The increase in indiscriminate mass shootings isn't just a media invention -- there's a pretty clear trend:
But why? Let's play criminal profiler for a minute. Describe the next school shooter. We know he's out there; the stats prove that. We know he's a he. But we know more than that, right? If you pay attention to the news, this shouldn't be very difficult: These guys are all nerdy or autistic loners who get bullied at school and play violent video games at night until they can't tell the difference and finally lash out. The Columbine shooters are the poster boys: goth outsiders who even made a Doom mod to simulate the shooting. These kids get picked on and can't defend themselves, and they see guns as the only way to get even.
Except it turns out that the Columbine shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, weren't bullied and weren't "goth" loners. In fact, they boasted about bullying the "fags" in school themselves. They didn't target bullies or "jocks" who wronged them (the bombs were supposed to kill everyone, including their friends). It turns out that Eric Harris was simply a psychopath -- an intelligent, charming mass murderer like you've seen in a dozen bad serial killer movies. Dylan Klebold was just a depressed kid who went along with it -- so even the two people involved in the same shooting had totally different reasons for doing it.
"No, that's too confusing. We'll just blame John Carmack."
So here's the bizarre, horrifying truth: There is no "typical" school shooter profile, other than the fact that they all tend to be depressed (which is not all that helpful for narrowing down a list of teenagers). For instance, the narrative after these recent shootings was "Don't cover these guys on the news, that's what they want! They're in it for the notoriety!" Sure, some of them are -- the Virginia Tech shooter sent his manifesto to NBC News -- but the Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, not only didn't publish a manifesto or leave a note, but actually destroyed his computer before he left home so nobody could go digging through it.
OK, what about the adult shooters who supposedly just "snap" under stress, like the famous "clock tower" shooter, Charles Whitman? He was an outwardly normal Eagle Scout and model Marine for the first 24 years of his life. When he was 25, he stabbed his mother and wife, climbed the University of Texas Tower in Austin with a locker full of guns and ammo, and spent an hour and a half shooting 45 people below. His example has become shorthand for "tightly wound guy who finally snaps" (fans of Kitchen Confidential know that Anthony Bourdain likes to accuse people of being ready to snap and become clock-tower snipers, and a narrator in a Farrelly Brothers movie says that "when his heart has been broken ... some men break down and cry like a baby. And some others take an Uzi and climb a clock tower").
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Most men just play a lot of video games and fall asleep whacking it.
Except Whitman didn't just "snap." In the last months of his life, he experienced terrible headaches and violent urges he couldn't explain. He went to a doctor, who turned him away, and in his suicide note he even suggested that they look at his brain to figure out what had suddenly changed. Sure enough, when they opened him up, there was "a tumor the diameter of a nickel" pressing on his amygdala, the part of the brain that "is involved in emotional regulation, especially fear and aggression."
Well, shit, that doesn't make the picture any clearer. You can try examining all of the elements of American society that cause these massacres, but they're hardly an American invention -- in 1996, an Australian man killed 35 people, which was right after a guy in Scotland murdered 17 children. You can try to figure out what it is about the mass media and the modern world that breeds these killers, but you have to remember that the worst school massacre in American history isn't Columbine, but an incident in Michigan where a farmer blew up a school and killed 45 people, mostly kids, all the way back in 1927. Why did he do it? Nobody has any fucking idea.
Our staff psychologists suspect he was a "total dick."
The truth is, we have no idea what causes mass shootings, and just about every case is different, no matter how hard we try to put the focus on the standard "pushed around until they finally take revenge" narrative.
And if you're not confused enough, let's give you a stat that will pretty much obliterate everything you thought about gun violence ...