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.

15 thoughts on “Labeling Stephen Paddock

  1. What was his motive?  He must have just gone crazy.  No, he planned this out, look at the evidence, it goes back for quite some time.  Well then what kind of crazy person would make a plan like this and carry it out?  Well it was a crazy person who could make and carry out a complex plan over time.  Can crazy people do that?  Hell most people I know can’t come close to doing that.  It takes quite a self disciplined and capable person.  How did he keep everyone else from finding out he was crazy?  Well he did that by acting normal, hell he only had one traffic violation and he was over sixty.  I think that qualifies for sainthood in most churches.  Was he a religious fanatic?  No.  Seemed not to care much about that sort of thing.  So it was the criminal gene he inherited from his father?  Sorry man, genetics just does not work that way, want to study some fruit flies for a while?  If you really want answers try a strong upper level course on motivation and emotion.  You won’t get an answer but you will quit asking as many stupid questions.

    Now Paul Ryan is fingering mental health after consulting his NRA how to be a politician manual.  At least the dotard went for evil, now there is a guy who knows the work of Satan when he sees it.  He was sick the weekend they covered the seven deadly sins in Sunday School, otherwise perfect judgement on maters of good and evil.  It is an answer that might work with his base, if one is that base.  

     So mental health, and Dr. Swanson and colleagues swat it back to guns and gun control.  The sold out politicians look at the fat NRA checks and the golden mailing list and reject the idea on moral grounds.  Political suicide is the deadliest of the deadly sins.  It is the only one that a number of them just have zero tolerance for.  I can smell the gridlock from here.  I think I must light a stick or two of incense.  

    • Bernie –based on some stuff I have read today, I am going out on a limb and speculating that the “trigger” was that his girlfriend was breaking up with him.

  2. “I’m more interested in discussing what steps we can take to stop the next Stephen Paddock”

    Nothing can be done, according to the people in charge these “evil” people don’t follow the law so why write new ones? I hear that and I just want to scream! Then why the fuck is anything illegal, lets just do away with the courts, prisons, police, fuck it, if criminals won’t follow the law then why even have them?

  3. “It turns out that being chronically angry is the REAL warning sign that predicts a potential killer.” This describes the president*.

  4. I wouldn’t rule out a brain tumor, or perhaps some organic form of dementia. Except for being a White male he does not fit the profile of a mass killer. Senile paranoia comes to mind, as well.

  5. Great post, well sorted and level headed.

    Re: Billikin’s comment

    I think that’s a possibility. By pure coincidence, I had experience with someone who was a classic law abiding citizen, had no history of anger or violence, and had never owned a gun, to anyone’s knowledge. One day, without any apparent warning signs, he walked up behind one of his co-workers and shot him in the head. About a week later they discovered that he had a gigantic brain tumor.

    I’m not a doctor or mental health professional, so I can’t assess the possibility that the tumor was the cause of his erratic, violent behavior. But, my inner layman has less trouble speculating, as did the jury, which found him guilty. He was African American, so there may have been other issues in play.

    “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.”

    The cheese seems to have fallen off our collective cracker. That’s bad news for our democracy.

  6. Maha, of course it was his girlfriend. Or perhaps a case of
    “If I can’t be happy, nobody can.”
    We’ve been soaking in that puddle for decades.
    Goatherd – thanks for the cheese metaphor, the laugh was much needed.

  7. Thanks, Stella, I stole it from some British guy, whose name I have forgotten.

    In the category of “You Can’t Make This kind of Thing Up,” A neighbor of mine who is a gun enthusiast, posted a ready-made with a quote something like, “Every time someone goes on a shooting spree, they try to take the guns away from those of us who didn’t.”

    The “funny” part is the quote is from William Burroughs, who, as you recall, liked to play William Tell, with rather tragic consequences.

  8. The shooter opted for ultimate control – over people’s lives – if only for a few minutes.

    In the past few decades after it looked like the meek really might be inheriting the earth, the strong snatched it back.

    Psychology, like economics, is still such a primitive field. It’s far too soft a science for a species possessing so much power enabling technology. Logically, the Columbine shooters should have focused their rage onto the bullies. But they had apparently lost their ability to care about the regular guys, and the human race in general, and appeared to have targeted what they believed were bully enablers.

    Besides better gun control, I’d suggest understanding useful and productive outlets for powerlessness and rage.

  9. Did trump throw paper towels at victims in vegas?

    No, he did his solemn pharisee moment of silence for the victims in Vegas on the lawn of the White House. Nothing says sincerity like a good staged photo-op. There’s a spiritual truth that says..You can’t give what you don’t have. Meaning a dirtbag like Trump isn’t capable of giving the gifts of the spirit like, empathy, compassion, sympathy, or sincerity. If those qualities of spirit ever existed within Trump they’ve been severely atrophied or completely choked out by his narcissism.
    When you’ve got to put a qualifier on your condolences maybe your not offering condolences. And if you’re looking for the day when evil will be banished,you’re in for a very very very long wait.

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