Running Amok

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View 753 Friday, December 14, 2012

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I don’t do breaking news, but enough details are in on the Connecticut shooting to warrant comment. As one radio commenter said, ‘Who the hell would do this.” The story changes hourly, but apparently the narrative is that Adam Lanza, a “developmentally challenged” young man of 20 who lived with his mother in a small Connecticut town founded in colonial days. He apparently shot his mother at home, then went to the school and killed those in her class, her principal, and other adults. At least that’s the story as of 1630 PST. It could change. An hour ago the story was that the mother was in her classroom, and the shooter was Ryan Lanza, Adam Lanza’s older brother, and that he had previously killed his father at an apartment in New Jersey. And hour before that —

But the story seems reasonably stable now: it was allegedly Adam Lanza who allegedly killed his mother at their home, then went to the school at which she had taught and shot up the place, using a .223 Bushmaster, a Sigg Sauer, and a Glotz, but there is some ambiguity about which gun was used for what. And as I listen to the reports, Nancy Lanza is not listed as a teacher at that school. Which leaves the question of what connection Adam Lanza had with this school. And the Bushmaster was found in Lanza’s car, meaning that it played no part in the school massacre.

No data on how he managed to kill 27 people with two pistols. Was he an expert pistol shot? Did he have a number of pre-loaded magazines? Had he been acting strange lately? Now there’s a report that he had some disagreement with his mother, which, given that she is now dead of gunshot wounds to the face, seems rather likely. And a later bulletin says she was a substitute teacher at the school.

A famous psychiatrist tells us solemnly that Adam Lanza had a ‘personality disorder.’

And I have done this ramble as an example of why I don’t do breaking news.

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When I was young we had massacres in the United States, as well as well publicized violent shootouts between the G-Men and various public enemies; and of course mob violence got plenty of play on radio and in newspapers. The scale was smaller, though. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929 only left 6 men dead, although another died a couple of hours later reportedly while saying “I ain’t gonna talk.” Then came World War II, and the reports of German, Russian, and Japanese atrocities, which tended to give some perspective to stories of gang “war”.

But graduate psychology courses in the 1950’s had nothing about ‘personality disorders’, ‘learning disabilities’, and the like, and very little on autism. It’s not that what we did study was particularly useful, but at least it did not tempt us to believe we understood everything because we had a label for it.

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I do recall that while I was growing up, comic books, which were a way of discovering information about the world when there wasn’t any television, often had stories about ‘running amok’, which was an Asian phenomenon. I don’t recall too many stories about Westerners running amok, but there were plenty of stories of Asians doing so. Amok is a Malay term, and typically describes someone who has previously not been a criminal or particularly anti-social suddenly taking a kris or other large knife and running about striking down everyone he – it’s nearly always a he – encounters. Apparently it happens in China with considerably more frequency than in the United States and Western Europe (where the weapon of choice is usually one or more firearms). I am not sure I have heard of such cases in Japan.

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We can now expect a new surge of advocacy for “gun control”, using the Connecticut massacre as the example of what must be prohibited, and which presumably would be ended if we just had better gun control.

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