When 20-year-old Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and murdered 26 people, most of them children, after killing his own mother at home, the nation went into one of its periodic orgies of recrimination—mostly directed at the National Rifle Association, which had to shut down its Facebook and Twitter accounts thanks to the high level of abuse pouring in. The left-wing politicians and the media went on a crusade to regulate so-called assault rifles, with some even calling for an outright ban on private ownership of handguns. It didn’t and doesn’t matter to such people that less than four percent of such crimes are committed with assault rifles: The facts are only utilized when they serve the left’s agenda.
This same crowd is convinced mass killings are on the rise, and the media is certainly giving us that impression. And yet it isn’t true. Criminologist Grant Duwe, who has written a history of mass murders in this country, points out that, while such incidents increased between the 1960’s and the 1990’s, a significant drop occurred in the 2000’s.
The narrative we are being sold is that there’s an “epidemic” of “gun violence” in America, and the only way to stop it is to crack down on gun ownership. Yet if these amateur epidemiologists would take a closer look at the statistics, they might discover an even more disturbing story—one not so easily ameliorated by legislation.
While Duwe notes mass murder “was nearly as common during the 1920s and 30s as it has been since the mid-1960s,” the circumstances surrounding these acts and the profiles of the perpetrators have undergone some alarming changes. While the spike in mass killings earlier in the century consisted mostly of familicides and Mafia-style hit jobs, in the 1960’s these outbreaks of horror began to take a turn toward mass public shootings, usually by adult male “loner” types with suicidal tendencies, directed at random targets. Richard Speck, who killed eight nurses in a rampage deemed “the crime of the century,” and Charles Whitman, the Texas “tower murderer,” launched a decade of killing sprees in which the perpetrator gunned down total strangers in a public space. Before this, such crimes were almost unknown: There was nearly always some personal or pecuniary motive. In these new cases, however, the “motive” was a scattershot rage aimed at the world rather than at any particular persons. They were, in short, the work of mad men. The spike of mass killings in the United States in the 1960’s was not “unprecedented,” but the nature of these killings was.
This development takes an even more disturbing turn when we look at two new factors: the venue of the killings and the age of the perpetrators. In the 1990’s, there was an outbreak of mass killings in schools, exemplified by the infamous Columbine incident—and the killers were juveniles. Before this, the perpetrators had all been adults, such as Andrew Kehoe, who, in 1929, killed 43 children in Bath, Michigan, in a series of bomb attacks following his defeat in a school-board election; and Patrick Purdy, a 24-year-old drifter whose racial animus ended in the slaughter of five Asian youngsters in a Cleveland schoolyard. Juvenile multiple killers had previously only targeted their parents and siblings, or been involved in gang-related violence. “The series of school massacres that began in 1997,” writes Duwe, “was . . . to a large extent a historically new phenomenon.”
Nearly all of these killers are “nerdy” types generally disdained or ignored by their peers. Adam Lanza was this sort: “You could tell he was, I would say, a genius,” said a neighbor and schoolmate. “There was something that was above the rest of us.” At age 14 he was correcting his fellows’ Latin homework; he left high school and took college courses at the age of 16. Although no longer a teenager when he committed his heinous crime, he looked and acted much younger, with none of the self-assurance one would normally associate with an adult. From a well-heeled home, he is described as having Asperger’s syndrome. He was, in short, the archetypal Outsider.
This has nothing to do with guns, and everything to do with an epidemic of madness in our children, which seems inextricably bound up with our culture. The sickness manifests itself in a thousand ways: the breakdown of the family (Lanza was reportedly devastated by his parents’ divorce); the degeneration of our public-school system (which typically has little to offer the student of high intelligence); and the general immiseration of American culture.
With instances of autism and Asperger’s on the increase, one has to wonder if mankind has reached a plateau, with the human prospect pointing to a road that goes downhill the rest of the way. Is Adam Lanza the prototype of humanity’s future, maladjusted sorts whose growing numbers prefigure an evolutionary dead end? Does the human race have imprinted in its genes—or its soul—an internal clock scheduled to stop sometime in the not-too-distant future?
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
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