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 Watch, read, and summarize, by providing at least 3-4 sentences, the materials listed below: 

 After completing the readings, make sure to provide something to substantiate the readings–something that allows you to take what you learn and move beyond by applying theories, providing examples through different forms of media, etc. 

To prevent mass shootings, don’t bother with motive; do a forensic ACEs investigation

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    Blum_Jaworski_2016.pdf
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    Coleman_2010.pdf

SOCIAL SCIENCE AND PUBLIC POLICY

From Suicide and Strain to Mass Murder

Dinur Blum1 & Christian Gonzalez Jaworski1

# Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Abstract Mass media explanations and criminological pro- files of mass shootings focus on the perpetrator’s individual psychological traits in their search for motive and meaning behind such horrific events. We consider the broader social context to better understand mass shootings. We focus on three recent high profile mass shootings in the United States – Aurora, CO, Newtown, CT, and Santa Barbara, CA as examples of people responding to various experienced strains with violence, and conclude with some ideas to help prevent such occurrences from happening again.

Keywords Mass shooting . Violence .Murder . Criminology

B Humanity… All of my suffering on this world has been at the hands of humanity, particularly women. It has made me realize just how brutal and twisted human- ity is as a species. All I ever wanted was to fit in and live a happy life amongst humanity, but I was cast out and rejected, forced to endure an existence of loneliness and insignificance, all because the females of the human species were incapable of seeing the value in me.^

This is the story of how I, Elliot Rodger, came to be. This is the story of my entire life. It is a dark story of sadness, anger, and hatred. It is a story of a war against cruel injustice…This tragedy did not have to happen. I

didn’t want things to turn out this way, but humanity forced my hand, and this story will explain why.^ (Rodger 2014: 1)

This article examines three recent, high-profile mass shoot- ings in the United States and offers social explanations as the potential causes of these shootings. Criminologists Jack Levin and Eric Madfis define a mass murder or mass shooting as Bthe antisocial non-state-sponsored killing of multiple victims during a single episode at one or more closely related locations^ (2009: 1227). The mass shootings have been se- lected here because of the volume of news attention each has received. We focus on these shootings because they are atyp- ical of most mass murders in the United States and because of the media attention they receive (in no small part due to them being unusual events). According to criminologist Grant Duwe (2007), the most common type of mass shooting in the United States is among intimates, in which a person experiences a stress (such as losing their job), and copes with the strain by killing family members and themselves. In the mass shootings that get more media attention, the mass media focus on individual psychological explanations, explaining that these shootings are the result of crazy people, but not offering further explanations as to how purported mental ill- ness causes these violent episodes. We write hope to supple- ment the psychological explanations that are offered through the news media after mass shootings like these occur.

A more complete understanding of mass shootings has to take all factors into account and this can only be achieved by a comprehensive view of the social context of mass violence. Furthermore, our solutions in preventing mass shootings all revolve around changes in the social lives of potentially alien- ated young men. Since so many of the young men who com- mit violence share similar social characteristics and situations,

* Dinur Blum [email protected]

1 Department of Sociology, University of California, Riverside, 1206 Watkins Hall, 900 University Ave, Riverside, CA 92521, USA

DOI 10.1007/s12115-016-0035-3

Published online: 6 June 2016

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it is important to understand the whole picture which includes social factors, especially if we are to find potential solutions to stopping mass shootings.

Why Focus on Social Explanations?

After the Jonestown mass suicide in 1978, sociologist Albert Black (1990) explained that residents of Jonestown died Bfor very different reasons and that two types of suicide occurred simultaneously: altruistic and fatalistic^ (1990: 285). In doing so, Black showed howmass suicide can be viewed as a social, rather than individual, phenomenon. While we do not focus on suicide in this paper, we believe Emile Durkheim gives us a good starting point by addressing an issue consid- ered to be individualistic and dealing with death by looking at mass shootings.

Durkheim (1997); orig. 1897; 1951) argued that communi- ty is the main preventer of egoistic suicide, which occurs when a person is isolated from the community in which he or she lives and is not well-integrated to the community. When a society no longer had a general sense of strong collective beliefs, the uncertainty produced would inspire indulgence in immoral acts, including suicide. Durkheim (1997) de- scribed some factors that lower the chances of egoistic suicide occurring. Among these factors was the idea of being married. With all other factors being the same, unmarried people would kill themselves about twice as much as married people. This can be understood as the marital relationship providing strong social ties for people, not to mention a form of social control in the form of spousal supervision and support, with single peo- ple not having these ties. It is important to continue this dis- cussion in the context of mass shootings, especially as the social root of many incidents can be examined with the hope of finding social solutions.

