Guns and “Psychos”
We have brewed the perfect psychological storm: we’ve made the country safe for politicians and psychopharmaceutical manufacturers.
Boomers: Want to really feel your age? Picture yourself at age 11, gathering anxiously with your classmates at your school’s entrance every morning, waiting for your pals.
Did you run together through the door, down the hall, laughing and gossiping as you headed for your locker and “homeroom”?
Unless you’ve been living on another planet since the Columbine shootings in 1999, you know this scenario has changed. Unlike you, today’s youngsters run a gamut of metal detectors; conveyor-belts; “security” cameras; clandestine and blatant psychological assessment related to personal demeanor, clothing, and facial expression (“behavioral detection”); and now, in Texas, student-tracking devices, embedded in a card—for now. Rumors abound, and logical progression suggests that the next step schools will want to take is waiting in the wings: bodily implantation of chips in order to preclude having cards removed, stolen and worn by someone else. The RFID chip is a pilot project at the large Northside Independent School District, located in greater San Antonio1 with upgrades soon to follow. And those familiar with “pilot projects” know how they tend to be “trial balloons” to gauge public resistance before—kaboom!—a “better mousetrap” is suddenly mandatory and necessary.
Feeling safe yet?
The legacy of Columbine continues unabated. The list, just since April 2012, includes the Aurora, CO theater shootings, the Oikos University slayings in Oakland, CA; the Taft Union High School slaughter in CA; the horrific mass shootings in Newtown, CT; the Luby’s Cafeteria massacre in Killeen, TX; the carnage at the Stevens Institute of Business & Arts campus in St. Louis, MO; and in January 2013, the Lone Star College incident in Houston, TX; and more around the Washington, DC metroplex.
Leftist advocates’ long-held gun-registration and mandatory mental-health screening agendas both got a boost with the Newtown shootings, just as the stands for Barack Obama’s second inauguration were being hammered into place. According to polls, many (even most) Americans have done an about-face and begun advocating for gun control, for armed police in school hallways, for arming teachers, and for more intrusive mental-health screenings in elementary and secondary schools. Even David A. Keene, as long-time (26 years) chairman of the American Conservative Union, once the most prominent group allied with the founding fathers’ vision of small-government America and rigorous education, now as head of the National Rifle Association, announced in a Dec. 31, 2012, Washington Times column that armed guards in every school makes perfect sense.
Why not retrofit classrooms with padded cells while we’re at it?
How much time, after all, has it taken for the murderous cast of characters since Columbine to kill their quarry? Enough time for on-campus security personnel to repel an attack, even if they happen to be on campus?
Nope. It takes all of about four seconds to empty a magazine of 10 or fewer bullets. For perpetrators who have taken the trouble to practice on simulators that are routinely incorporated in today’s violent video games, only a few more seconds are required to change out the clip. Moreover, it takes under a minute to inflict enormous damage.
And how hard is it, in reality, to obtain a handgun—or even an assault rifle? Untold numbers of global manufacturers sell them. Any legislation to restrict guns or their use will suffer the fate of the War on Drugs. Only law-abiding citizens play by the rules. Unless we are prepared to tolerate armed regiments in every classroom, office, bathroom, hallway and shopping mall, no “police presence” can ever be enough to deter suicidal criminals from unloading their rounds in seconds.
As for the particular focus on assault rifles, it turns out, according to a well-researched January 23 piece in National Review Online, that “…an AR-15 is an eminently sensible firearm for home defense, particularly for young women,” who tend to have trouble finding a light-weight, accurate weapon capable of hitting an assailant with any degree of confidence.
Although, an anxious question from parents that appeared in Parents’ Magazine prompted Vice President Joe Biden to go on record Tuesday, February 20, 2013, “If you want to protect yourself, get a double-barrel shotgun. You don’t need an AR-15. It’s harder to aim. It’s harder to use and, in fact, you don’t need 30 rounds to protect yourself. Buy a shotgun.”
Imagine! Biden…advocating self-protection with a gun ….
Again, the question of whether a weapon would be handy in the surprise of an attack is problematic. With known offenders roaming the streets in search of prey, and police who no longer take violent crimes like sexual assault seriously, or for that matter, even a home invasion call, the issue of self-defense has never weighed more heavily on the public mind. Despite pollsters’ findings of a 180-degree turn on the general public’s support for gun control, it appears in that, according to an Associated Press story, even liberal Democratic lawmakers may be backing off support due to constituents’ second thoughts about personal safety.
Seemingly not at issue is a pervasive view that random, mass killers are clinically insane. This leaves in place a vast, legitimized mental health network, which Americans see as credible, if still inadequate. Yet, no one seems to be able to quantify psychological therapy’s positive effect on behavior—including the panoply of mood-altering (“psychotropic”) drugs that have become a major part of the “safety” arsenal.
