(Editor’s note: If you want conspiracy, go here).
Since no actual changes will be made to gun control or regulation (thanks, NRA and the politicians currently taking your blood money!), I thought I’d address an issue with post-shooting armchair psychiatry. It never fails, after a mass shooting in the US, someone says “If only this crazy person wouldn’t have snapped, everything would have been okay”. To begin, we need to understand that there are several definitions of ‘crazy’ (insane).
US Legal definition: Mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior. Unsoundness of mind sufficient in the judgment of a civil court to render a person unfit to maintain a contractual or other legal relationship or to warrant commitment to a mental health facility.
US societal definition: Mental illness or derangement. No longer used in Medical form, instead use ‘mental health issues’.
As you can see, one can have mental health issues without necessarily being ‘insane’ in the legal sense of the word. Plenty of people with mental health issues (author included) can attend day-to-day interactions without blowing away a school. Important distinction.
The next issue concerns our uncomfortability with the human condition. We don’t want to think of ourselves as base creatures, capable of extreme violence or disregard for humanity, so whenever a tragedy strikes, we call the assailant ‘crazy’. After all, only an insane person would harm a child, right? Well, according the the US government’s Administration for Children and Families:
“In 2004 approximately 3.5 million children were involved in investigations of alleged abuse or neglect in the US, while an estimated 872,000 children were determined to have been abused or neglected, and an estimated 1,490 children died that year because of abuse or neglect. In 2007, 1,760 children died as the result of child abuse and neglect. Child abuse impacts the most vulnerable populations, with children under age five years accounting for 76% of fatalities. In 2008, 8.3 children per 1000 were victims of child abuse and neglect and 10.2 children per 1000 were in out of home placement.“
Were all the people in the above issues insane? No. Some may have been, but the majority were just awful human beings. In fact, some of the most extensive abuses came from people lucid enough to create intricate machinations of torture and death. From Pol Pot, Stalin, and Hitler, to the US’s own KKK, these people killed millions upon millions of innocent humans, and did knowing full well it was wrong.
So why do we want to run to the ‘crazy’ card? Because it gives us a false sense of security. We don’t do awful things, damaged people do. We are good, we are decent, we would never be like that. Every time a serial killer is caught, the neighbors go on tv and say the same thing – “He seemed so normal, we never suspected.”. That’s the point – he was ‘normal’, but he was also an awful person. Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, worked for the city, was a scout leader, former head of his church, and methodically killed 10 women over a 17 year period. He knew exactly what he was doing; he knew it was wrong; he did it anyways. He was evil – he wasn’t insane.
It may explain why when a person of color commits an atrocity, they are evil, but when a white dude from our country does it, he’s nuts. No one called for psych evals on the 9/11 bombers, they just talked about how evil the people involved were. Yet here, we immediately play armchair Freuds and proclaim a pre-emptive insanity defence. It’s the us-vs-them situation. They are terrorists; we are just a lone nut. They are evil; we are mentally unstable. They could have stopped themselves, we had no control. We separate ourselves from evil acts by assigning insanity to the aggressor to soothe ourselves as a society. Problem is, it doesn’t stop the next killing.
It’s all academic in the end. After all, in a week we’ll all take down our commemorative avatars, and go back to obsessing over whatever reality show is popular, and the NRA will continue its tireless quest to keep para-military equipment in the hands of everyone. Nothing will actually change, and we’ll all pretend to be surprised when the next mass shooting occurs. But at the very least, the next time around, maybe we can assume the assailant is bad before we assume they are ‘nuts’.