The Real Causes of the Las Vegas Massacre Few Are Willing to Accept

Like most people I’m still reeling from the horrible massacre of innocent people in Las Vegas. Once again, a man came prepared to kill and to die. And once again we argue with each other about why it happened and what we can do to prevent the next horrible event. We even argue about whether we should talk about what can be done or whether we should mourn the deaths and debate the causes later.

I mourn for the families and friends of those who have died, but I also think we need to talk about causes and solutions. I’m sure we’ll learn more about the killer and there will be many analyses about why he did it, but some things are clear now.

  • The killer was a man.
  • The man was heavily armed with assault-type rifles.
  • The man came prepared to die as well as to kill.
  • The man had given up on life and lost the ability to care about others or care about himself.

The headlines are all too familiar:

  • October 1, 2017– A gunman, identified as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, fires from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on a crowd of 30,000 gathered on the Las Vegas Strip for the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. At least 58 people were killed and more than 515 injured. Police believe the gunman killed himself.
  • June 12, 2016 –Omar Saddiqui Mateen, 29, opens fire inside Pulse, a gay nightclub, in Orlando. At least 49 people are killed and more than 50 are injured. Police shoot and kill Mateen during an operation to free hostages officials say he was holding at the club.
  • April 16, 2007 –Student Seung-Hui Cho, 23, goes on a shooting spree, killing 32 people in two locations and wounding an undetermined number of others on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The shooter dies by suicide.
  • December 14, 2012 –Adam Lanza, 20, guns down 20 children, ages 6 and 7, and six adults, school staff and faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, before turning the gun on himself. Investigating police later find Nancy Lanza, Adam’s mother, dead from a gunshot wound.

What all these mass killings have in common is that the perpetrator was a man, and most of the men were white males. On rare occasions women are involved in mass killings, but this is mostly a male phenomenon. Certainly, we have to recognize that guns are being used to kill so many people and we have to get serious about decreasing the number of rapid-fire weapons available to men, but the larger and more important question we need to ask is this:

Why are men so angry and depressed that they want to kill others and kill themselves, and why are so many of them white males?

 If we want to uncover the real causes of mass murder, we have to focus our attention on men. We also need to go beyond our focus on the individual killer and whether he was mentally ill or not, and look at the larger pressures in society that impact men. These pressures impact women as well, but it is the men, with their love for guns and higher levels of aggression, where we need to put our attention. [Read more…]

Preventing the Next Orlando Massacre: A Modest, Radical Proposal

3010722547_8710ca1b3b_zI’m still reeling with the shock of yet another mass murder in the U.S. As we learn more about what happened in Orlando, like many of you I want to do something to prevent the next tragedy. Many people will offer ideas and solutions and I’d like to share my own. I call this a modest proposal since this is a complex problem and there are no simple solutions. No matter what is done, it isn’t going to stop senseless killing.  On the other hand, I think there is much we can do to make our country less violent. But if we’re going to become a more peaceful, less violent, country, we need to try approaches that may seem radical to some.

We’ve all seen the headlines and know the basic facts. As reported by the Los Angeles Times: An act of terror and an act of hate: The aftermath of America’s worst mass shooting. “The United States suffered the worst mass shooting in its modern history when 50 people were killed and 53 injured in Orlando, Fla., after a gunman stormed into a packed gay nightclub. The gunman was killed by a SWAT team after taking hostages at Pulse, a popular gay club. He was preliminarily identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen.”

The Times offers this summary of the most deadly shootings in the U.S. in recent years:

If we’re going to prevent the next attack we need to look more deeply at some hard truths. First, mass murder is an almost exclusively male phenomenon (male:female ratio 24:1). We have to look more closely at what we can do to better understand male violence so we can reduce the risk of a man (usually a man under the age of 30) reaching a point where he wants to kill others.

There is a new journal, Violence & Gender that can offer us articles and insights based on the latest scientific studies by experts in the field. The Editor-in-Chief is Mary Ellen O’Toole, Ph.D., a social scientist, former FBI-agent and profiler. “I spent my career studying the criminal violent mind,” says Dr. O’Toole, “and now gratuitous violence is at an all-time high. This violence is well-planned, lethal, and extremely callous. The offenders are nearly always male. Does gender really make a difference in the commission of violent crime? It’s time for a journal to take on this question.”
[Read more…]

Why the San Bernardino Shootings Reveal a New Kind of Killer and What We Can Do to Protect Ourselves and Our Families

5395751341_8b5b4dd808_zLike most Americans I’m horrified by the violence we continue to deal with in our country and I’m concerned about the safety of my children and grandchildren and what we can all do to reduce the threat of violence that we all face. According to Mary Ellen O’Toole, PhD, Director, Forensic Science Program, George Mason University and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Violence and Gender, “The shooting in San Bernardino, California marked the 355th mass shooting in the United States in less than as many days in 2015.”

