Don’t Blame Asperger’s, Ctd

A reader writes:

My son who went to elementary school in Newtown many years ago has Aspergers. He was horrified by what happened on Friday. He was afraid to go to school yesterday because he thinks people will assume that because he has Aspergers he is a potential mass murderer.

Parents of children with Aspergers have mercifully risen to the occasion. Another writes:

My 12-year-old son was diagnosed with Asperger's when he was seven. After the shootings at Sandy Hook, I found myself reading obsessively online to find out how journalists were accounting for the horror.  Once I read that Adam Lanza had been considered a socially awkward loner, I feared he would be identified as having Asperger's.  (I recalled that after the Jeffrey Dahmer killings, an African-American friend told me that she was so glad he was not black.) I have talked to my son about how he may be perceived differently in the wake of Sandy Hook.  I have told him he should never participate in the violent joking rhetoric so popular among 12-year-old boys because it could be misconstrued.


I am a child and adolescent in-home therapist who works with children with severe emotional and behavioral problems. As one of the only male, community-based mental health therapists in my county, I have a caseload mostly made up of very "aggressive" males (often also shy, awkward, insecure, creative, funny once you get to know them, deeply wounded and at their core – human). For them to be eligible to see me, they typically have been hospitalized for serious threats to other people, which are often times family members.

Needless to say, much of what we know about Adam Lanza's story resonates with me on a profoundly personal level. Ditto for the mother who penned the beautiful and heart-breaking essay "I am Adam Lanza's Mother". These are my kids. I spend my days at their kitchen tables, on their porches and at their schools. Working with them and their families to understand and try to manage unspeakable feelings and impulses.

In most them, Asperger's has either been suspected or diagnosed. We need to be extremely cautious in how we view causality in this case, but one of the possible theories out there is that part of Asperger's involves an impairment in "mirror neurons", which some suspect are the neurological basis for empathy. Exploratory research has established that children with conduct disorder, often a childhood precursor for people diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder, may also suffer the same impairment.

Perhaps this is a way for grieving families and a broken system to rationalize the cold and calculating way in which they can sometimes navigate the world. Maybe. But just as we know of people with anti-social personality disorder, most of them are not violent, or at least learn ways in which to control their impulses. They may be CEOs, politicians, lawyers, artists, or janitors. Same can be said for individuals with Asperger's. However, when you have an individual who has difficulty reading social cues, relating to others, empathizing AND combine it with violent impulses, among other important risk factors such as traumatic history, early attachment issues, limit resources and social support, it can really become a horrific situation for that individual and those who love them.

We all want to make sense when tragedies happen, and have an almost existential need for a "primary cause". Asperger's or any other mental health issue is not going to be it in this case. We don't even know if it was ever diagnosed yet. But as is the case with the dialogue about gun control, we need to honestly examine all of the underlying causes with grace and sincerity. Only then can we begin to understand and hopefully prevent these future horrors from happening.  

Earlier discussion here.

Another Alternative To Gun Control

Douthat suggests more police:

[O]bviously a push to hire more cops, no less than a new push for gun control, would run into political opposition in our age of tight budgets and public-sector layoffs. But shifting state budgets from incarceration to enforcement makes long term fiscal sense, and between the Republican Party’s affinity for cops and firefighters and the Democratic Party’s affinity for aid to state and local governments, it’s arguably easier to imagine a post-Newtown coalition forming around, say, a new version of Bill Clinton’s COPS program — which was mainly criticized after its expiration, as I recall, for subsidizing too many extra cops in sleepy small towns — than around a return to his ineffective gun control efforts. And based on the public policy record of the last twenty years or so, it’s much easier to imagine such an effort actually making a difference on the ground.

Bullet Control?

Phillip Bump reminds us that the Second Amendment "doesn't say a single thing about the right to own bullets":

Were the government to limit the amount of ammunition made and sold in the United States, there would still be an awful lot available. James Holmes bought 6,000 rounds online before his shooting spree in Aurora, Colorado. Bullets are so easy to come by that it's clear that huge stockpiles exist throughout the country. But unlike guns, bullets are single use. You fire a bullet, you expend its propellant. While attempts to remove guns from the streets would either be incalculably slow or require heavy-handed, dangerous government action, curbing the ability to buy ammunition would mean a natural diminishment of the arsenal that remains. Every time a bullet is fired, that bullet is lost forever.

Lexington compares America to Britain, where it is "very hard to get hold of ammunition":

Just before leaving Britain in the summer, I had lunch with a member of parliament whose constituency is plagued with gang violence and drug gangs. She told me of a shooting, and how it had not led to a death, because the gang had had to make its own bullets, which did not work well, and how this was very common, according to her local police commander.

Frum highlights how Israel controls private gun ownership:

Unlike in the United States, where the right to bear arms is guaranteed in the Constitution’s Second Amendment, Israel’s department of public security considers gun ownership a privilege, not a right. Gun owners in Israel are limited to owning one pistol, and must undergo extensive mental and physical tests before they can receive a weapon, and gun owners are limited to 50 rounds of ammunition per year.

