“Lone” gunman? Think again.

Jared Loughner "flag"--graphic with image plus words such as "violence means ends" and "speak kill propaganda listen"

"Jared Flag" by Eric Gulliver, graphic designer for Engaging Peace

Jared Loughner’s deadly attack on innocent civilians in Tucson, Arizona, was morally reprehensible. Maybe he is mentally ill, but he is also the product of a society with an enormous tolerance for violence.

He may be considered a “lone” gunman, but the social macrosystem in which he grew up undoubtedly contributed to his actions. To give just a few examples, the U.S. is a country in which:

  • An estimated 1,740 children died in 2008 as a result of abuse and/or neglect. Yet the financing of social programs to address such problems has been constantly under attack;
  • The annual murder rate was 29th among the 31 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The frequency of homicide in the U.S. is more similar to rates in Haiti and Albania than to other Western countries such as Canada, France, and Spain.

Also in 21st century U.S.,

  • Pressure on lawmakers from pro-gun interests far outweighs advocacy for the  right of some individuals to vote; and
  • Incitement to violence on the airwaves and Internet routinely trounces civility and dialogue.

Don’t believe the rhetoric that “words don’t kill, only weapons do.” Words are weapons that can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. Ask women in battered women’s shelters what was more destructive to them—vicious words or fists. Ask anyone who has gone through military training about the use of words to make them ready to murder and maim. Propaganda is very popular among unscrupulous leaders because it works.

Finally, remember that the U.S. is also home to millions who grew up to live the ethic of reciprocity, to choose a life of service, to love rather than hate, and to err, apologize, and forgive.

To read the words of a true war hero, see this essay by Ron Kovic, then ask yourself what do we need to do to encourage the likes of Ron Kovic rather than the likes of Jared Loughner.

And if you have never read Ron Kovic’s memoir, Born on the Fourth of July, or seen the movie based on it, please do. Ron may have lost the use of his legs in war, but he is freer than all the people who are bound up in hatred.

Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology

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20 Responses to “Lone” gunman? Think again.

  1. Eric Gulliver says:

    The art I produced for this post was particularly difficult to put together because of the nature of the incident in Arizona. What I hoped this piece would communicate surrounds the nature of propaganda and words – how words can lose their meaning or be stripped of it through intentional misuse. I read that Jared was very concerned about what Orwell warned of in 1984, where history would be re-written to serve the dominant parties via the changing of meaning in words. They would no longer signify anything except power. The vector image of Jared is meant to be distorted – a spitting image of what used to be a typical college kid. You can see the semblance of a boy there, but in something that has become a sinister representative. This happened in Amerika of course, the Amerika which Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin spoke of which is nothing more than a power center – a violent state. This Amerika sends its soldiers off to kill and torture poor, defenseless people across the world, where it is not a crime, but when a person back home actually puts his words into practice (however misguided) the country stands SHOCKED at the brutality. That kind of violence is every daylife for Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Palestinians and others who are either directly or indirectly being attacked by the United States military. Hence my use of the words in the American flag regarding violence. It has been a large part of our history, but holds a very tenuous place in the moral scruples of the average American – when the state does it, it is not a crime, but when individual people do it, then it is considered a crime. Jared has done something terrible, but we must not fail to analyze why and how he came to the conclusions or felt like shooting a gun was a logical manifestation of his conclusions. Amerika uses violence and thus, its sons and daughters believe it a necessary and logical means to an end…

    • kathiemm says:

      Thanks for your superb artwork, Eric. It stands alone as a compelling image, but your willingness to share the thinking you went through to prepare the image really enriches our understanding of it. Your message, like the image, promotes thinking about the events in Tucson, and the escalating social problems that stem from widespread tolerance–and even encouragement–of violence in American society.

  2. Ross Caputi says:

    Yes, words certainly do have a powerful impact on the way we think about violence! For example, look at the way we talk about war. We call going to war “service”, which makes our actions sound noble and benevolent, and everyone just assumes that the people being served are the American people. Soldiers speak of seeing “combat”, but notice that “combat” is being spoken of like it is bad weather or some phenomenon that just happens. The soldier isn’t speaking of himself as an agent of the “combat”, nor he is not taking responsibility for it. Like “service”, “combat” is so vague that it can mean many different things. Soldiers “attack”, “defend”, “ambush”, “maim”, “destroy”, and “retreat”; and any one of these actions could fall under the term of “combat”. Language both shapes and reveals how we think about things. A choice of words can abstract ugly and specific concepts like “maiming” to vague, agentless concepts like “combat”.

