Posted Friday morning, November 10, 2017.
The Fall of the Alamo or Crockett’s Last Stand by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk. Circa 1903. Via Wikipedia.
Firearms are an “important part” of that community, Sinise said, adding that families spend time together at the shooting range. The small Texas town of Sutherland Springs is “NRA country,” Stinchfield said.
While the majority of Sutherland Springs residents don’t take advantage of the state’s liberal open-carry law, residents said, most people do carry concealed weapons, and most households own at least one weapon and usually several more.---from the Washington Post. November 8, 2017.
That’s the problem.
The same gun culture that produced Stephen Willeford, the good guy with a gun who chased and shot Devin Kelley Sunday, produced Devin Kelley. That means they shared the thinking that guns are ready tools for solving problems and that killing is sometimes something that needs to be done---nasty varmints, animals or human, that threaten you and yours just have to be put down. They were both raised to be heroes in their own minds, too. Willeford brushes off the notion he’s a hero, but he’s just being modest. Being a hero is an ingrained ambition of every American male. We’re raised to think it’s our job to save the day. Which is a good thing, when saving the day requires rushing into a burning building or jumping into an icy river. It’s good somebody will do it. Sometimes saving the day requires reaching for a gun.
Women can and do save the day every day and by doing those things too, including reaching for a gun. But they aren’t raised to think they will have to the degree men are. They’re more likely to have been raised to think in terms of communal self-sacrifice than individual heroics. And while there are women who own and like guns and know how to use them, popular culture and national mythology don’t reflect this, or, at any rate, have only recently begun to reflect it. It’s men who see themselves presented constantly, relentlessly, and ubiquitously as heroes with guns, as being heroes because they have guns and know how to use them.
We’re raised to see ourselves as cops, as soldiers, as cowboys, as James Bond and John Wick and John Wayne and…Davy Crockett.
Keep in mind, we’re also talking about Texas specifically here.
An armed citizenry protecting itself on an isolated frontier where the law and the government can’t reach them in time to save them when there’s trouble figures mightily in Texans’ self-image.
Sutherland Springs is thirty-three miles from San Antonio. The Battle of the Alamo is the constellating myth of Texans’ collective unconscious. And they’re not all that unconscious of it. On the contrary, they’re almost too conscious of it. Texans are ready to remember the Alamo at the drop of a coonskin cap. More than any other state, Texas is aware of itself as having been born out of violence. And they’re proud of it and celebrate it. That painting up top hangs in the Texas State House.
In their dreams of self, Texans are always fighting alongside Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. If they let themselves see themselves dying alongside Crockett and Bowie it’s only so they can replay the battle in their imaginations and see themselves and Davy giving Santa Anna’s army what-fer all over again.
Death doesn’t figure in a gunlovers’ personal mythology. The whole point of the mythology is to deny death will get them.
But the myth requires the constant presence of enemies and threat. Texas is always under siege. The heroes with guns are always under attack. A hero can’t be a hero until he’s facing a villain. He can’t shoot back until he’s shot at. In our imaginations, men are always looking for trouble and we’re eager to welcome it. Our default settings are paranoia and belligerence. Somebody is always out to get us and we’re always already fighting back. We’re looking forward to it. We can’t wait.
"This is going to happen again," he told Fox News. "All I can say is in Texas at least we have the opportunity to have conceal carry. And so ... there's always the opportunity that gunman will be taken out before he has the opportunity to kill very many people."
That’s Ken Paxton, Texas’ attorney general. He sees the slaughter inside First Baptist as a vindication of his idiotic gun nutty politics. Doesn’t matter how many people die in the meantime, one of these days a would-be mass murderer is going to be taken out before he gets his first shot off and that will make up for everything. Until it actually happens, though, Paxton and his fellow gun nutty fantasists can satisfy themselves with what-if stories. The shootings that didn’t happen and weren’t likely to happen because of who Kelley was and what he was probably out to do---another domestic abuser committing his ultimate act of abuse, intending to die in the end, either at his own hand or the cops’---are more real to Paxton than the shooting that did. The “people” who were “saved” are more real than the people who were not. Their mournful “thoughts and prayers” are all for show, ostensibly expressions of sympathy but in actuality sounds of self-satisfaction. The point is feeling good inside while enjoying one’s fantasies of taking righteous and bloody vengeance.