Criminologists Levin and Madfis (2009) build on Durkheim’s ideas of egoism and anomie by exploring the role of strain, meaning unpleasant life experiences, in school shootings. They argue that the combination of chronic strain, uncontrolled strain, and acute strain form a mindset for shooters that suggests that strain is persistent, never-ending, and catastrophic. This mindset lends itself to planning and committing mass murder in order to mitigate strain in the shooter’s mind Chronic strain is the range of negative experi- ences or disappointing events in social relationships at home, school, or work or in the neighborhood. These difficulties lead to anger, frustration, disappointment, depression, fear, and ul- timately, crime (1229–1230). Strain is chronic when it persists and intensifies over a long period of time. Uncontrolled strains are strains that are not mitigated by the presence of conven- tional and pro-social relationships. In this sense, uncontrolled strain and chronic strain are closely related to egoism and anomie, given the lack of positive relationships. The last type

of strain, acute strain, is a loss perceived to be catastrophic in the mind of the killer, which serves as a catalyst or precipitant. Levin and Madfiss argue that the chronic-acute distinction with strain is similar to illness. Just as a chronic illness is not necessarily felt constantly, the prolonged illness takes its toll on a person, while acute illness is felt more sharply, even if for a shorter duration of time. Similarly, chronic strain may not be constantly felt, but its presence is enough to take a toll on a person, while an acute strain is more pronounced and related to a specific event or events.

Case Study: Aurora, Colorado

After midnight on July 20th, 2012, in a quiet suburb of Denver, a man dressed in body armor and a gas mask walked into a crowded movie theater and sprayed gunfire inside, mur- dering twelve people and injuring fifty eight others. The crowd had gathered to watch the newest Batman film (The Dark Knight Rises).

Witnesses to the shooting said that a man appeared at the front of the theater about 20 min into the movie with a rifle, handgun, and gas mask. He threw a canister that released some kind of gas, after which a hissing sound ensued, and he subsequently opened fire on the crowd packed into the early-morning screening of the film. In less than thirty minutes, seventy people had been shot or wounded, making it one of the worst mass shootings in American history. (CNN.com, 7/20/12).

Immediately after the Aurora attack, the focus of the media focused on the man who had done such a horrific act. The suspected perpetrator had surrendered without a fight soon after the shooting and questions about his motives quickly began to circulate among the police, the victims, and national experts. Initial reports said that the suspect, James Holmes, had dyed his hair a bright orange and had described himself as Bthe Joker,^ a reference to the homicidal psychopath of previous Batman films (CNN.com, 7/20/12). Questions that were asked included speculation as to Holmes’ motives, the circumstances that would lead such a man, who was well educated, intelligent, and from the upper middle class with a good family, to seemingly senselessly and indiscriminately kill people. Was he mentally ill?

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported that James Holmes had no romantic attachments, but was involved in a video game group. However, outside of this group, there was no mention of Holmes having close friends. A former classmate, Breanna Hath, said, BThere were no real girls he was involved with. It seemed he was really into a video game group that hung out together^ (BBC 7/30/12). A former lab colleague, Billy Kromka, said Holmes had been one of the quieter people, and had spent much of his time immersed in his computer, often participating in role-playing online

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games.^ (BBC 7/30/12) It was also reported that Holmes, then a graduate student, received low scores on his comprehensive exams shortly before his suspected shootings and that after these exams he withdrew from school. This withdrawal would remove some of his social ties, as he no longer saw his co- workers or classmates, and also meant a sudden role exit and a shift in identity, as he was no longer a graduate student.

The Union-Tribune also reported that Holmes did not have an online presence besides his computer gaming group. By not being involved with social media, he reduced his ability to connect with coworkers, classmates, or other people outside of a game setting. The emphasis is not on Holmes’ gaming group or choice of game. Rather, our emphasis is on Holmes’ social isolation in both the outside and virtual worlds. Holmes had no connection to his victims, nor did he travel far when he picked the cinema as his killing site. Once he entered the theater, Holmes and his victims shared the same social and physical space.

