Labeling Stephen Paddock

When I heard that the Las Vegas shooter owned 42 firearms, I thought back to this post I wrote last year. It linked to this study, which said,

The more guns a person owns, the more likely they are to report experiencing serious, uncontrollable outbursts of anger and aggression. That’s the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law, which found that nearly one in ten Americans have both a history of impulsive anger and access to a firearm.

“The new research also indicates that the 310 million firearms estimated to be in private hands in the United States are disproportionately owned by people who are prone to angry, impulsive behavior and have a potentially dangerous habit of keeping their guns close at hand,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “That’s because people owning six or more guns were more likely to fall into both of these categories than people who owned a single gun.”

It turns out that being chronically angry is the REAL warning sign that predicts a potential killer. And owning multiple weapons is a warning sign of chronic anger. Hmm.

A number of common mental health conditions — including personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol use disorder — tend to be associated with the risky mix of pathological anger with gun access, according to the APA.
“However, only a small proportion of angry people with guns has ever been hospitalized for a mental health problem — voluntarily or involuntarily — and thus most would not be prohibited from firearms under the involuntary commitment exclusion.”
Indeed, Paddock had recently purchased firearms from a gun store and had passed all background checks.

Regarding “common mental health conditions” — Americans on the whole remain grossly ignorant of what “mental illness” is. As I wrote in the post from last year, “mental illness” has no specific medical meaning. It could be anything from being deathly afraid of spiders to thinking that Martians are talking to you through your dental fillings.

People who are genuinely psychotic and unable to process what we might call “standard reality” commit very few violent crimes, and when they do it’s a sudden, impulsive thing, like shoving someone off the subway platform because the voices in their heads told them to do it.  They don’t tend to be able to carry out plans that involve several steps over a period of days. Usually they can’t interact with the public without lots of people noticing they are buggier than an ant farm. If someone can pass for “sane,” which is not a medical term either, then they probably are rational enough to know what they are doing and whether it might harm someone.

People with character, personality or mood disorders may feel compelled to do violent things, but intellectually they know right from wrong. So if they survive to go to trial, they don’t get to use the insanity defense. However, diagnosing such disorders is a subjective opinion; there’s no laboratory test that confirms one is borderline or antisocial or whatever.  Few people with character or personality disorders bother to seek professional help, and psychologists themselves say their professional assessments of which of their patients might be capable of violence are no more reliable than flipping a coin.

So Stephen Paddock probably wasn’t “crazy.” However, if we find out later that he had chronic anger issues, then that’s your “motive.”

A lot of people are angry that Paddock isn’t being labeled a “terrorist.” I can understand that one, though, since by definition a “terrorist” is someone who has political aims. However, I’ve noted in the past that there seems to be a thin line between the personal and the political when it comes to violence. For example, this is from last year also

It turns out that the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was a regular toxic stew of Personal Issues. He wasn’t so much a jihadist as someone who poured his excessive rage into a fantasy of jihad. The Washington Post reports that in the past he had falsely claimed connections to many Islamic terrorist groups, including Hezbollah. He seems not to have understood that Sunni and Shiite militants don’t hang out on the same corner.

The real bombshell is that it turns out Mateen was gay himself, according to people who had known him a long time. He’d even been a regular at the nightclub he attacked. And he had a father who is a Taliban supporter.  Talk about raging internal conflict, huh?

He did spend a lot of time on jihadist websites, according to some sources, which no doubt added more bite to the hot pepper gumbo of loathing sluicing around in his id. Other than that, he had about as much connection to ISIS as to the Brownie Scouts.  It seems debatable to me whether the shooting itself was an act of “terrorism” as much as one more mass shooting by a poorly socialized male.

And, in fact, there are studies that conclude most people who become terrorists do so because joining a violent movement is a way of dealing with personal issues. Well-adjusted people not facing a life crisis, identity issues or nursing a boiling personal grudge generally don’t become terrorists, no matter what their scriptures or ideologies say.

It’s amusing, almost, that ISIS claimed responsibility for Paddock’s act in Las Vegas. After the Orlando shooting people were calling for more bombing of ISIS. They seemed unable to process that Omar Mateen’s connection to ISIS likely existed only in his own head. Paddock’s connection to ISIS seems to exist only in ISIS’s head, although some right-wing whackjobs are claiming that his girlfriend, an Australian national currently visiting family in the Philippines, is a “recent convert.” There’s no question that ISIS is a nasty piece of work, but I’ve never thought it had any real operational ability to do mischief in the U.S.

Did I say right-wing whackjobs? I’m seeing lefties on social media speculate that Paddock was pulling a “false flag” operation on behalf of Donald Trump to pull attention away from Puerto Rico.

Of all the labels being attached to Paddock, “evil” is the most useless. Calling something or someone “evil” is an avoidance strategy, in my opinion. It’s a way of absolving oneself or one’s culture, society or nation of responsibility for something. IMO our proclivity for sorting humanity into “good buys” and “bad guys” bins — we are always one of the “good guys,” of course — is the cause of most of the atrocities of the world. I’ve written about this in the past. Very few of the atrocities of human history were carried out by people who were fully aware they were doing something evil.

Labeling something isn’t the same thing as understanding it. In my experience, the more you know about something, the harder it is to label. That’s true also of people. So I’m not really interested in labeling Stephen Paddock. I’m more interested in discussing what steps we can take to stop the next Stephen Paddock.