Focus on guns distorts study of mass shootings
May 1, 2009
by Joseph P. Tartaro
The blood from a number of mass shootings in the US in March and early April had barely dried when the usual anti-gun voices were heard calling for more gun control legislation. The strident voices of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and its allies were to be expected, and so was that of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Usually a little quieter but no less anti-gun, the US Conference of Mayors joined this chorus demanding more gun laws, none of which would have prevented the mass murders that took place in North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania and California.
Curiously, even some traditionally anti-gun media voices were less strident than usual, and some even passed up an opportunity to trumpet further gun laws. Ted Anthony, writing for Associated Press, shifted his focus to the anxiety sweeping the nation because of the economic downturn as a causal factor. Gun control was hardly discussed in his column.
Perhaps a new perspective is finally gaining some currency: there is much more to this modern mass murder trend than guns and their criminal misuse.
Other factors have certainly been at work since before Columbine, but have been largely ignored.
First, our society has changed considerably since the 1960s, which produced the Gun Control Act of 1968. People have different attitudes now. The emphasis is on personal gratification, a narcissistic fog in which violence against others is acceptable because young people shown no respect for laws or their fellow citizens.
When the news media focus on gun crimes, little attention is paid to other forms of violence, often linked to alcohol and drugs. The use of personal weapons, fists and feet, is much more prevalent than many would guess. In fact, there has been statistical evident that victims of intentional or accidental murder are many times more at risk from feet and fists than from so-called assault weapons. And fists and feet can be as deadly and damaging as any gun.
I was reminded of this recently when The Buffalo News reported on the sentencing of one of two then-college students who had beaten and kicked a fellow student in 2007 in an alcohol-fueled fight outside a restaurant where all had been patrons.
The victim of this assault with personal weapons is still paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheel chair. At the time of the fight, all three young men were in their early 20s. They still are, of course, but the one who was kicked repeatedly after he had been knocked to the ground with a punch has been sentenced by the incident to live in a wheel chair.
One of his assailants has now been sentenced to eight years in prison. His other assailant is still awaiting trial. But three lives have changed forever.
This is not the only incident in which the natural aggressiveness of young people, spurred by alcohol or other substances, has led to the permanent incapacitation of a victim, or even death.
In another local incident not so long ago, a bar fight in one of a strip of saloons where young people congregate, did not end as most observers thought. Hours after the fight was thought to have ended, one of the young men was followed to his home in an automobile by an earlier opponent who murdered him with an illegally possessed handgun on his front steps.
People who study or debate the recent spate of mass murders that have become increasingly common in modern times also should not overlook the influence of the electronic and digital media.
The self-examining letter mailed to News 10 TV in Syracuse, NY, by Jiverly Wong on the same day that he massacred 13 people at a Binghamton immigrant-assistance center before killing himself is just one example.
“I am Jiverly Wong shooting the people,” he wrote in a deranged attempt to explain his actions.
With those chilling words, he began a disturbing, unhinged, handwritten letter mailed to the TV stationalong with Wong’s driver’s license, New York state handgun license and photos of him posing with pistols.
“Of course you need to know why I shooting? Because undercover cop gave me a lot of ass during eighteen years,” he wrote.
The letter unleashes a slew of bizarre, paranoid accusations against police officers whom Wong, 41, believed were persecuting him, repeatedly breaking into his room, stealing from him, causing him to lose his job and trying to stage a car accident with him 32 times.
“Cop bring about this shooting. Cop must responsible. And you have a nice day,” the letter ends.
The letterwhose outlandish claims are unsupported by any publicly known factssuggests Wong was deranged, of course.
But his letter was not the first attempt by a mass murderer in the US or elsewhere to wring more public notice of his violent actions and attempts to explain what motivated his actions.
Another recent example came in early April when a 19-year-old gunman who wounded three people at a college in Athens, Greece, before killing himself, posted a warning of the attack on the Internet. Like Wong, the Greek shooter, Dimitris Patmanidis, included photos of himself posing with his firearms and a knife.
His Internet posting accused his fellow students of picking on him. According to Associated Press, he concluded his pre-murder attempt post with the following message:
“I have no reason to continue living. But, unluckily for you, I’m too selfish to leave and let you keep living.”
Thus, in just a few examples, we have evidence that egocentric personalities, coupled with natural aggressiveness fueled by alcohol and drugs, and a desire for instant notoriety via television or various Internet media, may be more causative of the mass murder syndrome than the mere presence of guns.
The addition of a possible economic anxiety factor may also contribute to the problemperhaps in other ways.
For example, was it some kind of anxiety that played a role in the deaths of three Pittsburgh, PA, police officers on Apr. 4, or was it just a critical error by the 911 dispatcher?
When Richard Poplawski’s mother called 911 to ask that her son be removed from their home in Stanton Heights, she acknowledged that he had firearms. But that crucial piece of information never was relayed to the three Pittsburgh police officers who responded and were fatally shot, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“It should have gone out,” Allegheny County Chief of Emergency Services Robert A. Full told the newspaper.
Full acknowledged that one of his employees made a mistake but said it was an anomaly considering the 911 center successfully handles almost 1.5 million calls a year.
Poplawski, 22, is accused of killing Officers Paul J. Sciullo II, Stephen J. Mayhle and Eric Kelly and wounding Officer Timothy McManaway. Police said he had an AK-47, a rifle and a pistol.
Full did not identify the 911 call-taker other than to say she has been on the job for less than a year, including training. She was placed on paid administrative leave and has been offered counseling.
“There is no excuse. It could have been handled better, without a doubt,” he said. “If there were any kind of indications there were weapons, the dispatcher would have put it out.”
“Does he have any weapons or anything?” the call-taker asked Poplawski’s mother.
“Yes,” she answered. There was a long pause. “They’re all legal.”
“OK, but he’s not threatening you with anything?” the call-taker asked.
Chief Full noted that Ms. Poplawski was casual and unhurried during the call and added that “probably a quarter of the houses in Allegheny County have weapons.”
Yes, guns were present in all of these incidents. But the troubled people behind the guns caused the murders.
Return to Archive Index