Case Study: Newtown, CT

On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20 years old at the time, killed his mother at their home, then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, close by. Upon reaching the school, he shot open an entrance, as the doors were locked (http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2012/12/us/sandy- hook-timeline/). Once Lanza was inside the school, he shot and killed 20 children, ages six and seven, as well as six adults. Lanza ultimately committed suicide by shooting himself in the head as first responders arrived at the school. Reports emerged that Lanza had been Bwracked by anxiety^ when he was in eighth grade (Griffin and Kovner 2013), and that he Bhad been found to have a type of autism, was faring poorly [in school], and [had been] bullied in high school.^ (Kleinfield et al. 2013). Other reports suggested that Lanza had been abused while a student at Sandy Hook (Huffington Post 2013). Similar to Holmes in Aurora, the focus immediately following this shooting was on the possible mental illness of the shooter. The large public debate sparked by this shooting centered on gun control, but no systematic public debate focused on what could have served as a catalyst for Lanza’s shooting.

Lanza was described as Bsmart but acutely shy, and was not known to have close friends^, and that Bhe was getting picked on and bullied and was starting to shut down.^ (Kleinfield et al. 2013). The only victim Lanza personally knew was his mother. This raises the question of why would he go to an elementary school and kill children, especially ones he did not know. Given that he was bullied at the school, we argue Lanza chose Sandy Hook as the site for his killing spree as a way of exacting revenge against a place where he was harassed, even

if he had no connection to the people he killed there. He was getting revenge against a site rather than a specific person or persons.

Case Study: Santa Barbara, CA

OnMay 23, 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree near the University of California, Santa Barbara. News reports described Rodger as mentally ill, and explained that Rodger:

[F]atally stabbed three men in his residence, shot two women to death in front of a sorority house, shot a man to death inside a deli, exchanged gunfire twice with police and injured 13 people as he drove from block to block…and ended the Friday night rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara, apparently by fatally shooting himself in the head while sitting behind the wheel of his wrecked BMW. Inside the car, police found three handguns – all legally purchased – and more than 400 rounds of unused ammunition, Brown said at a Saturday evening press conference. (Ellis and Sidner 2014, cnn.com)

Unlike the previous shooters described, Rodger had left clues about his crime before the fact, making various YouTube videos and writing a 140-page manifesto detailing his anger. Rodger’s shooting spree left six people dead and 13 wounded. Similar to Lanza’s case in Connecticut, public sen- timent and focus centered on the availability of firearms and the possibility of mental illness playing a role in the shooting.

Rodger described himself as having a lonely life, calling his videos on YouTube a BLonely Vlog (Video Blog)^, and describing life as being Bunfair .̂ Rodger’s mother described him as a Bhigh-functioning autistic child^ (Nagourney et al. 2014). By framing him as autistic, the onus of explaining and understanding Rodger’s spree is placed squarely on him as an individual, rather than examining any social factors that may have pushed him towards feeling strain and using violence to alleviate this strain. Rodger was described as being withdrawn and shy, as well as being lonely and introverted even from a young age. Similar to Lanza, Rodger experienced bullying while in high school, which forced him to change schools multiple times. Rodger was described as withdrawing from schoolwork and spending time playing World of Warcraft alone, and not connecting with students his age, but instead with a special education assistant, with whom he discussed the game. Rodger had previous contact with the police (Rucker and Costa 2014). In Rodger’s case, contact with the police occurred after his mother saw his videos on YouTube and subsequently called mental health officials, who in turn had sheriff’s deputies check on Rodger (Rucker and Costa 2014).

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What Do these Cases Have in Common?

In each of these cases, much of the media attention has fo- cused on individual aspects and characteristics of the shooters, but no broader social context was offered or analyzed in an attempt to explain the shootings. Typically, shooters are pre- sented as suffering from a mental disorder, independent of any social conditions that may have influenced them. This framing places the onus of understanding why mass shootings happen at the level of the individual shooter, and leaves broader social implications ignored. If sociologists, criminologists, and po- lice are ever to understand the totality of these horrible crimes, then the social world in which the killers lived in must be examined. By focusing exclusively on the individual shooter’s psychological factors, an important part–a broader societal context or influence–is neglected.

In addition to looking at individual psychological factors, examining social factors can help offer insight as to why mass shootings happen, as well as avenues to prevent them. While we may never be able to totally predict and eliminate mass shootings, we believe incorporating the broader social context will lend insight into social factors that go into these events. Given this awareness, interventions may be possible to reduce the likelihood of mass murders. One factor we see in common with the mass shooters in this paper is the lack of community integration, and instead, the prevalence of social isolation. Given that only one of the shooters had a close friendship, we can see that the shooters were not well-integrated into their communities.

