These are obviously very muddy, and volatile, waters for discussion, so I want to look at a few basic facts and offer a couple of, I hope simple, observations.
1) The first widely publicized random shooting in the United States was the famous Charles Whitman incident of August 1st 1966. Whitman was an ex-Marine of unusually high intelligence, who if history and Wikipedia are to be believed, killed his wife and mother with a knife before climbing the University of Texas Tower in Austin and shooting forty-five people (13 of whom were killed). According to Wikipedia, Whitman was armed with “a Remington 700 6mm bolt-action hunting rifle, a 6mm bolt-action hunting rifle, a .35 caliber pump rifle, a .30 caliber carbine, a 9mm Luger pistol, a Galesi-Brescia .25-caliber pistol and a Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolver, and over 700 rounds of ammunition. He [also took] coffee, vitamins, Dexedrine, Excedrin, earplugs, jugs of water, matches, lighter fluid, rope, binoculars, a machete, three knives, a transistor radio, toilet paper, a razor and a bottle of deodorant.” Whitman was eventually killed by police, and although he kept a journal before the shootings, no substantial motive was ever found. The day before the shootings, before killing his wife and mother, he wrote a suicide note. “I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.”
2) Despite the publicity surrounding it, the Whitman shootings did not inspire a series of “copycat” killings, but remained a mostly isolated incident.
3) School and other random shootings have occurred repeatedly over the past thirty years. They have been on the rise since the 1990s, culminating in the Sandy Hook shootings of December 2012, which seems to have sparked several other attempted shootings.
3) At the very least, the “meme” of “teenagers-senselessly-kill-school children” has taken root in our culture over the past ten years or more.
3) The proof is the increased popularity of the subject in movies, not just as a primary narrative but also as a peripheral plot element, to the point that it no longer needs establishing or explaining for audiences to accept it. In other words, it has become a stereotype.
4) The characteristics of the stereotypical “school shooter,” besides being male, white, and teenage, include alienation, introversion, lack of verbal expression, hostility to parents and to general social values, underachievement (“slacker”), weird, often “Gothic” style clothing, high intelligence, and possibly sexual ambivalence, ambiguity, or dysfunction. These guys aren’t “jocks,” A-students, or party-goers. Whitman may have been the forerunner, but he was not a prototype.
5) The above characteristics overlap with those of autists, Aspergerians, geeks, high school drop-outs, artistic-types, and generally sensitive (“psychic”) individuals: in others words, probably the lowest demographic for homicidal behaviors. This raises the question of where such a stereotype comes from, if not from actual statistics.
6) Neither news reports nor movies faithfully represent the facts but instead keep to the accepted stereotypical narrative, deliberately or unwittingly omitting details that could open up the “meme” to reevaluation: such as, for example, how much proscribed medication might have to do with a teenager going ballistic. (The film We Need to Talk About Kevin does mention that Kevin was on Prozac, but only as part of his cunning defense.)
7) The majority of intelligent people in today’s society, based on my experience at least, are not questioning this stereotypical narrative, particularly when the “psychology” is superficially well-presented, as in a film like Kevin. Instead, they tend to lay blame at the door of “mental illness” combined with childhood bullying and/or parental neglect (and does “mental illness” explain anything?). What few people are talking about is faulty press coverage, fact distortion, irresponsible journalism, perception management, “psy-ops,” social-engineering, and mind control, subjects which at the very least ought to be allowed on the table when it comes to discussing such a “hot” topic.
8) Whitman was rumored to have been the youngest ever Eagle Boy Scout (like the CIA, the Boy Scouts don’t reveal their records), and has often been described as the stereotypical “all-American boy.” That puts him in stark contrast to Adam Lanza or the predominant stereotype of “random shooter.” (That said, Whitman was of unusually high intelligence. Lee Harvey Oswald, generally seen as the patsy-scapegoat for the Kennedy murder, is perhaps closer to the stereotype, and it might even be worth looking into Oswald’s possible autistic qualities.)
9) The Whitman shootings occurred midway between the Kennedy assassination and the Manson murders when the Vietnam War was in full swing and the dark underbelly of US society was becoming plain to see. Popular movies and music conveyed a feeling of pessimism, cynicism, and despair. Younger people at the time, seeing a growing trend towards unmotivated acts of violence, naturally sought for ways to adapt and feel safe within such a climate. They rejected social values which they recognized as inseparable from the American pathology, choosing to distance themselves as far as possible from the “whitebread” American embodied by Whitman and his kind. They became hippies, Goths, loners, social outcasts, misfits and outsiders. Seeking to express the dark awareness growing inside them (that of belonging to a psychopathic nation), they tended increasingly towards morbid death-obsession and suicidal ideation, identifying with characters like Jim Morrison, Charles Manson, Alice Cooper, Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Manson.
10) By doing so, they have unwittingly invited the fear and suspicion of the same society which they fear and suspect. While all-American boys have been killing, raping, and torturing overseas, and being called heroes for it, the civilian public, having no real idea of the reality of the situation, are unable to identify the actual perpetrators of the violence: Whitman, the army, the government, and the hidden programs of domestic psychological warfare. Naturally, they look for an alternate object to project their growing fear and unease onto. Alienated, death-obsessed youths, with their fumbling attempts to make sense of an increasingly hostile and violent world, have unwittingly volunteered to receive those projections.
[1.] Incidents prior to the 90s that more or less fit the pattern, taken from a list at Wikipedia:
“December 30, 1974: Olean, New York, Anthony Barbaro, a 17-year-old Regents scholar armed with a rifle and shotgun, kills three adults and wounds 11 others at his high school, which was closed for the Christmas holiday. Barbaro was reportedly a loner who kept a diary describing several “battle plans” for his attack on the school.”
June 12, 1976: California State University, Fullerton massacre, where the school’s custodian opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle in the library on the California State University, Fullerton campus killing 7, and wounding 2.
January 29, 1979: Grover Cleveland Elementary School Shootings, California, where 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer opened fire with a rifle, a gift from her father, killing 2 and wounding 9.
January 17, 1989: Cleveland School massacre of Stockton, California where 5 school children were killed and 30 wounded by a single gunman firing over 100 rounds into a schoolyard from an AK-47, in which the perpetrator later took his life.”