Malkin Award Nominee

"I'd also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once," – Megan McArdle.

Chait piles on here.

Our ADD Media


Danny Hayes expects Newtown to soon be forgotten by the press:

Not surprisingly, each incident resulted in a spike in articles about gun control. For instance, in the week of the Virginia Tech shooting, 945 news stories in the database mentioned the issue. But as time went on, gun control received less and less attention. Within five weeks, coverage was nearly back to where it had been before the shooting. The pattern is similar for the Tucson and Aurora attacks.

This phenomenon – the media’s intense interest in, and subsequent boredom with, a public policy problem – is known as the "issue-attention cycle." A dramatic event, such as a shooting, brings an issue to the media’s attention, prompts an avalanche of news, and then an inevitable decline in coverage.

What Should Kids Be Told About Newtown?


Mark Oppenheimer urges parents to stay silent:

[A]s long as our children are alive, we can refuse to terrorize them with worst-case scenarios. We can decline to let a random act of violence goad us into treating Connecticut as if it were Gaza, Afghanistan, or Mali. I understand that there are parents in the world who have to teach their children about bomb shelters. But I don’t, not yet. My daughter is just five years old, and her school is as safe as we can make it without imprisoning ourselves in our own fear. My heart breaks for what happened 25 miles away; I’ve cried twice already today. But I’ve done it far from my children, who are still very young and, yes, innocent. So please: Don’t tell them a goddamned thing.

(Photo: New London, Connecticut residents Rachel Pullen and her son Landon DeCecco hold candles at a memorial for victims on the first Sunday following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 16, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. By Mario Tama/Getty Images)

How Can We Prevent The Next Newtown?

The limits Bob Wright would put on guns:

Imagine the following world, which it's within our power to create: It's illegal to sell or possess a firearm–rifle or pistol–that can hold more than six bullets. And it's illegal to sell or possess a firearm with a detachable magazine. In other words, once a shooter exhausted the six rounds, he couldn't just snap in another six-round magazine; he'd have to put six more bullets in the gun one by one.

In this world, a significant number of those 20 Newtown first graders would almost certainly be alive. Lanza reportedly fired six bullets from his AR-15 just to get inside the locked school. So, in the alternative universe I just described, he would then have to more or less exhaust one of his two pistols to kill the principal and school psychologist he encountered after entering. At that point, as he headed for the classrooms, he'd have six more rapid-fire bullets left, after which he'd have to reload his guns bullet by bullet.

Tomasky sees no reason to allow ownership of assault weapons:

Here's an idea: If people really have a need to shoot Glocks and Sig Sauers at a firing range, how about the firing range own them and keep them, and enthusiasts drop in and rent the firearm of their choice for an hour or whatever? I know this violated the capitalist principle of ownership, and yes, it impinges on "freedom," but it seems to me to slake the thirst in a way that maybe people could get accustomed to over time.

How Frum measures success:

When thinking about gun measures and mental health measures, the right question to ask isn't: will such-and-such a measure prevent all killings? The right question is: will it contribute to reducing the number of killings as we have previously successfully reduced automobile fatalities?

Kleiman, meanwhile, argues that "Sandy Hook is utterly atypical of our homicide problem" and that the vast majority of murderers "don’t fit the profile of the Sandy Hook killer."

Entering An Arms Race With Killers, Ctd

Like TNC, Alan Jacobs rejects calls to arm teachers:

We can be absolutely sure that within a few years more people would be killed by teachers who fired their weapons accidentally or in misplaced anger or fear, or by students who stole their teachers’ guns, than have ever been killed in school massacres like those in Newtown and Columbine.

But what troubles me most about this suggestion — and the general More Guns approach to social ills — is the absolute abandonment of civil society it represents. It gives up on the rule of law in favor of a Hobbesian "war of every man against every man" in which we no longer have genuine neighbors, only potential enemies. You may trust your neighbor for now — but you have high-powered recourse if he ever acts wrongly. Whatever lack of open violence may be procured by this method is not peace or civil order, but rather a standoff, a Cold War maintained by the threat of mutually assured destruction.

Did The Assault Weapons Ban Work?


Ezra examines the evidence:

Did the law have an effect on mass shootings? That’s possible. As this chart from Princeton’s Sam Wang shows, the number of people killed by mass shootings did go down in the years the ban was in effect (save for a surge in 1999, a year that included Columbine) … Because mass shootings are relatively rare, it’s difficult to tell whether this is just random variation or whether the assault weapons ban actually had an impact. Still, the number of mass shootings per year has doubled since the ban expired. That’s suggestive, at least.

Face Of The Day


Ty Diaz is kissed by his mother Yvette at a memorial down the street from the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 16, 2012. Twenty-six people were shot dead, including twenty children, after a gunman identified as Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza also reportedly had committed suicide at the scene. A 28th person, believed to be Nancy Lanza, found dead in a house in town, was also believed to have been shot by Adam Lanza. By Spencer Platt/Getty Images.