If nonstop TV/movie violence—with guts spilling from every orifice—are not to blame; and violent video games that prompt players to not merely to shoot a cartoonish target, but rather to inflict as much pain as possible, bear no responsibility for the increasing carnage among the mop-head set, then are we to believe that today’s kids have inexplicably sprouted “crazy genes”? Wild and volatile impulses that surpass those of previous generations? Unable to explain the mass, random and senseless carnage of the past 15 years, it is no wonder that Americans are buying into a cottage psychopharmaceutical industry with little or no track record of success at much of anything, including quashing depression or crime.
What psychological therapeutics have done very well is to sell “magic bullets”—drugs that promise an end to mental suffering of every type and description. Feeling blue or overwhelmed? Take a pill. Under duress? Anxious? Take a pill. Angry? Resentful? Take a pill. Extremely frustrated? Having trouble with math? Can’t concentrate? Pent-up energy? Can’t get that song “out of your head”? Obsessed with dieting? Shy?
Same answer: A pill.
But has all this mind-medication paid off? Have these drugs quelled sufferers’ unwanted urges?
Psychiatric drugs come with nasty side-effects, requiring ever more of them to counteract the effects of the first—and the second and third. It’s no accident that advertisements for psychotropic drugs suddenly started coming with a caveat: a warning of aggravating the very conditions they were supposed to cure. Suicidal thoughts seem to be an across-the-board risk. More significantly, some 90 percent of school shooters were taking, or had been taking, psychiatric drugs.
Dr. David Healy, former secretary of the British Association for Psychopharmacology and author of the watershed whistleblower, Let Them Eat Prozac: The Unhealthy Relationship Between the Pharmaceutical Industry and Depression (2004)2 was among the first to detail questionable clinical trials and other anomalies associated with the class of antidepressant drugs known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). More recently, Dr. Healy said that roughly 9 out of 10 school shootings and mass killings involved psychotropic drugs—a ratio large enough to imply causation in violent behavior: “We are giving drugs to children who are passing through critical development stages, and as a society we are really conducting a vast experiment and no one really knows what the outcome of that will be.”
The official line is that psychiatric drugs seem to affect the level of serotonin and/or dopamine. What are the normal ranges, then, for levels for serotonin and dopamine? You won’t find them. No one will tell you. When asked, the experts seem flummoxed.
Dr. Healy may have been among the first of his profession to speak out against psychiatric drugs, but he is by no means alone. He was simply in a position to know more about the subject at the time he first wrote about it.
Many highly regarded professionals affiliated with no organization even remotely perceived as having an axe to grind or an alternate agenda, have also come forward; among them, Dr. Peter R. Breggin, a Harvard-schooled psychiatrist, former full-time consultant at the National Institute of Mental Health and a frequent expert witness at many high-profile trials. In a 2003 issue of Ethical Human Sciences and Services, a peer-reviewed scholarly journal, Breggin wrote that SSRI drugs were likely factors in suicide, violence and other forms of extreme abnormal behavior, as evidenced in case reports and controlled clinical trials.
But entities such as President George W. Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health ignored the admonitions then coming to light against psychiatric drugs. It was as if the Commission’s main task was to ensure that any dissent against psychiatric drugging was politically incorrect.
The truth is, we still know precious little about the human brain—certainly not for lack interest or trying. But we just can’t seem to crack the personality nut. Why one kid is bullied, tormented and ridiculed for years, and just laughs it off; while another bottles it up, becomes reclusive and one day seeks vengeance, nobody knows.
The mantra that everyone has heard, but which no one can prove, is that it is the mental illness, not psychotropic drugs, which causes violence. That statement is followed with the wisdom that too many people are being left untreated due to the stigma of mental illness. Maybe it’s the other way around: Too much time is being spent examining our navels—that is to say, nursing our grievances and analyzing out thoughts. What is not being analyzed is how the institutions that once suppressed out-of-control conduct—the church and the family—have been belittled, dominated by government fiat, marginalized and devalued. Nothing better reflects this trend than schools, which now view Judeo-Christian tenets as irrelevant and even suspect, and parents as convenient chauffeurs, but otherwise nuisances.
But unless we are ready to say that more people, especially children, are suddenly off their rockers, we cannot account for the tremendous uptick in random killings. Ergo, it is necessary to monitor, track, and assess individuals, not merely ensure they register their guns, if in fact they have a “need” to buy one, as in New York.
So, just how long before our ever-more-extensive tracking devices and gun registry programs take us down a familiar political path?