    Violence pervades our culture so much that we don’t even realize when we speak of it. We don’t realize when we use words that mask it’s ugliness or remove our agency of it. We don’t realize when we hear unoffensive phrases like “military service” that we are really talking about killing people.

    • kathiemm says:

      Good comments about words, Ross.
      I find myself constantly amazed at the extent to which the words of war pervade our language. I now find myself pulling back every time I start to say that we need to attack a problem, or hit on a solution, or fight back against right wing extremists. There must be better ways to conceptualize and talk about activities such as protest, resistance etc.

  3. Jillian Zingarelli says:

    I agree, words are powerful and when they are used to dehumanize an enemy, like they were during Vietnam and in many other wars, they can cause incredible violence.
    However, everyday you can find blogs, articles, tweets, etc. filled with hateful content and possibly violent undertones directed towards other human beings. It’s great to live in a country where we can question and even critique our leaders (whether they be in government, sports, Hollywood), but how can we stop violent prose from escalating? In the case of Jared Loughner should the people around him been more worried about the violent material of his website? It seems too often that we are looking with hindsight at the hateful nature of someone’s words, only after they’ve committed a hateful action.

  4. Andrew Potter says:

    I work for the Department of Children and Families and it is concerning to hear this statistic about child deaths. I work at a call center where we receive calls pertaining to situations involving abuse and neglect. Judging on the severity of the call we send out social workers to deal with the crisis. I have only been working in the position for one month but I have already gained a grim view of the state of things going on, so much so that I find myself having horrible dreams most nights. I recognize the good that my organization is trying to do by preventing such acts to children but I can’t get over how minimal and underfunded the efforts are. We have a formulaic action plan for dealing with such incidents (we execute one of only three action plans), we cover the entire state, and are constantly telling frustrated callers that there’s “nothing we can do to help them.” We are reactionary rather than proactive and children suffer as a result.

    I’ll just throw it out there: Is it good to get involved with a flawed organization such as mine, albeit one that has good intentions?

    • kathiemm says:

      Andrew, it was so good of you to share your experiences in the Department of Children and Families, especially given how painful that experience is. Everyone needs to be reminded that every penny spent on our wars in Iraq is a penny that could have been spent to help innocent children. Moreover, we must remember that there are some very rich people in this country who don’t think that the neediest children in our country need or deserve or merit any help. They do not seem to understand that violence, abuse, and neglect have consequences whether done to their own children, other children, other people, other countries.

  5. Jane Gilgun says:

    The acts of violence that Jared Lee Loughner committed are so horrible to think about that I had to write my analysis in the form of a poem. I have interviewed about 150 men who have committed violent acts, most in prison, some for life for serial murders. Through these interviews, I have developed an understanding of what violence means to perpetrators. In this poem, I apply what I know about violence to what is known about the life of Jared Lee Lougher.

    Yes, Jared Loughner pieced together bits and pieces of our culture and became a man who committed mass murder.

    Unhinged, All Right:
    Jared Lee Loughner

    He was unhinged, all right,
    Jared Lee Loughner, that is,
    in a state of dysregulation
    as they say in psychology
    meaning he couldn’t think straight
    dysregulation hurts
    and so the dysregulated seek to soothe themselves

    Some people talk to others about what’s bothering them
    and work things out
    some get drunk, high, drive or buy recklessly,
    fixating on how others are hurting them
    or how they can hurt others
    to feel better
    or just do what they want to feel better
    telling themselves that those they use and abuse
    are enjoying themselves

    Psychology says they have issues with executive functions
    meaning lack of planning
    unable to control impulses
    and not being able to foresee consequences

    Jared Lee Loughner thought straight enough
    to plan murder
    persisting in buying bullets
    after he failed at the first Wal-Mart
    and getting a black diaper bag to boot to hide his booty
    persisting in getting to the supermarket
    for a $14 cab ride
    after his father chased him into the desert
    wanting to know what was in the bag

