David Hines (hradzka) wrote,
David Hines

belated Aurora post

At the midnight premiere of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES in Aurora, Colorado, a theater patron exited the theater through the emergency door and went to his car, where he equipped himself in tactical gear that included a gas mask, helmet, and reportedly body armor. (I have not seen detailed citations on the body armor, though, and would really appreciate a link to manufacturer and level if anyone has one, as well as a transcript of the original source for this particular report. I have seen the receipt for the perp's tac-vest, which cost a hundred and six bucks, wasn't bulletproof, and is of the sort used for carrying mags. I've also seen a picture of what could be a ballistic vest lying on the ground in an AP photograph; if anything, it's probably a IIA, which is the lowest form of body armor, so that might explain why the perp surrendered when cops showed up with rifles -- even a pistol with sufficient velocity would defeat IIA body armor, and the blunt force trauma from being shot by something that couldn't penetrate would be pretty painful. Again, though, I've seen no print confirmation of this anywhere, and it's also possible the perp surrendered just out of curiosity, or in a lucid moment.) The perpetrator launched two gas bombs and then opened fire with a Colt AR-15 that had a 100-round drum mag attached. When the rifle (or, more likely, the drum mag) jammed, he went to other weapons: a .40 Glock and a shotgun. The perpetrator murdered twelve people and wounded fifty-eight.

Police were on scene very quickly. The perpetrator, though apparently well-prepared for a shootout, surrendered, and let it drop to police that there were bombs in his apartment. He wasn't kidding. The cops evacuated the surrounding buildings and spent a long time figuring out how to even get inside, given that the place was thoroughly booby-trapped. The eventual police entry involved a couple of controlled detonations.

Let me emphasize this first: this was a very, very, VERY well-planned shooting. That is noteworthy, because most spree killers are emotionally motivated and do not think about tactics at all. They may fantasize about their killing for long periods beforehand, they may glom onto previous mass shooters, but what they almost never do is look at previous mass shootings and think about what worked and what didn't. An Australian forensic psychologist has a different take than mine; I would disagree with him about how well mass shootings are planned, because I think there is a distinction between fantasizing and planning; very few of them put any thought into tactics beyond producing a gun and blazing away. (This is what makes Anders Breivik, the Norwegian perpetrator, so scary and so important: he not only thought about it, he *told others how to do exactly what he did.* It's an amazing relief that no one has yet taken Breivik up on it.) I would also disagree on the Australian's remedies, which include 1) massive gun control and 2) monitoring what internet sites people visit. (Of course, he admits, lots of *innocent* people will get caught up in those sweeps, and the trick is "separating the sheep from the goats.")

I'm still trying to figure out to what degree the perpetrator studied other shootings, because (on the one hand) he is clearly influenced by Anders Breivik even as (on the other) Breivik did a ton of stuff smarter and better than this guy, so I honestly don't know if he read Breivik's manual or not. But the shooter was smart and well-equipped, and (more importantly) identified victims with horrifying effectiveness. A movie theater on premiere night contains a dense crowd of people who are deep in Condition White -- i.e., completely unaware of their surroundings and any hazards -- because they are focused intently on the film and not on their immediate surroundings. Moreover, their movement is restricted by the narrow aisles and the seats, being padding and plastic, do not provide cover. The theater prohibited the carrying of firearms; the perpetrator paid about as much attention to that as you'd expect.

The initial news was all over the map. This is common to mass shootings, but Aurora in particular was been unusual. There were the usual rumors of multiple shooters, which turned out to be bunk. (I'm pretty close to advancing Hines's Rule of Mass Shootings: *there is only ever one shooter.*) But the motivation was harder to come across. In my opinion, mass shootings are either ideological or emotional; ideological shooters have a cause and plan to kill a large number of people to serve it or to draw attention to it, while emotional shooters are after catharsis and power, and they invariably find it in a place that has personal significance to them. Dr. Amy Bishop, denied tenure, murdered people in her faculty meeting. Jiverly Wong had issues with folks at the citizenship center; that's where he did his shooting. George Sodini was deeply fucked up in his attitudes towards women and despaired of ever not being alone, so he shot up the gym he worked out at, where he saw unattainable women and envied couples. Seung-Hui Cho targeted his college campus. And so on. Even among people who are mentally ill or deeply unstable -- which reports say Wong was, and which Sodini's blog would indicate, and which Cho *definitely* was -- there is a tendency to target the familiar. But people don't have deep ties to movie theaters, unless they work there, and workplace shootings tend to target co-workers. Too many were dead for a fight breaking out. So my own immediate reaction to the shooting was that it had to be ideological: it was carefully planned, intelligently staged, and (of particular importance) the perpetrator had no evident ties to the place of the killing.

