The Shriver Report – Mass Killings: Have We Had Enough?
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Mass Killings: Have We Had Enough?

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Elliot Rodger was a racist. He was a misogynist. He was spoiled. He was neglected. He was sick.

His parents failed him. Law enforcement failed him. Society failed him.

Movies and video games are too violent and desensitize us.

Elliot Rodger shouldn’t have had guns. And why did he need 400 rounds of ammunition, anyway? But he killed three people with a knife, so guns can’t be the problem, can they?

We’ve heard many explanations for the tragedy that happened in Santa Barbara on Friday, the 23rd of May. There have been reasoned assessments by mental health and law enforcement professionals and by journalists, and there has been less-reasoned chatter on social media.

It’s understandable that we would want to know the reason for something as horrible as what happened in Santa Barbara. To call it senseless isn’t enough. We’re used to getting answers; let’s get to the bottom of this! Hire a consultant. Form a commission. Google it. Whatever – just figure it out.

Did you notice what I just did? I referred to six murders, 13 attempted murders and a suicide as something that “happened.”

It rains in Seattle. Robins appear in the spring. Nice people get sick. Stuff happens.

But mass murder doesn’t happen. Elliot Rodger killed people, injured still more, and then killed himself.

Some have said that we shouldn’t utter Elliot Rodger’s name because it glorifies him somehow or might motivate copycats. On the contrary, we have to talk about Elliot Rodger. We need to study and know Elliot Rodger like we know Hitler, Gacy, Bundy, McVeigh. His so-called manifesto wasn’t rambling at all – just the opposite. What he gave us is a tedious but highly detailed story that, if we’re smart, we’ll take apart in the same excruciating detail.

Why did Elliot Rodger do what he did?

To begin with, he was a man, and men, after all, commit far, far more violent crimes than women do. Depending on the study or years covered by those studies, men are seven to nine times more likely to commit murder. What’s that about?

Is a tendency toward violence part of my DNA? Is it related to the dolls-for-girls-and-guns-for-boys thing? Only ten percent of hunters are women. Are we really different from each other or is it just that we behave differently? Should we behave differently?

Elliot Rodger felt entitled to attention from women. Most perpetrators of rape feel entitled. What do we do about that? I had my formal sex education as part of Health class in the sixth grade. Do we start teaching classes in Gender Respect or something similar at the same time? Earlier?

Elliot Rodger was also much more likely to commit mass murder because he was American. Some might point to Norway, Finland and Germany, where mass killings have occurred in recent years, but we Americans are the world leaders.

Mental illness comes in many forms and not all of them are visible, but at this point it’s tragically safe to assume that Elliot Rodger was mentally ill. His parents knew that something was wrong and wisely called the police, which must be a brutally painful thing to do with your own kid. The police, though, were limited in their options because Elliot displayed no immediate threat to anyone.

Maybe it’s worth reassessing the power we give to clinicians and law enforcement to impose psychiatric holds on people. In California we have what’s called a “5150 hold” by which people who are seen as a threat to themselves or others can be held for three days for evaluation. Should we give officials more leeway in determining what a threat is?

We have terrorist watch lists and no-fly lists directing heightened scrutiny at some people in some situations. Should there be something along those lines for people with mental illness? There are prickly questions relating to civil liberties here but I believe it’s an area worth at least a look. Surely there’s a way to preserve the balance between personal freedom and public safety while giving clinicians and law enforcement officers a little more flexibility.

And the guns. Few issues arouse more passion than guns but we simply must address their role in these killings. Elliot Rodger owned guns and he bought them legally, but would the officers who visited him have handled those situations differently if they knew he had bought several guns recently?

In 2012 I tried to kill myself – with pills, not a gun – but I’m prohibited from buying or possessing firearms for five years. That’s one of the results of the 5150 hold that was placed on me when I left the emergency room. It’s a small but fair imposition in the name of a greater good. Can we at least talk about the guns?

It’s nice to wish that Mayberry existed but it doesn’t. Not anymore. I suspect that people in Aurora, Newtown and Santa Barbara thought they lived in their own little slices of heaven, but they were in for a shock.

There are far more questions here than answers but something has to change. This has to stop. I worry whether we have the will to address the problem in a serious way, from every angle, but it isn’t just a problem; it’s our problem.

What are we going to do about it?

Clay Russell is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Clay Russell is a writer and political consultant. A Texan by birth and Californian by choice, he served seven years as Special Assistant to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is currently Executive Director of minimum1010.org and maintains his own blog atwww.clayrussell.com. Clay lives in Los Angeles with his husband and two cats.
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