Do social strains fuel mass shootings?

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

American exceptionalism and the ‘exceptionally American’ problem of mass shootings.

A makeshift memorial with crosses for the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre stands outside a home in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2013, the one-year anniversary of the shootings. The United States is, by a long shot, the global leader in mass shootings, claiming just 5 per cent of the global population but an outsized share — 31 per cent — of the world’s mass shooters since 1966, a new study finds.

On Sunday, criminal justice professor Adam Lankford stood in front of a crowd of sociologists to explain how American culture contributes to the all-too-frequent American mass shootings.A strange paradox is emerging in America: Overall violent-crime rates are down, but active shooter events — in which a person is trying to kill multiple people in a populated area — appear to be on the rise, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics. Bukaty/Associated Press) The shocking murder of two journalists carried out on live television this week has Americans once again asking questions about why these kinds of crimes seem to happen with such frequency in their country. It’s the social strains of American life — the false promise of the American dream, which guarantees a level of success that can’t always be achieved through hard work and sheer willpower; the devotion to individualism; and the desire for fame or notoriety.

The reasons for these numbers are complex, researchers say, but the data suggest that the availability of guns, and perhaps the American obsession with fame, may be to blame. Lankford quantitatively analyzed various reports, from the New York Police Department’s 2012 active shooter report, the FBI’s 2014 active shooter report, and international sources including the United Nations and the World Health Organization. An attendee handles a gun in the Smith & Wesson booth on the exhibition floor of the 144th National Rifle Association (NRA) annual show in Nashville in April. He focused on public mass shootings, defined as those that took place in a confined, populated space and resulted in the deaths of at least four people.

Early this morning (Aug. 26), a former employee at a local news station in Virginia allegedly killed a reporter and a cameraman on-air, while filming the shooting with a GoPro camera. A comprehensive analysis of the perpetrators, their motives and the national contexts for their actions suggests that several factors have conspired to create a potent medium for fostering large-scale murder. When an embittered former Roanoke, Va., reporter opened fire on his one-time colleagues, interrupting their live broadcast to ensure that his attack made it on TV, it was as though he was trying to prove Lankford’s point. The U.S. ranks first in gun ownership in the world, with surveys suggesting the rate to be 88.8 firearms for every 100 people in America, or 270 million total firearms within borders. (At a distant second is Yemen, with 54.8 firearms per 100 people; the numbers tumble after that.) There have been 292 public mass shooters who have killed a minimum of four people between 1966 and 2012.

His work discusses the reasons behind his finding, and in the context of the theory of American exceptionalism, he finds that there is indeed something uniquely American about mass shootings. Set those features against a circumstance the US shares with many other countries – a backdrop of poorly managed mental illness – and you have a uniquely volatile brew, the new study says. But the apparent desire to broadcast the crime places the killer in the same company as many notorious mass shooters of the past decade. [The History of Human Aggression] “Especially some of the younger ones — they want attention,” said Mary Muscari, a forensic nurse at Binghamton University in New York who has studied revenge-driven mass killers. “That’s why you see them wanting to have a bigger head count, a bigger body count, to try to outdo the last one or to do something that is going to cause more of a rise.” A person claiming to be the alleged gunman in the Virginia attack sent a 23-page fax to ABC News after the shooting, claiming to be influenced by Seung-Hui Cho, the killer in the Virginia Tech shooting of 2007. “He got NEARLY double the amount that Eric Harris and Dylann [sic] Klebold [the Columbine shooters] got,” the writer of the fax added, according to ABC News.

He aspired to fame — either behind an anchor desk, or, according to photos shared on his Twitter account, through acting and modeling — and he got it, in a way, through the TV and GoPro footage of the slayings. “WDBJ7 made me snap … they sure did. They are responsible for all of this!!!” reads a memo attributed to Flanagan in which he raged at former co-workers who he said harassed him for his race and sexuality (Flanagan was black and gay). There are no official definitions of a mass shooting, and varying ways of tracking the data — by fatalities, by total victims — can make finding trends in this type of violence difficult. Being American, for a large swath of people, can be traced to the Second Amendment’s guarantee of a right to bear arms; 65% of Americans believe it is their right to own firearms.