Given that the only community mentioned with respect to James Holmes was an online gaming group – and one that did not meet in person – there was no sense of social control or of obligation to a bigger group to which Holmes belonged. Based on news reports, Holmes had few friends, if any, and a former classmate of his said Holmes Bwas obsessed with computer games and was always playing role playing games. He did not have much of a life apart from that and doing his work. James seemed like he wanted to be in the game and be one of the characters.^ (Gye, Keneally, and Bates; dailymail.co.uk).

Similar to Holmes, Lanza Bhad spent most of his time in the basement of the home, primarily playing a warfare video game, BCall of Duty ,̂ which is often adversarial rather than social. (Kleinfield et al. 2013), as had Rodger (albeit a differ- ent game). We do not blame video games for these violent outbursts. Rather, we examine social isolation as a key factor in understanding mass shootings. By spending most of their time alone playing games, Lanza and Rodger were isolated from other people. Unlike Holmes, there are no reports about Lanza or Rodger belonging to gaming groups, so there is no knowledge if they joined one as a way of being included and integrated and having a sense of community.

We are left to reconcile whether individual-level strain is a catalyst for strain at the societal level or whether general soci- etal strain leads to individual-level strain. Ultimately, this dis- tinction may not be especially useful. Rather, it is the presence of strain that an individual internalizes – this strain can be either from the societal level, from the individual level, or have both levels felt in tandem – and that fuels negative emotions and the desire to act on them with violence, either against oneself (i.e. suicide) or by inflicting pain and harm onto others.

Many of the characteristics of these mass shootings fit with what Durkheim said. In each case, the shooters were unmar- ried, and Holmes reportedly had broken up with his girlfriend days before the shooting spree in Aurora, Colorado (Gye et al. 2012; dailymail.co.uk). Rodger was perpetually single, so while he did not have a breakup that acted as a catalyst, his persistent status as single had the same effect as Holmes’ breakup. Given each of their professional situations – Holmes had just failed his comprehensive exams and with- drew from graduate school; Rodger had changed high schools multiple times and had withdrawn from college. Both men faced sudden, unexpected changes which they may not have known how to deal with, not the least of which was the loss of a support network at work, compounded with losing or not having a support network in the form of a significant other in their personal lives.

From what has been discussed in the media, Holmes, Lanza, and Rodger had few, if any, communal ties. Holmes had his gaming group (which Rodger and Lanza did not have), were intelligent, and came from financially-stable families. However, given their few social ties, combined with the stress of not doing well in school (for Holmes and Rodger specifi- cally) and subsequent withdrawal, Holmes and Rodger may have felt isolated and lost, and felt that violence, including shooting, was a viable response to these stresses.

The Implications of a Social Perspective

This article does not seek to diminish psychological findings or diagnoses. Indeed, feelings of isolation likely have both social and psychological roots. We seek to explain social causes of mass shootings, not justify these acts of violence. We write this in an attempt to focus on factors that are typi- cally underreported or otherwise ignored in analyses and me- dia portrayals of mass shootings.

By focusing exclusively on psychological explanations, the mass media end up stigmatizing mental illness by conflating mental illness with violent behavior. This is problematic on several fronts. Mental illness is stigmatized even without the reported link to violence, and indeed, most cases of mental illness have nothing to do with violence. Further, by only offering individual-level explanations, the mass media ignore the social world in which shooters like the ones in this paper

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live, and make it seem like they are in a separate world from others. We hope that by emphasizing social factors, we can show that even unsocial behavior like these shootings have social causes, and given that, we can address these causes to reduce the likeliness of these mass shootings occurring in the future.

Given this spate of violence, one possible intervention to consider is the implementation of support networks in schools and jobs.While co-workers can be a support network in and of themselves, having both formal and informal mechanisms may provide some much-needed social support, and a way to alleviate feelings of social isolation. Ideas for formal mech- anisms include workplaces hiring counselors for people to vent to during their employment as well as after – having someone in place who can advise workers with respect to stresses of the workplace, as well as during transitional pe- riods when workers are either leaving their workplace for a new one or when they are preparing to retire. Informal mech- anisms could include people working as teams and meeting regularly for both work-related goals but also to see how ev- eryone is doing –informal social control. Levin and Madfis (2009) argue:

By the time a youngster has murderous intentions, it is usually too late to intervene. But years earlier, a sensitive teacher, a perceptive guidance counselor, or even a con- cerned parent might have made all the difference. If strains are counteracted early on, then the cumulative impact of isolation, catastrophic losses, and planning lose their efficacy in regard to producing a massacre (2009: 1241).