And I was wrong. It's looking more and more like the perpetrator, James Holmes, is gravely mentally ill. I suspect the victims suing the movie theater should instead be suing the university Holmes attended, because it appears the university knew something was deeply and gravely wrong, and even suspected Holmes was dangerous to others. His tie to the theater seems to have been an obsession with Batman. Even if Holmes was inspired by Breivik, he would not appear to share any ideological comparison. Whether he is legally culpable for his crimes or not, Holmes probably will need serious medical help coupled with lifelong supervision.

I've recently read Clayton Cramer's MY BROTHER RON, which is self-published because he couldn't find anyone to publish it. It's an odd book, but an interesting one, a combination of personal memoir and legal history, and that neither-fish-nor-fowl combination is probably what doomed it. Cramer, a historian, software engineer, and gun nut, is best known for his writings on the history of firearms laws in America, and he's *better* about writing law, but emotionally he couldn't separate the two. Cramer's brother Ron is schizophrenic, and in the book Cramer alternates chapters between 1) how America has dealt with the public health problem of the severely mentally ill throughout history and 2) how Cramer's family dealt with his brother's severe mental illness, and the difficulties they faced in compelling Ron's treatment. Cramer deals with the tension between public health and civil liberty, and brings up some very interesting things along the way. (Example: did you know that threats of violence against neurosurgeons played a role in the ending of lobotomies as medical treatment? I had not.) The issue is not only one of how to pay for care; it's one of enforcing it, because while most people who suffer from a mental illness are perfectly capable of monitoring themselves, there are a lot of folks who aren't, and we need to figure out how to help them, too, because as Cramer points out untreated mental illness has contributed quite a lot to our high imprisonment statistics and our homelessness problem.

A side note, about reactions to the news: as the news was coming out, I did a quick google search and found a Tea Party Patriot page for a James Holmes in Aurora, but also a MyLife page for James Holmes in Aurora who was 30. The press was reporting the perp was in his early twenties (he turned out to be 24), so I commented on Twitter that either the news had the age wrong or there was more than one James Holmes in and around Aurora, Colorado. It turned out that I was far more cautious than Brian Ross and George Stephanopoulous of ABC News, because Ross mentioned the Tea Party guy on live TV, and Stephanopoulous went along with it. And they weren't alone. A lot of people on the left had been merrily pointing out that Bane, the chief villain of the movie, had a name that sounded like Bain Capital; Rush Limbaugh had even griped about it (prompting utter puzzlement on the part of Bane's creator Chuck Dixon, a staunch conservative). Once the shooting occurred, there were a lot of people publicly wondering if a conservative shooter was protesting the movie by murdering people.

This is not the first time this kind of jumping the gun (so to speak) has happened. Gabriel Malor noted a bunch of these, ranging from the census-taker in Kentucky who'd committed suicide and staged the scene to look like a killing for life insurance reasons, to the guy who'd flown his plane into an IRS building and left a suicide note quoting the Communist Manifesto, to the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords. All of those and more were blamed on conservative rhetoric, and none of them had anything to do with it. It is a little disturbing, not just that people are ready and eager for that story, but how easy it is to push it.

The good news is that the press doesn't admit mistakes much, but does learn; it has gotten more cautious since the Giffords shooting. The bad news is that the media still reports complete bullshit and speculation (see: two shooters). In any breaking news event, information changes lots and quickly. That's doubly true of mass shootings.

Originally posted on my DW. | comment count unavailable people have commented there. | Do so yourself, if you like.
Tags: guns, news

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