But what is even more frightening is that we are seeing a different type of killer that may be the harbinger of things to come. In a recent article, “The Mission-Oriented Shooter: A New Type of Mass Killer,” Dr. O’Toole, says that we have to understand the complexities of these mass shootings and the motivation of the shooters if we are going to have a chance of preventing future violence.  “A number of years ago, I coined the term ‘mission-oriented’ shooter to describe a special type of mass shooter whose mission is to kill as many people as possible, or to achieve maximum lethality,” says Dr. O’Toole.

News reports continue to try to understand the motivation of the two shooters in San Bernardino. On December 4, 2015 CNN offered a quick description of the couple and the horrible results of their rampage. Syed Rizwan Farook, age 28, a U.S. citizen, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, age 27, a permanent resident, were a married couple who left their baby with grandma while they carried out the deadliest mass shooting in the United States since the December 2012 rampage at Sandy Hook. Syed and Tashfeen were later killed in a shootout with police. [Read more…]

How Do Good Men and Good Women Respond to the Latest Violent Killings?

23115497619_5863d7c0f9_zI was meeting with my men’s group yesterday when one of the guys got a text message from his sister in San Bernardino telling him of the shootings that had just occurred. My first reaction was visceral. I felt a wave of nausea, followed by feeling enraged. I had no idea at the time who was responsible for the shootings, so my rage was general. I was mad at whoever had done this, at our country that seems so divided and hostile as we move into another election season, and at Homo Sapiens, our whole beautiful and sad species, that seems unable to live peacefully on the planet without doing each other in.

As I write this, it is my understanding that 14 people were killed and 17 more were wounded. “The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world,” President Obama told CBS News.

This attack marks the deadliest gun violence in the country since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, in which 27 people, including the shooter, Adam Lanza, were killed. Following the Newtown killings I wrote an article “How to Prevent the Next Massacre” where I looked more deeply within to recognize and understand the rage and violence in me.

Once again, I’m aware of two conflicting forces that are competing in me. On the one hand I feel afraid–for my own children and grandchildren, for other innocent victims of violence, for the future of our country, and the future of humankind. On the other hand I feel a great deal of love and compassion—for my own children and grandchildren, for those whose lives have become so disordered and despairing that they respond with violence, and for all the humans in the world who are trying to survive and thrive during a period of massive environmental, economic, and ecological transformations. [Read more…]

The Hidden Causes of the Paris Killings And What We Can Do to Prevent Future Violence

Paris killingsOnce again we are shocked, sickened, and frightened as we come to grips with another mass killing. We want to do something to feel safe again and often we are told we must “fight fire with fire.”  One headline read: France vows to punish ISIS for fatal Paris attacks. We can all empathize with those who were killed and feel supportive of the citizens of Paris. We can also recognize the rage we feel towards those who are responsible for the killings.

But in order to prevent future acts of mass violence, we have to better understand who did the killing and why. There are no simple answers and, as always, it will take time to get all the facts about what went on. But here are some things we do know:

  1. Those who did the killing were young men.
  2. Each of the men had lost the will to live.

According to a November 16, 2015 article in NY Magazine, “What We Know About the Paris Attackers,” “Authorities believe that ISIS-linked extremists were behind the brutal attacks that killed 129 people and injured another 352 on Friday night in Paris, and details about the attackers and their possible accomplices are continuing to emerge.”

It may be simpler to just lump all the attackers together and call them “terrorists,” but if we want to understand them and prevent future violence it’s important to see them as real human beings. As I look at their names and ages, I wonder what their lives were like. How did they reach a point where they gave up the will to live and decided to kill others and die themselves?

Here’s what the NY Magazine writers Chas Danner and Margaret Hartmann say about the men: [Read more…]

How to Prevent the Next Mass Killing: Stop Abusing Our Boys

Talen Barton Pic

Talen Barton with his attorney Linda Thompson at his court appearance when he plead guilty to the murders of Teo Palmieri and his father Coleman Palmieri. – Chris Pugh — Ukiah Daily Journal

Mass killings in our society are becoming more and more common. We all deal with the trauma in our own ways. Writing helps me. In 2012 I wrote an article for the Huffington Post about 20 year-old Adam Lanza who killed 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Violence by young men seems to be escalating and getting closer. It recently came to my home town.

When I first heard that Talen Barton had killed his best friend Teo Palmieri and Teo’s father Coleman Palmieri I was stunned. When I learned that he had nearly killed Coleman’s wife, Cindy, and her brother, Theodore, in the rampage I was shaken to my core. I worked with Cindy, a medical doctor at Long Valley Health Center in Laytonville, and remember when she and Coleman first moved to the area. I knew that they had taken Talen to live with them a number of years ago and treated him as one of the family. After mourning the loss of life, I needed to understand how this tragedy had happened.