Psychiatry itself has already moved into politics, pronouncing certain views as mental aberrations, as detailed in Chris Mooney’s new book, The Republican Brain. In it, conservatives are characters as closed-minded, resistant to change, rigid and intolerant; whereas liberal, politically popular opinions are liberating, open, courageous and optimistic. “[L]iberals consistently score higher on a personality measure called ‘openness to experience,’ one of the ‘Big Five’ personality traits, which are easily assessed through standard questionnaires,” said Mooney.
Mooney is hardly alone. As if to lend legitimacy to this thesis, personality psychologist Robert McCrae purportedly conducted voluminous studies on personality; he is quoted by Mooney as stating: “Open people everywhere tend to have more liberal values.” Conservatives, of course, are characterized by Mooney as “…less exploratory, less in need of change—and more ‘conscientious,’ a trait that indicates they appreciate order and structure in their lives.” This dovetails nicely with the standard definition of conservatism as “resistance to change.”
Social psychologist, Arie Kruglanski, is held up as having “pioneered” research on liberal-conservative belief systems, and “worked to develop a scale for measuring the need for closure.” He insists there is a strong relationship between liberalism and openness, stating “[t]he finding is very robust.” Then there is the work of Canada’s University of Manitoba associate professor of psychology, Robert Altemeyer, who developed a Right Wing Authoritarian (RWA) Scale, to identify those harboring conservative “mental illnesses.” Add the University of London’s purported “findings” that conservatives have an enlarged “fear” area in their brains, with smaller areas associated with courage and optimism.
Add to all these a 2005 taxpayer-funded “study” out of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Science Foundation3, in which researchers representing three major universities worked to attribute notions about morality and individualism to “dogmatism,” “uncertainty avoidance,” and “mental rigidity.”
It is not surprising, then, that schools have converted much of their academic testing to attitudinal assessment. What they are assessing is the child’s “belief system” in an effort to launch a new field, preventative psychiatry—of which psychotropic drugs are becoming an integral part, ostensibly aimed at heading off mental illness in a sort of “preemptive strike.”
What else will this “head off”? Wrong political attitudes?
Lost in the debate over guns and “psychos” is a thread of complicity pointing directly to child experts, psychologists and psychiatrists. In the late 1950s, Sigmund Freud’s “humanistic psychology” and Abraham Maslow’s “self-actualization” theories merged and found legitimacy in the child care industry: mogul Benjamin Spock’s wildly popular 1946 guidebook for parents, Baby and Child Care. By the 1960s, Spock’s permissive approach came to be seen as a prerequisite for employees in the cognitive-cultural economy. Its ideas were filtering down into teacher education, social work, and law enforcement.
By 1968 and the early 70s, America got its first taste of the results: when “goofballs” such as the self-styled Symbianese Liberation Army started bombing police cars in the name of political causes. The SLA infamously kidnapped and purportedly brainwashed Patty Hearst, the daughter of publishing magnate Randolph Hearst.
Several of the SLA accomplices were finally caught: Michael Bortin, William Harris, Emily Montague, and particularly Kathleen Soliah (a.k.a. Sara Jane Olson, a “goofball” who grew up, changed her name, and tried to live a normal life until she was nabbed in 2010). But the culture had moved along. By the 2000s, a youngster’s smallest whim, no matter how ludicrous, was treated as worthy of serious debate.
Does Johnny want to flush his teddy bear down the commode? Let's discuss it.
The new focus on popularity spawned by the media in the 1970s had come and gone. The media made windfall profits hawking a “Generation Gap,” from which no one emerged unscathed. More-or-less innocent when it started, with harmonious anthems from young singers like Frankie Valli, Frankie Avalon, the Platters, and Brenda Lee, and popular shows like American Bandstand and the Mickey Mouse Club (famously featuring Annette Funicello), the climate wound up producing an unhealthy fixation with peer-approval—one which soon brooked no interference from parents, teachers or other adult authority figures.
A kiddie subculture morphed from Gidget to gangsterism to political radicalism and marketed itself to ever-younger age groups—with deadlier consequences. All the mush from entities like the SLA about “bourgeois” values, anti-war activism, and rage against “fascist insects” should have been seen for what they were: attention-getting devices. “Look at me! Look at me!” it shouted.
Predictably, groups like the SLA and the Weathermen (a.k.a. Revolutionary Youth Movement and Students for a Democratic Society) became funded and controlled under the table by various politically Marxist organizations, which stood to profit in a very different way. But child experts stuck to their, er, guns on permissive “parenting”, autonomous teenagers, and an education system built around self-esteem instead of achievement.
As for firearms, nearly every family had owned a gun or rifle in the Depression era, and through both World Wars. Yet, according to the archives at the Bureau for Justice Statistics at the Justice Department, which keeps old reports of noteworthy events, reports of kids absconding with their parents’ firearms and mowing down random groups were slim-to-none.
