Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mass Killing of Innocents in America

It’s gun control, plus. Listen to Melinda Henneberger, a thoughtful political reporter at the Washington Post. Henneberger, who comes from a background of experience reporting on the mentally ill, writes:
The left is correct that actually, guns do kill people. But the right has a point, too, about the “culture of death,” in the language of John Paul II’s “Gospel of Life.” And if we haven’t glorified even mass shootings and their perpetrators, then why does one shooter after another show up dressed all in black, like an anti-hero ready for his big finale?
Conservative Matt K. Lewis, in the liberal magazine The Week, made the same point as Henneberger, though more directly:
the media predictably assumes that the availability of guns is the problem, without considering how journalists themselves might be contributing to the coarsening of our already-violent society.  The entertainment-media complex promotes and glamorizes violence — for profit — in film and on TV. Meanwhile, the news media ensures that killers get the attention and fame they so desperately crave.
And David Kopel, in the conservative Wall Street Journal, documents the media’s place in mass murder of innocents:
Cable TV in the 1990s, and the Internet today, greatly magnify the instant celebrity that a mass killer can achieve. We know that many would-be mass killers obsessively study their predecessors. Loren Coleman's 2004 book The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines shows that the copycat effect is as old as the media itself. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's 1774 classic The Sorrows of Young Werther triggered a spate of copycat suicides all over Europe. But today the velocity and pervasiveness of the media make the problem much worse.
Kopel is onto another contributing factor beyond gun availability: the deinstitutionalization of the violently mentally ill. Kopel points to a 2000 New York Times study of 100 rampage murderers that found that 47 were mentally ill. [Another study] reported that 16% of all convicted murders were mentally ill. As Kopel noted:
In the mid-1960s, many of the killings would have been prevented because the severely mentally ill would have been confined and cared for in a state institution. But today, while government at most every level has bloated over the past half-century, mental-health treatment has been decimated. . . the number of state hospital beds in America per capita has plummeted to 1850 levels, or 14.1 beds per 100,000 people. Moreover, a 2011 [study] found that a third of the state-to-state variation in homicide rates was attributable to the strength or weakness of involuntary civil-commitment laws.
The reasons behind America’s mass murder problem include wide availability of assault weapons and magazine clips, plus our wider culture of violence, specific media fixation on mass murderers, and insufficient legal and monetary resources devoted to the mentally ill.

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