    Jared Lee Loughner soothed himself with rants
    against the currency and linguists
    why is 6 called 6 and not 18 anyway?
    he soothed himself some more when he posed
    wearing a red g-string
    his Glock beside his crotch
    took photos that Wal-Mart
    developed for him
    that he picked up hours
    before the hour he opened fire
    he thought straight enough
    to say good-bye to friends on Myspace
    and post a picture of himself in the g-string
    with his Glock
    hours before he opened fire

    Oh, yes, Jared Lee Loughner was dysregulated all right
    and didn’t think straight
    except when thinking straight enough
    to hone in on his target
    right through the brain
    that beautiful woman with a fairy-tale life
    what a guy
    to murder a nine-year old girl
    eager to learn about the US government
    to murder a wise judge, a young social worker
    old women, an old man
    wounding, maiming life forever
    he was afraid to murder his scary old man
    who yelled at him

    The rageful rhetoric of fringe groups
    got the attention of Jared Lee Loughner
    gave his life meaning
    that’s the ultimate self-soothing
    shoot them, kill them, maim them
    take advantage of their defenselessness
    walk in on them meeting and greeting
    in the open air
    grin and fire
    30 rounds in seconds
    and then grin into the camera at the cop shop

    He did it. Mission accomplished
    just a niggle of a conscience
    made him look like an idiot, a fool, a jester
    on front pages and webites throughout the world
    but he was planfully dysregulated
    had selective executive function issues
    sought to soothe himself
    choosing an easy target
    someone who succeeded where he had failed
    succeeded at school, in love, in a vocation
    while he failed at school, in love, in a vocation
    he believed his father hated him
    if his own father hated him
    no one would ever love him
    My God, what’s a guy to do?

    Take drugs, drink, find satisfaction
    in the rants of fringe groups
    choose as your favorite YouTube video
    a man in a dark hoodie
    a garbage bag for pants
    a skull mask
    burning the American flag
    in the Arizona desert

    Jared Lee Louis is a man, after all
    what kind of world is it
    that a woman, a woman is so successful
    beautiful, a great job, married to an astronaut
    has it all
    that is not right
    he, Jared Lee Loughner, a man
    he deserves what she has
    a mere woman doesn’t
    bitch, whore

    She doesn’t deserve anything
    except a bullet in the head
    she’s the government
    she tells me what to do
    says 6 is 6 and not 18
    forces me to use paper money
    not gold and silver
    how dare she?
    She can’t tell me what to think
    She is not the boss of me
    take her out
    take them all out
    satisfaction at last
    all eyes on me
    I count
    don’t I?
    I’m the man
    aren’t I?

  6. Barbara says:

    I have always been impressed by good poetry–rhyming poetry of the sort my mother wrote for children’s magazines. I didn’t see the point of non-rhyming verses. But Jane Gilgun’s “Unhinged, All Right” is a powerful piece of literature with unforgettable images, a graphic look into the mind of murderer Jared Lee Loughner. I congratulate the poet for her chilling insights into his motives for this frightful crime.

  7. kathiemm says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your poem, Jane. It is very powerful. Like the illustration that Eric, our graphic artist, did for this post, I think your work of art tells it like it is in a transcendant way.

  8. Lauren Moss-Racusin says:

    This post brings to mind a talk I saw by Aimee Mullins (http://www.ted.com/talks/aimee_mullins_the_opportunity_of_adversity.html), who spoke about the power of words and resiliency. She brings up the point that in many ancient societies, it was believed that by giving voice to negative thoughts and bad wishes, one was bringing them into existence. I think it’s important, as you say, to remember that vitriol, even if not directly responsible for violence, can certainly impact it.

  9. Ashley Meese says:

    What I find so sad about this tragedy is that several people in many different aspects of Loughner’s life noticed that something was wrong, and yet the steps weren’t taken to avoid this incident. I know for sure that if I encountered someone who seemed on edge, I would report to an individual of authority or the appropriate training to approach Loughner or his family and offer some kind of help. It is because we are shunning persons of mental illness, anger, and despair that we are allowing persons of innocence to suffer. Let’s hope that this is a wake-up call to everyone that the first sign of trouble is the last chance to do something and prevent the massacre that could manifest.

  10. Sam S says:

    Jared Loughner, the convicted perpetrator in the Tuscon, Arizona shootings which wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others, has been diagnosed with as mentally unwell. Although this most likely contributed to his actions, Malley-Morrison also points to the effect the macrosystem can have on the perpetrator and their actions in this blog post.

