Shots ring out, 14 are left dead, 29 are wounded and the shooter is dead at the scene from an apparent suicide. The motive is not known, but an investigation is underway. Stop. Does this sound familiar?
It sounds familiar because it is. Five of the deadliest shootings in the United States occurred in the last ten years. In 2007, 32 were killed at Virginia Tech. In 2012, we had the Sandy Hook massacre and 27 were killed. In 2016, there was the Orlando night club shooting where 49 died. In 2017, we have had the Vegas attack and the Sutherland Springs attack with a combined total of 84 dead. Since 2007, there have been 54 mass shootings. In the ten year period, from 1997 to 2007, there were 23 mass shootings, and from 1987 to 1997, there were 17 mass shootings. Based on the statistics available from Mother Jones, it appears that mass shootings are on the rise, but why?
The easy answer and indeed what appears to be the only answer is guns. Nearly every article written about mass shootings concludes that guns and assault weapons in particular are the problem. Without guns, there would be no mass shooting; the reasoning goes, but that is like saying, “Without cars, there would be no auto accidents. Both statements are of course true, but neither statement addresses the cause. Cars do not cause accidents. Careless drivers, distracted drivers, sleepy drivers, drunk drivers, and even texting drivers cause accidents, and guns do not cause mass shootings; psychopaths do.
Most articles on mass shootings eventually get around to the psychopath behind the gun, but it is done with great reluctance, and only after guns have been sufficiently blamed. The reluctance to label a mass murderer a psychopath is somewhat understandable. Typically a mass murderer has not been clinically diagnosed as a psychopath, and in fact, the term psychopath has fallen out of favor for a more politically correct term. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM IV) used by psychologists and psychiatrists contains a category called “antisocial personality disorder” (APD) which covers both the psychopath and the sociopath. While it is true, mass murderers exhibit antisocial behavior. It seems to me that referring to their mental condition as an antisocial personality disorder is inadequate to describe the morally depraved mind of a mass murderer. For that reason, I will use the more descriptive term psychopath. With that said, I will attempt to shed light on the question, why is the frequency of mass murder on the rise?
To be accurate both the frequency and the magnitude of mass murder is increasing. The impact of advertising, the moral decay of society and drugs are perhaps three of the contributing factors. Radio, television, and other media coverage of mass murder functions as advertising and encourages other psychopaths to act out at some future time. Often sensational headlines glorify the killing which inspires more killings. Headlines can also offer a challenge. Consider this headline from CBS News, “Two of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history come just 35 days apart.” I can imagine some psychopath reading that headline and saying to himself, wait until they get a load of what I can do. Perhaps a better headline would have been written like this, “Two low-life psychopaths dead at the scene just 35 days apart.” Sometimes headlines convey sympathy for the psychopath like this one, “He was the loneliest kid I’d ever met.” That was the headline for a 14-year-old that killed his algebra teacher and two classmates. The headline might have read, “Deranged 14-year-old murders his teacher and two classmates.” Certainly news coverage of mass murder is necessary, but the media should be careful not to glorify or sympathize with the psychopath and cover mass murder with an awareness that coverage can advertise.
Acting out in our contemporary society appears to be the norm. It matters not whether you are taking a knee during the National Anthem, creating riots in the streets, or merely changing your gender. Acting out is trendy and cool and is usually encouraged in the media. However, being trendy and cool is merely symptomatic of changing values or moral decay in society. As values change, actions that were once forbidden by society are now permitted. The more values change, the more permissive society becomes until you reach the point that psychopaths feel it is okay to act out their macabre fantasies. It is my belief that as values continue to be eroded, mass murders will continue to rise as they have in recent years.
This notion is borne out by the immanent Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung. In Carl Jung’s The Undiscovered Self, Jung mentions an element of latent sociopathy and psychopathy within any given culture. Perhaps 10 percent of a society is composed of latent sociopaths and psychopaths, and 1 percent or less represents actual sociopaths/psychopaths. Most of the latent people will never become dangerous if they are living within a culture that is healthy and morally balanced. In fact, those with inherent psychopathic traits can become very high functioning members of society who excel at careers in business, government, and the arts. However, in the event values continue to erode, latent sociopaths/psychopaths have the potential to become active sociopaths/psychopaths and act out as they see fit. It is a disturbing prospect to consider that the mentally disturbed 1 percent could evolve into 10 percent.
If the prospect of a growing number of psychopaths is not disturbing enough, then consider that the problem is compounded by the use of pharmaceutical drugs. Most readers will have seen more than one commercial for a drug with side effects including suicide and violent behavior. If you doubt the truth of this, then pay attention to the next Chantix commercial you see. Chantix is administered to smokers to help curb cigarette cravings, but it is 18 times more likely to be linked to violent behavior than other drugs. Even more interesting is the unadvertised psychotropic drugs administered to children. Today more than 10 million children are prescribed addictive psychotropic drugs with the warning the drugs can cause suicide in children and adolescents. In fact, according to the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System, the following drugs are linked to violence: Pristiq, Effexor, Luvox, Halcion, Strattera, Lariam, Paxil, Prozac and Chantix. Most of the drugs are antidepressants and are often prescribed for the treatment of ADHD in children. It is probably just me, but it seems we are taking the wrong path when we give children with mental problems a drug that will increase the likelihood of suicide and violence. I am not aware of any studies that link pharmaceutical drugs to mass murder, but it is interesting to note that Stephen Paddock, Devin Patrick Kelley, and Dylann Roof all had mind altering prescription drugs prior to their killing spree. Perhaps we are no nearer to answering the question, which came first the drugs or the psychopath? But should we deny the connection?
We can continue to blame guns for mass shootings because it is easy, and it fits a political agenda. However, if we want to know the cause of mass shootings we need to look elsewhere. After all, “The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions,” according to Claude Levi-Strauss.
Until next time…
A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.