Some kids, of course, have always been misfits and loners. Others are incurable show-offs, “drama queens,” or can’t resist a dare. Personality types haven’t changed much. Sure, there were individual arguments that ended in fistfights, brawls and even occasional stabbings. Some committed vandalism on a lark.
But the infliction of mass casualties, Columbine-style; or the “booby-trapping” of an apartment, in the manner of accused Aurora theater shooter, James Holmes; or the targeting of roomfuls of people? No.
No, that is, until the Watts riots in 1965, the Charles Manson cult murders in 1969 and the SLA rampages in 1973-1975. Then suddenly, as long as one had a “cause,” the gambit switched gears: Either one was “mentally ill” or “ethically/civically motivated.” Whether one got a free pass or not, depended on the political winds.
The technicality is subtle, but powerful for a society. Impudent and precocious young people now have an implied license to exact retaliation, as long as it is indiscriminate and/or politically palatable.
Think about that.
“Murder,” as it is defined in U.S. law, is a killing that is both willful and premeditated, meaning that it was committed after planning (i.e., “lying in wait”) for a particular victim. In a murder case, lack of apparent motive tends to compromise the prosecution’s case and even the continued detainment of the suspect. Even if a preponderance of evidence puts the suspect at the scene and with damning evidence, as from DNA analysis, an insanity defense becomes tenable, as opposed to punishment. (“Second-degree murder” is typically considered non-premeditated. “Manslaughter” implies either provocation or heat-of-passion, but again, these carry motive.)
So, random, indiscriminate killing tends to step over into the “something snapped” category. Addition of “for the fun of it” implies antisocial behavior, which again speaks to state of mind—i.e., insanity.
Do therapy and psychotropic drugs make one sane? Not if you follow the preponderance of repeat offenders. Do the insane get “sentences” that mimic those of the premeditated murderer? No, their period of actual custodial detention tends to be less-especially if they “take their meds.” Meaning: We have a lot of dangerous people back in society, so many that police can no longer focus on crimes like burglary or sexual assault. What does it mean, then, when police can no longer do their jobs? Society devolves into chaos, with citizens watching their own backs.
Society got more than it bargained for as “mental health” displaced common-sense and religiously based childrearing got demeaned in favor of psychology. Scores of psychological “diseases,” learning “disabilities,” and societal pathologies have quadrupled, in accordance with each re-issue of the bible of psychology, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (current version, the DSM-V). Classrooms are chaotic and virtually uncontrollable—the poster child for unmanageability being those in the District of Columbia. What a poor advertisement for our country, to have the Nation’s Capital as the worst specimen of schooling in America! The teacher’s attention is, of necessity, diverted from transmission of knowledge to simply keeping order. If we believe that goes unnoticed on the world stage, we are mistaken.
The new “parenting” was supposed to assure youngsters their privacy, free of authoritarian eavesdropping, criticism and vetting of potential pals. Parents instead were to spend “quality time” with their kids; not provide guidance and leadership. Children increasingly were shuttled off to their own activities, spending ever less time under adult supervision until they actually began to avoid each other.
This should have been a huge red flag, signaling that psychologists’ approach to childrearing was badly flawed. But women finally were on career paths. Effective birth control forever changed fear of serial pregnancies (which had, in fact, killed many women), and enabled a higher standard of living with two incomes instead of reliance on just one. But the new-found freedom also allowed for loveless serial liaisons, and the perceived need to be popular filtered down to their daughters as required promiscuity. No wonder sexual assault became less and less criminalized—unless, of course, one was talking about professors or priests. The awful truth is that today’s youngsters grow up in less stable, non-nurturing homes. Between that and the debt the “gimme” society has engendered, the next generation of adults will not be as well off or as upwardly mobile as their grandparents.
Meanwhile, the body count rises. The level of violence is so far above what it was in the 1960s, there is no comparison: ever drifting upward. This, in turn, has led to a tolerance of surveillance, snooping, tracking and monitoring. Even TV’s crime dramas no longer refer to “traffic cameras” but, rather “surveillance cams.”
Moreover, we have brewed the perfect psychological storm: we’ve made the country safe for politicians and psychopharmaceutical manufacturers.
And everyone’s okay with that!
1 This author reported on experimental versions in 1994, 2002 and 2003. “The Slippery Slope of Safety” was published in Chronicles Magazine, translated into three languages and reprinted in the 2007 book: http://www.amazon.com/Walking-Targets-B-K-Eakman/product-reviews/0615181228/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1 .
3 "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition." Psychological Bulletin 129(3): 339-375, also online at http://www.apa.org/journals/bul/503ab.html.