993 article was an excellent insight.

In Australia, we have a laboratory that compared with the USA is much more limited in cross-state influences and weapon sources. Media is more national, less of a cacophony of competing voices. We are more able to isolate the actual likely influences on a killer. My article here http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=14495 shows that the partnership of activists and media activism in current affairs influences the killers to get weapons and form the possibility of committing massacres in their minds, while the actual event is often triggered by an imitative model from anywhere in the world, but presented to the killer by media. The astonishing value of publicity (creating significance of a killers name, face and words) is an offer of such reward to a person willing to follow the plans the media offer, and actually do it.

References for this article are in its first comment.

Because you are signing in through yahoo.com, and it does not provide a recognizable user name, can you "sign" your comments in the text? Thanks.

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