I know. We’re not supposed to talk like this. Paul Ryan says that anybody who does doesn’t "understand faith". I’m supposed to respect the banal pieties of people for whom my death at the hands of a mass murderer with a military assault weapon and the deaths of people I love would be the price they’re willing to pay for freedom? Never mind me and mine. The forty-nine who died at Pulse, the fifty-eight in Las Vegas, the twenty-six in Sutherland Springs, the thousands and thousands of others who have died in the countless mass shootings over the course of decades, they all paid the price of the pious hypocrites’ freedom to imagine that they’d be the a good guy with a gun who got there in time to save the day.
Here’s the thing.
I’m not saying that the Texas’ gunloving culture is responsible for making Devin Kelley a mass murderer. When I say the gun culture of that part of Texas produced both Kelley and the good guy with his gun, I mean the same as when I say Queens produced Donald Trump and my mother-in-law. They share cultural and historical affinities, but have very little else in common. My mother-in-law still has a Catholic schoolgirl’s morality and outlook on life. Donald Trump has no morals and his outlook on life is that of conscienceless grifter whose only goal is to make as much money off other people as he can get away with. Kelley shared cultural and historical affinities with his gunloving fellow Texans, but becoming a mass murderer was a goal he worked his way toward on his own.
I have no idea what Devin Kelley was thinking when he set out for First Baptist. We’ll probably never know what he was thinking, probably because he didn’t know. He couldn’t explain himself to himself. That might have been part of his problem. He didn’t have the words to describe himself coherently to himself. But it’s likely he grew up a hero in his own mind, just like most other American men, and I suspect it was a constant frustration to him that he couldn’t manage to be heroic, that just about every choice he made resulted in his being the opposite of heroic.
I doubt Kelley saw himself as a defender of the Alamo Sunday morning, but he may have convinced himself he was the good guy with a gun. He may have seen himself as a hero of some cause that existed in his own mind. The way he was dressed, including the vest that turns out not to have been bulletproof or, at least, unable to stop a bullet aimed at a part of him it didn't cover, he does seem to have seen himself as on a military mission. By the way, the vest is something advocates good guys with guns as deterrents need to take into account. Kelley prepared for people shooting back. But however he saw himself, what he was was typical.
Analyzing his database, Dr. Stone has concluded that about 65 percent of mass killers exhibited no evidence of a severe mental disorder; 22 percent likely had psychosis, the delusional thinking and hallucinations that characterize schizophrenia, or sometimes accompany mania and severe depression. (The remainder likely had depressive or antisocial traits.)…
“The majority of the killers were disgruntled workers or jilted lovers who were acting on a deep sense of injustice,” and not mentally ill, Dr. Stone said of his research.
In a 2016 analysis of 71 lone-actor terrorists and 115 mass killers, researchers convened by the Department of Justice found the rate of psychotic disorders to be about what Dr. Stone had discovered: roughly 20 percent.
The overall rate of any psychiatric history among mass killers — including such probable diagnoses as depression, learning disabilities or A.D.H.D. — was 48 percent.
About two-thirds of this group had faced “long-term stress,” like trouble at school or keeping a job, failure in business, or disabling physical injuries from, say, a car accident.
Substance abuse was also common: More than 40 percent had problems with alcohol, marijuana or other drugs.
Looking at both studies, and using data from his own work, J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist who consults with the F.B.I., has identified what he believes is a common thread: a “paranoid spectrum,” he calls it.
At the extreme end is full-on psychosis…But the majority of people on this spectrum are not deeply ill; rather, they are injustice collectors. They are prone to perceive insults and failures as cumulative, and often to blame them on one person or one group.
“If you have this paranoid streak, this vigilance, this sense that others have been persecuting you for years, there’s an accumulation of maltreatment and an intense urge to stop that persecution,” Dr. Meloy said.
“That may never happen. The person may never act on the urge. But when they do, typically there’s a triggering event. It’s a loss in love or work — something that starts a clock ticking, that starts the planning.”
You can check off the things we know about Kelley like items on a list.
He couldn’t hold a job.
He’d had trouble in school and it’s a good bet he had learning disabilities that went undiagnosed or untreated.
He was a loser in love twice-over, one marriage having failed and one in the process of failing.
I haven’t read anywhere that he had substance abuse problem, yet. I won’t surprised to learn he drank or had a drug habit.
He was in physical pain. He’d racked up his motorcycle a few years ago and still suffered recurring headaches and pain in his neck.