The main idea behind the mechanisms we, as well as Levin and Madfiss, offer is to reduce feelings of isolation and in- crease feelings of belonging and of community. Such inter- ventions might not prevent all future mass shootings, but may reduce the likelihood of these horrific acts happening and save lives in the future.

A large part of any solution to the problem of mass shoot- ings would be that professionals should focus less on psycho- logical labeling of the individual and more on the social con- text of potential perpetrators. By solely viewing the individ- ual’s psychological characteristics, mental health workers and other professionals may be missing an important piece in preventing crime. Since we are arguing that these social forces play such an important role in mass shootings, it would make sense that our potential solutions would emphasize social fac- tors. Reintegrating potentially alienated young men into pos- itive social environments before they commit mass murder would be an important first step. We hope that by viewing social problems of isolated young men, psychological profes- sionals can add a necessary aspect in treating what we consid- er to be, at least in part, a social problem.

We do not discuss the role of firearms here. Certainly, we believe that the availability of firearms contributes tomass shoot- ings. However, we do not believe that the availability of guns is a primary force in explaining thesemass shootings. Aside fromnot wishing to engage in a political argument about whether or not firearms should be easily purchased and owned, we frankly be- lieve that this is tangential to our argument. Given that we ex- amine the role of strain and violence as a response to it, merely reducing the number of guns available changes the response to strain while not dealing with the underlying stressors.

Further Reading

Agnew, R. 2006. Pressured Into Crime: An Overview of General Strain Theory. Los Angeles:Roxbury Publishing.

Black, Jr., Albert. 1990. BJonestown – Two Faces of Suicide: A Durkheimian Analysis.^ Suicide & Life-Threatening Behavior. 20(4): 285–306.

Blum, Dinur and Christian Jaworski 2014. (forthcoming) BFrom Egoistic andAnomic Suicide to Egoistic andAnomicHomicide: Explaining the Aurora, COMass Shooting Using Durkheim, Merton and Agnew.^ In Gun Violence in American Society: Crime, Justice and Public Policy, edited by Lisa Eargle. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

British Broadcasting Corporation 2012. BProfile: Aurora shooting suspect James Holmes.^ July 30, 2012.

CNN 2012. BSandy Hook Shooting: What Happened?^ http://www.cnn. com/interactive/2012/12/us/sandy-hook-timeline/.

DeLuca, Matthew 2013. BChilling Navy Yard Surveillance Video Shows Shooter Stalking Hallways.^ NBC News. Sept. 25, 2013. http:// usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/09/25/20694290-chilling-navy- yard-surveillance-video-shows-shooter-stalking-hallways

Durkheim, Emile. 1997 (orig. 1897; 1951). Suicide: A Study in Sociology. Translated by John A. Spaulding and George Simpson. New York: Free Press

Duwe, G. 2007. Mass Murder in the United States: A History. North Carolina:McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers.

Ellis, Ralph and Sara Sidner. 2014. BDeadly California rampage: Chilling video, but no match for reality.^ CNN.com. May 27, 2014.

Griffin, Alaine and Josh Kovner 2013. BAdam Lanza’s Medical Records Reveal Growing Anxiety.^ Hartford Courant. June 30, 2013.

Gye, Hugo, Meghan Keneally, and Daniel Bates 2012. BDark Knight Gunman Faced Eviction and ‘Broke Up With Girlfriend’ Just Before Killing Spree.^ Dailymail.co.uk. July 24, 2012.

Holmes, R. M., & Holmes, S. T. 2001.Mass Murder in the United States. New Jersey:Prentice Hall.

Huffington Post 2013. BAdam Lanza, Newtown Killer, Was Abused at Sandy Hook Elementary By Classmates: Family Member.^ http:// www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/adam-lanza-abused-sandy- hook_n_3086468.html.

Kalish, R., & Kimmel, M. 2010. Suicide by mass murder: Masculinity, aggrieved entitlement, and rampage school shootings. Health Sociology Review, 19(4), 451–464.

Kleinfield, N.R., Ray Rivera, and Serge F. Kovaleski. 2013. BNewtown Killer’s Obsessions, in Chilling Detail.^ New York Times. March 28, 2013.

Levin, J., & Madfis, E. 2009. Mass Murder at School and Cumulative Strain: A Sequential Model. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(9), 1227–1245.

Lilly, J. R., Cullen, F. T., & Ball, R. A. 2002. Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences (Third ed., ). Thousand Oaks:Sage.

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