    The majority of Americans are exposed to large amounts of violent imagery through the media and pornography, with children seeing more than 8,000 murders and 100,000 violent acts on television by the time they complete elementary school. It has been widely accepted that viewing violence increases violence (H&MM pg. 49). The overwhelming rate at which Americans are exposed to violent imagery has been tied to the American society’s general acceptance of violence and has even been shown to cause children to behave violently (H&MM pg 49). The role that violence plays in our everyday lives makes it irresponsible to discount the impact the macrosystem, microsystem and other risk factors have on the population. It is important to be informed of the impact our society is having on today’s youth and the potential consequences for our inaction on these issues.

    Many researchers have corroborated the fact that it is a combination of these risk factors and not just one singular factor that put children at risk for physical abuse and other negative situations. Although much of the research in the text focused on the effect these factors have on family violence, the information and lessons can be applied to broader situations as well. Studies have shown that both physical abuse and corporal punishment are associated with criminal behavior (H&MM pg. 89). It is not clear if Jared Loughner was abused as a child; however, it is reasonable to argue that the environment in which he grew up affected his later behavior, and aspects of the American society as a whole have been correlated with abuse and criminal behavior.

    It is regrettable that events like the Tuscon shooting have occurred and continue to occur around the world, but an understanding of the mitigating factors that contribute to criminal behavior may help us to understand why the behavior occurs and provide us with better tools as to how to prevent future acts of violence. This is perhaps the most important thing we as a society can take away from episodes of violence such as this: that more can be done to prevent known factors that contribute to violence.

    the textbook referenced above is: Family Violence in the United States by Denise A. Hines & Kathleen Malley-Morrison (2005)

    • kathiemm says:

      Thanks, Sam, for discussing some of the factors that can lead to various forms of violence, and that may indeed have contributed to Jared Loughner’s horrendous masas murder and maiming in Tuscon. I do think we should not underestimate the role of violence and pornography in our media, and that we need to understand the multiplicity of factors that can come together and lead people to think that violence is acceptable and deserved.

  11. Natasha Phillips says:

    Taking a step back and looking at this case from a macro-level view, I’m reminded of the notion of “societal neglect”. Societal neglect refers to a large-scale “neglect of neglect”, such as ignoring pervasive and detrimental issues that left alone will continue to eat away at the larger society. The way the system is currently run, issues such as poverty have a cyclical course despite being a known risk factor for both child abuse and psychopathology. Poverty is a stressor in and of itself, but it can also lead to other potential stressors such as social isolation and family conflict (H&MM 25). In addition, poverty has been identified as a risk factor for various kinds of family maltreatment, child neglect being the most predominant (H&MM 25). While the link behind poverty and family violence may not be causal, there is a definite relationship between the two according to the stress theory of family violence and the empirical data. “Families with an annual income of less than $15,000 were 44 times more likely to be identified as neglectful, with children in these families identified as being 56 times more likely to experience neglect educational neglect, 40-48 more times likely to experience physical neglect, and 27-29 times more likely to experience emotional neglect” (H&MM 141). Allowing such an issue to go un-addressed is a primary example of societal neglect, and we agree with the view that “eliminating poverty is essential to eliminating child neglect” (H&MM 141). Societal neglect, as we see it, exists at all levels—concurrent with the ecological model of family violence/abuse/neglect. The individuals that act violently or abusively tend not to become that way on their own, and often their pathology stems from pervasive family models, stressors, and isolation (H&MM Chapter 1). A combination of community, government, and cultural failures both create and perpetuate the pathology of abusive individuals.

    I believe that the failure to more effectively regulate gun ownership is one of the ultimate forms of societal neglect. Civilians with combat weapons and assault guns have been responsible for countless deaths in “lone gunman” accidents over the years, yet gun control remains unchanged. This is due in part to political failure to address the topic properly and U.S. cultural attitudes that view guns as necessary to self-protection. Under no circumstances should ownership of an assault rifle be classified as a “self-protection” measure. Gun ownership is a constitutionally protected right, but there is a general failure to recognize that the efficiency of guns in the colonial era is a far cry from today’s technology. In colonial times, the time it took to load, aim, and shoot a gun averaged around a minute—even if fired in anger, the victim had some opportunity to defend themselves or flee the situation. Today’s weapons give no such opportunities. Additionally, with one pull of the trigger, you can fire multiple bullets. Poor regulation and widespread availability of these weapons is government neglect. Though eliminating or limiting gun ownership may not decrease desire to harm, it would restrict the means. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” is a reasonably true statement, but without guns, less people would have the means and opportunities to kill others. Culture has a huge impact on violent behavior, but that cannot be corrected without taking the first step—and I think that the first step should be stricter gun control.