A person who arms himself with enough ammo to take out dozens but who only manages to kill one or two people would not be included in federal statistics that track crimes with four or more victims. But an even more significant contributor may be the very reason some experts think the U.S. has been so successful: its strong sense of exceptionalism and individualistic culture, something that American kids are taught from an early age. “There is this notion that in general, America is exceptional in a variety of ways in terms of our history: the degree to which we fought for independence, being the first and most successful country of our kind,” Lankford says. “If you teach your kids, ‘You can accomplish anything you want if you put your mind to it,’ it might be setting them up to fail.” Achieving a sense of fame and success isn’t always a good thing. The idea of fame is a repeating motif in public shooters’ confessions and manifestos, Lankford says. “The media gives these attackers what they want, and they want fame.” Globalization, too, has a role to play. A gang drive-by that kills multiple people would count, though the root cause is very different from the kind of rampage killings that occur regularly in schools, churches and theaters around the country. Consider the dominance of Hollywood and entertainment in the lives of young people worldwide, which is largely American and often violent. “We’re exporting mass shootings as well, and attackers around the world are copying what’s happening here,” he says.

At three deaths, Flanagan’s alleged attack does not qualify as mass killing — in the macabre hierarchy of violent crimes, a shooter must take four lives to be granted that title (this is according to Lankford’s definition — definitions vary). Domestic violence and gang violence often fuel these shootings and they remain largely misunderstood, though most experts agree firearm ownership is a big contributor to these crimes. It found that American mass shooters were more likely to arm themselves with multiple weapons, though they killed fewer people than shooters in other countries.

While both countries enjoy vaunted reputations as safe places to live, both (along with No. 2 Yemen and No. 5 Serbia) ranked in the top 15 countries internationally for mass shooters per capita. The rise in active-shooter events bucks the general trend toward less violent crime in the United States: Overall violent crime dropped 14.5 percent between 2004 and 2013, according to the FBI.

He points to Columbine and Sandy Hook as events that shaped enforcement procedure. “When Columbine happened, it took three hours to respond, in part because we didn’t know how to respond,” he says. “Do you prioritize helping people flee? Aurora theater killer James Holmes was found guilty of the mass shooting in August and sentenced to life in prison. (Andy Cross/The Denver Post/Associated Press) “Notably, these strains seem to transcend age and class. In America, students, adults, blue-collar workers and white-collar workers may all be somewhat more susceptible to the social pressures that, in extreme cases, can lead to mass shootings,” he writes. But the American notion that individual rights must be protected against the state’s powers comes at a cost. “Because of its world-leading firearm ownership rate, America does stand apart – and this appears connected to its high percentage of mass shootings,” Dr Lankford wrote. Multiple studies have explored the motives of mass shooters, and in these measures, too, Lankford suggests that uniquely American notions are powerfully at work.

When such dreams are frustrated, this bedrock belief in upward mobility predisposes some — especially those with a tenuous grasp on mental health — to psychological “strain”. The things that Americans believe make us exceptional — our emphasis on individualism, our sense of destiny, our wealth-and-fame-based standards for success — also contribute. For example, Switzerland and Finland, two relatively low-crime countries with high rates of personal gun ownership, had more mass shootings than would otherwise be expected. Increasingly in the U.S., especially among young people, becoming famous is considered the ultimate form of success. “Unfortunately, due to some combination of strains, mental illness and American idolization of fame, some mass shooters succumb to terrible delusions of grandeur, and seek fame and glory through killing,” his study says. Research published in July found that states with more gun-owning households had higher rates of firearm assault, robbery, homicide and overall homicide compared with states with fewer gun owners.

