A friend to this blog, Bill Dash, sent an email that asks an important question which arises out of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. The words below the asterisks are his (published here by permission); I'll have a comment or two afterwords.
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Yes, something quite strange seems to be going on. I’m referring to the way the phenomenon of an individual going “postal” and committing mass murder has turned into an all but routine component of American life. It started out as an almost exclusively adult aberration, but over the past 15 years or so adolescents and college kids have increasingly become regular contributors to this bizarre cavalcade of butchery and the corresponding national drama of breast-beating and finger pointing that flares-up before fading away until the next one.
The overwhelming majority of the time the weapons of choice are firearms, though not always. Which really isn’t terribly surprising considering guns are the most efficient and convenient means for killing that’s available to civilians in our period of history. Why knock-off Caesar with a flintknapped obsidian knife, when you can use a razor sharp Roman gladius?
But not that many years back these sorts of wild killing sprees where an embittered individual massacres a bunch of strangers were basically non-existent, yet modern firearms then were as just as ubiquitous as now, if not more so.
Civilian semi-automatic pistols and rifles have been widely available since the early 1920s. In fact, back in the twenties and early thirties, in many parts of the country, anyone, I mean anybody who had the cash could saunter into a good hardware store, not a gun shop mind you, but an ordinary well-stocked hardware store and buy a brand new Thompson automatic sub-machinegun with a 50 round drum magazine and all the .45acp ammo you wanted. Sears sold them mail-order. Yet, apart from their notorious use in gangland wars (the Chicago typewriter) and by professional bandits like the Dillinger gang, Clyde and Bonnie Barrow or George “machine-gun” Kelly, as far as I can determine no submachine gun or gun of any sort was ever employed simply as a murderously efficient scythe for reaping a harvest of homicidal rage, involving complete strangers. I don’t claim to have conducted exhaustive research on the subject. Perhaps a case or two may exist, but if so that just further demonstrates how exceptionally rare that sort of crime used to be.
Not only have semi-automatic handguns, rifles and shotguns been around for about one hundred years or so, as a matter of fact, soon after World War Two, the American market became flooded with inexpensive war-surplus rifles and handguns.
(One memorable example: The year was 1959, I remember going downtown one Friday afternoon after school let out early, to my favorite NYC Army-Navy store and seeing a group of scruffy, bearded tough guys in olive drab combat fatigues buying a large number of surplus M1-Garrand rifles. Turned out they were Cuban guerrillas. At the time, high-quality surplus rifles were so inexpensive that it paid for Cuban revolutionaries to fly up to NYC and buy over-the-counter weapons.)
That widespread situation of plenty of low-priced surplus guns lasted right up till the mid-sixties. Homicidal-maniacs and serial-killers certainly weren’t exactly a rarity at that time. Why no impersonal mass-murders then, I wonder?
But the fact is you do not need semi-automatic guns to go on a blood-drenched killing spree. Magazine-fed, cartridge loading, multiple-shot rifles and revolvers have been commonly available to the public since the mid-1870s. Though not quite as efficient as modern semi-autos, these weapons were and still are perfectly suitable for conducting a rage fueled mass murder. But the indiscriminant and impersonal slaughter of strangers or workplace co-workers only started becoming a regular occurrence in the latter part of the 20th century.
So what changed Joe? Do you have any hunches as to what may have happened to give rise to this new category of human time-bomb: the disgruntled and/or deranged mass-murdering gunman ? And why is it that such murderously dramatic behavior never evidenced itself in earlier periods of American history when guns suitable for mass murder already existed and were commonplace ?
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Cannon here, again.
I'll add this. The Sandy Hook Elementary massacre was committed by a young man frequently -- though perhaps erroneously
-- described as suffering from "Asperger's Syndrome."
This tragedy follows hard upon a horrifying tableau in Wyoming, in which a young man named Christopher Krumm murdered his father in front of the father's students in a community college science class. Krumm blamed his father for passing on Aspergers.
Although this disorder has received a lot of gruesome publicity in recent days, it was unheard-of until the 1980s. Many experts doubt that Asperger's even exists; the DSM will drop its entry
in its new edition.
I know a young boy -- the son of a friend -- commonly presumed (though not officially diagnosed) to have this disorder. He certainly displays many of the signs: The boy is highly intelligent, poorly socialized, lacking in empathy, and given to strange fixations and weirdly repetitive actions. His behavior is appalling
. Worst of all, he seems to recognize no connection between the things he does/says and the punishment he receives. Neither a soft nor harsh approach to discipline works, because the outside world simply does not penetrate this boy's consciousness. Bright as he is, he cannot discern a linkage between cause and effect; when he shouts blood-curdling things at his mother, he seems genuinely surprised when sent to his room -- each and every time. My dog
learns such things more easily.
When I was growing up, I didn't know any kids who acted in this fashion. Sure, many of my classmates were brats. Some were cruel, uncontrollable -- downright fiendish. But none were quite like this
Is the Asperger's diagnosis simply trendy? A fiction? A psychiatric catch-all term? Or -- odd thought -- has human personality itself
changed over the years?
I think that question links directly to the one Bill Dash has asked.
Adam Lanza, who was quite computer savvy, appears to have intentionally damaged his hard drive
with a hammer. He would not have done so unless there were something on that drive he wished to keep people from knowing. That hard drive must have stored an electronic diary or the logs of online chats or something similar.
He knew that such evidence would be recoverable if erased.