It doesn’t appear in the Times article but I think a likely part of the profile is an inability to make the connection between their own mistakes and bad behavior and their troubles and problems. As with his possible substance abuse, I suspect it will come out that that was the case with Kelley.
As for his being a grievance collector, well, that’s probably something he had in common with most other American men, particularly white men. We’re awfully good at it. Resentment and self-pity are two of our other default settings.
An “outcast” is how he’s described by friend of Kelley’s from high school, one of the few he kept, although according to her he’d had more than a few. She says he was popular among the other outcasts. Outcast appears to be an identity he kept wherever he went in life. He was always seen as an oddball, as being a little “off.” Rather than turning him into a mass murderer, the gun culture he grew up in may have sheltered him---sheltered him from himself---for a while. It may be that owning a gun was the most normal thing about him. It was one of the few ways he fit in. It made him just like everyone else. In his mind, at any rate.
The point, though, is he's not the point here.
The main reason I don’t own a gun is pretty much the same reason I don’t own a drill press. What would I do with it? It’s a tool I don’t have a practical use for. But it’s also because I know that if I did own one it would make me feel the opposite of heroic and manly. It would make me feel like a little kid playing at being a grown-up, a particular kind of grown-up---a cop or a soldier or a private eye.
The other day a gun nut on Twitter, responding to my post We Could Be Heroes, and assuming that as a liberal I want to take away his personal arsenal and ban all guns, quoted Ben Franklin at me---well, misquoted him, but most people do.
But, as I told him, we haven’t given up any liberty here in New York. We’ve gained it. I have the liberty to go around without a gun on my hip and my hand on my holster, always at the ready to fight off imaginary bad guys or, to put it more accurately, constantly afraid of shadows. This liberty and the attendant safety is due to my living in a state where there are some sensible limits on gun ownership and my residing in area of that state where the police are professionals in both the technical and ideal sense and do their job policing their jurisdictions as opposed to defending them. They see the people they serve and protect as people they serve and protect and not as criminals looking for an opportunity to cause trouble.
Also, I’m a middle-class white man. It’s amazing how much liberty that simple fact grants me. It’s almost like I’m privileged.
But that’s the gun culture I grew up in. I’ve always known people who owned guns, many of them Democrats, even liberals. Mainly for hunting, but also for protection---their businesses in iffy neighborhoods against the very real threat of stick up artists, their farmyards and chicken coops against foxes and coyotes and, now and again, bears. For the first twelve years we lived here, there was only one place nearby you could buy a gun, a sporting goods store of the type that has existed for decades---in fact it opened for business in 1954---and sells gear for fishing, camping, hiking, and canoeing, not to mention baseball, tennis, and running, along with hunting, deer rifles, almost exclusively. Recently, a gun shop specializing in “small arms” opened in town and I’m tempted to go in there to nose around. I suspect it of being a haven for gun nutty Trump voters but the clientele might just be made up of collectors and target shooters. Whoever shops there, the place doesn’t appear to do a brisk business. So there are gun users among our neighbors, probably some gun lovers and a few gun nuts, but gun-owning isn’t integral to local politics and culture. Obviously, things are different in East Central Texas.
The main obstacle to our having a sensible national gun control policy is the NRA and its bought politicians in Washington and the state houses. But it’s hard to have a rational debate on the question when so many people aren’t rational on the subject and don’t even know they’re not rational. People raised in the gun culture think it’s the way things are and all people have a habit of thinking the way things are are the way they ought to be. When we argue that we can keep guns out of the hands of would-be mass murderers like Devin Kelley, all they hear is that we want to take them out of the hands of good guys like Stephen Willeford, which is to say, take them out of the hands of good guys like themselves.
They hear arguments for gun control as arguments that they don’t get to be heroes they imagine themselves to be.
They hear arguments for gun control as arguments that they aren’t fighting alongside Davy Crockett.
They hear arguments for gun control as liberals telling them to forget the Alamo.
What red-blooded American man, let alone Texan, wants to hear that?
When a bystander fired on the Texas church shooter, the NRA found its hero by Ellie Silverman at the Washington Post.
Are Mass Murderers Insane? Usually Not, Researchers Say by Benedict Carey at the New York Times.
From 2015. Ben Wittes of Lawfare talking to NPR about that Franklin quote: Ben Franklin's Famous 'Liberty, Safety' Quote Lost Its Context In 21st Century.