The headline in the Ukiah Daily Journal on October 6, 2015 summarized the outcome:

Barton handed 71-year sentence in Laytonville stabbings, likely off to San Quentin

Men and women who work in law enforcement see too many killers like Talen Barton.

One detective said he was encountering “pure evil,” that Barton was an “absolute monster.”

Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster, prosecuting on behalf of the people, summarized the way we treat killers under our present system:

“He’s going to go to a warehouse where the forgotten go.”

We Must Be Willing to Go Deeper

If we are going to prevent more killings we have to go deeper to understand how Talen Barton became a killer. Talen Barton is 19 years old. Most mass murderers are young men who were once innocent little boys.
[Read more…]

I Cried When Those Responsible For Freddie’s Gray’s Death Were Charged with Murder

Freddie GrayLike many people I have been following the case of Freddie Gray, 25 year-old young man who died while in police custody in Baltimore, Maryland. Seeing film of him being arrested and being placed in the police van, made my heart ache.  The arresting officers seemed like they were hoisting a bag of potatoes into their van, instead of a human being in distress.

I remembered times in college when I had been treated roughly by police when I was peacefully protesting the Vietnam war. I grew up with the feeling that police are not there to protect and serve my interests, but are the representatives of the 1% who are in power. I identified with Freddie Gray.

As an adult, I also worked with police and found most of them to be caring, compassionate people who are doing their best to be a force for good in the community. Every day they have to deal with people, many young, angry males, who are potentially dangerous. I have compassion for anyone who chooses to be a law enforcement officer. I tell myself I would be a better cop than those who arrested Freddie Gray, but to be truthful I’m not sure what I’d do if I had lived their lives and walked in their shoes.

As I listened to Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announce that six police officers have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray, I wept. I shed tears for the young man who had been killed, for his family, friends, and community. I also cried for so many other young males who have been killed by police. But I also cried for the police officers who have become so disconnected from the people they serve that they could treat Freddie Gray so inhumanely.

I also felt hope for the future. Freddie Gray’s death is not an isolated incident. Too many young men are killed by other young men on the street and sometimes by older men in uniform. In many ways the mostly male police force and the mostly male arrestees are playing out a deadly interaction that results from the beliefs we learn about what it means to be a man. Things like:  Be tough, don’t be a sissy, don’t cry, never back down, compete, don’t let anyone disrespect you, don’t show weakness. Mark Greene talks about The Man Box and why we need to break out of it. [Read more…]

You Can Help Stop Terrorism and Gang Violence: Join Actor LeVar Burton in Changing the Lives of Young Angry Males

LeVar BurtonViolence captures our attention as we see and hear the latest news reports. Here are a few I read today:

  • Girl, 5, dies after being thrown from bridge; father arrested
  • France: Raids kill 3 suspects, including 2 wanted in Charlie Hebdo attack
  • S. official on terror attacks: ‘This isn’t going to stop’
  • A terror suspect who took over a kosher market and killed four hostages was also killed
  • Boy, 13, stabbed after denying he belonged to a gang

One obvious thing, though it isn’t always talked about directly, is how often it is young males who are involved in violence. Actor LeVar Burton is one man who cares deeply about young men and wants to do something constructive to heal the anger and despair that leads to male violence.

Burton is best known for his roles as the young Kunta Kinte in the 1977 award-winning ABC television miniseries Roots and Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Most people don’t know about his involvement with the Men’s Center of Los Angeles and its program for young men.

I’ve known about the Los Angeles Men’s Center and their founder and director, Dr. Stephen Johnson, for more than 25 years. I believe they are doing truly revolutionary work to heal the lives of males of all ages and their families. I’ve been so impressed with their work that I took my grandson to their Young Men’s Call to Adventure weekend and wrote about our experiences. I called the article “Mentored Boys or Monster Boys.” [Read more…]

Never Doubt That Rites of Passage for Our Young Males Can Decrease Violence

When I think about how we can prevent the kind of violence we have experienced recently at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and at the Boston Marathon, I think of the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  And when I think about what a small group of citizens might do, I think about providing rites of passage for young men.

In Newtown, 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed 26 people, including 20 six and seven year-old children.  In Boston, 19 year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect, has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction in the deaths of three people and wounding of 170.  His older brother was killed in a shootout with police following the bombing. 

Within weeks after the Newtown killings, Warren Farrell, Ph.D. wrote an article for USA Today titled “Guns don’t kill people — our sons do.”  After Newtown many parents cried out, “What’s making our children kill?” But it is not our children who are killing says Farrell, “It is our sons.”  He reminds us that “All but one of the 62 mass killings in the past 30 years was committed by boys or men…. [Read more…]