The Columbine shooters, for example, were considered vigilante heroes by other at-risk individuals in foreign countries who saw the fame the massacre brought them. They both sought fame and gained infamy by their actions, and their example has been cited as inspiration by school shooters since, in Germany, Argentina, Finland and Canada. Nearly one third of college freshman expect to eventually get an M.D. or PhD (though only about 5 percent do). “There’s a sense in which these aspirations are subject to that axiom that the bigger they are the harder they fall,” Lankford said. “If you’re reaching for the stars and you come up short, that’s perhaps more frustrating and devastating.” The reality is that very few people achieve the wealth, fame and prestige we’re all socialized to believe is our destiny. Bangkok: Embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has cancelled a speech at the world’s top anti-corruption conference as he refuses to explain $US700 million ($982 million) in his personal bank account.

Negative social interactions — lack of friends and mentors, failures in school — and mental illness can exacerbate the problem, making them believe that “their dreams are hopeless,” Lankford said. Mr Najib was listed as a speaker to the up to 2000 delegates from more than 100 countries attending the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Kuala Lumpur next week. Increasingly, however, the conversation has shifted to gun use for defense, to “stand your ground” laws and to the right to carry guns openly in public. “That’s a change in social norms that has occurred,” Siegel said. Public health campaigns could seek to push back, encouraging people to think of guns as recreational, not as something meant to be used against one another, he said.

Workplaces and schools — or, in Flanagan’s case, former colleagues — are the symbolic sources of their strain; by attacking them, shooters seek to exact revenge on the people and institutions they believe have kept them down. Malaysia’s government has become paralysed and deeply divided as the country has been transfixed for weeks on how $US700 million found its way into Mr Najib’s account in 2013 and where the money is now.

Allegations are also swirling around state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad which Mr Najib founded and oversees through chairmanship of a government committee. Mr Najib initially dismissed a Wall Street Journal report on July 2 detailing the money transfers into his account and threatened to sue the newspaper while strongly denying any wrongdoing. And at the same time, “the distinction between fame and infamy seems to be disappearing.” We are the country that gave rise to reality television and the phrase “I’m not here to make friends,” Lankford points out. But members of his cabinet and Malaysia’s anti-graft body have since acknowledged the transfers, calling them “political donations” from an unidentified Middle Eastern source.

We already reward people for being arrogant, aggressive and vitriolic with book deals and contracts for their own clothing lines and incessant news coverage. Malaysian Deputy Prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi last week claimed he had meet the mysterious donor who told him the money was to ensure Mr Najib’s administration was returned at 2013 elections. Malaysia’s opposition Justice Party has filed a suit against Mr Najib and the country’s Election Commission alleging the donations were illegal and as a result the 2013 election should be declared null and void. Switzerland’s Attorney-General’s Office said its case involved “suspected corruption of public foreign officials, dishonest management of public interests and money laundering”.

Scientists looked at the covers of People magazine issues dating from 1974 to 1998, and found that cover stars were increasingly featured for bad behavior — cheating, arrests, crime — rather than good acts (though there was a slight shift toward positivity after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks), according to their 2005 report. “There is a ‘fame at any cost’ mentality,” he said. Last month Singapore froze two bank accounts in connection with investigations into the fund and the Monetary Authority of Singapore said it would share information with Malaysian investigators. Analysts say Mr Najib’s hold on power has become even more tenuous as foreign investors abandon the country and the ringgit currency falls to an 18-year low. Jakarta: Eight Bali police officers and the Kuta police chief are being questioned over allegations that Australians were pistol-whipped and tasered by security guards and paid police a bribe after a buck’s night went horribly wrong.

However he said the police were asked to investigate after the Australian government questioned the Indonesian government over what had occurred following a report in Fairfax Media on June 21. Mr Hery said police were still trying to find out if the alleged incident actually occurred and if so, which of three possible police stations were involved. On average, each school shooting inspires 0.22 other school shootings, and each mass shooting inspires 0.3 additional mass shootings. (The fractions simply represent that not every mass shooting will lead to another. However the group is understood to include prominent nightclub owner Nick Russian, several former models, celebrity hairdresser Joey Scandizzo, Simon Phan and Dan Beckwith. The 16 men are believed to have hired a stripper at a private room in a Seminyak restaurant which was then allegedly stormed by private security guards with guns.

She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. One member of the buck’s party was allegedly smashed over the head with a bottle, several were shocked with Taser guns, while another was pistol-whipped and threatened with death.

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