    • kathiemm says:

      Thanks for your comment, Natasha. I think your framing out country’s lack of adequate gun control as a form of societal neglect is very thought-provoking.

  12. Divij Patwardhan says:

    From this article, the one key number I would like to highlight is 1,740. That is the number of children who died in 2008. The worst part about this fact is that most child abuse comes from the people close to the child.
    Abuse and neglect are not a single situations, they have a range. Abuse can be physical, sexual, psychological, recurring and so on. Neglect could have reasons from single parent life to neglectful parenting. One of the important aspects of childhood is spanking. The damage parents cause to their children with such physical abuse is irreparable. The trauma to the child carries on with them throughout their life and at some point they often act out, they learn violence is socially accepted. In the US, over half the men and women in a survey believed in corporal punishment (Hines & Malley-Morrison, Family Violence in the United States 2, 2013, Chap 11, Page 356).
    The blame plays its part in this issue as well, “viewing violent media causes children to behave aggressively” (Hines & Malley-Morrison, Family Violence in the United States 2, 2013, Chap 11, Page 373). The media keeps everyone interconnected which means that acceptance of such programs portrays the country’s acceptance of violence. However it is hard to control so many gaps in our society but we need to change our beliefs before we take any action, otherwise no progress will ever be made.

  13. Svetlana says:

    Almost 3 million children in the US experience some kind of maltreatment each year. Shockingly tragic acts of violence are on the rise in every part of the world, violence is rooted deeply within our history and it is shaping our future. When we speak of violence and abuse, we often associate it with physical abuse, not acknowledging the devastating consequences of psychological maltreatment (Chapter 4, p.108). Words are as powerful as weapons, in some cases even more so.
    Research shows that psychological abuse is the most damaging, and it is usually accompanied by other forms of maltreatment; 15-20% of American children experience psychological abuse without any form of maltreatment and proximally 33% are maltreated with additional forms of abuse (Chapter 4, p.109). It is easy to overlook psychological abuse, victims of psychological mistreatment rarely receive treatment and their suffering frequently goes unidentified (Chapter 4, p.111). Although most forms of abuse have similar predictors, such as low socioeconomic status and unemployment in the macrosystem, age or parental living situation in the microsystem, and psychological and physiological diseases in the individual level (Chapter 4, p.112), we often not even look for psychological damages that those environments at each level might have.
    The negative impact of psychological abuse affects every aspect of a one’s life and has severe short and long-term consequences. Psychological maltreatment has been linked with disorders of attachment, developmental and educational problems, socialization problems, disruptive behavior, and later psychopathology (Chapter 4, p.113). Those unseen wounds of psychological maltreatment effect not only the victim as a child for instance, but his own way of treating people in the future within their family, causing this phenomenon to become an intergenerational devastating course of problems which results in non-functioning adults who use abuse and violence as a way of life.
    Currently there is no sufficient research of prevention and intervention with regard to psychological abuse (Chapter 4, p.118) but it can be easily implemented into any existing form of prevention and intervention programs that are aimed at parents/primary caregivers or directly to the victim as psychological therapy. There are many existing form of therapy that is not being implemented into the process of recovery from abuse, this needs to change – treating only one aspect of abuse and neglecting the other is NOT solving the problem.

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  15. akima tendo says:

    When this humble little lady was growing up – she was a quiet child who read and studied books… on her own. In the name of our Constitutional Republican Mortal State and Liberal Democratic Mortal Society – and Nonviolence, avoiding aggression, and Nonsinning, avoiding harm to others – please consider that a “lone child” may be a quiet, peaceful student of books, board and/or roleplaying games, philosophy, the arts, history, herstory, etc. … and may be turned off by our Government’s violent Corruption. The next mass shooter could well be a violent bully with a horde of followers blinded by a “get in good” feeling. Honor the lone Scholar who works for the betterment of Society. Blessings of the Buddha, the Tao, the Kami (Gods), and the Megami (Goddesses) to our young Hermits of books from this humble little Japanese American Shinto Shamaness. Cheers!

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