Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Now, If Only Somewhere Will Print It

Is Our Mass Murder Problem New?
It seems as though mass murder is a recent and horrific addition to American culture.  Yes... and No.  For the last 18 months I have been collecting American mass murders, starting in 1657.  So far, I have found 504 mass murders (3three or more dead, or two dead and at least one wounded, in a 24 hour period, excluding all governmental killings) with a total of 6,568 dead   I know that there are at least 300 more yet to be added to my Spreadsheet of Horror.

Curiously, less than half of these mass murders were committed with firearms.  You may be wondering what weapons were used before repeating firearms: Axes, hatchets, knives, poisons, blunt objects, arson, aircraft (and not just on 9/11), and in 1931, blowtorches.  Where there is an evil will, there’s a way.  Even today, about ¼ of our mass murders do not involve firearms: instead, blunt objects, arson, explosives, and motor vehicles, as is the case in countries with much stricter gun laws. 

You probably can’t name the mass murders that killed 87 people in 1990 ;or 97 people in 1986; or the 1973 New Orleans gay bar with 33 dead.  All were arson, and are nearly unknown because there were no guns.  The 1990 murders were with $1 of gasoline bought a nearby gas station; the 1986 murders with a can of camp stove fuel; the 1973 murders were with a can of cigarette lighter fluid bought down the street.

I have recorded the proximate causes of these crimes.  So far, 22% are unknown; often the killer was unknown, and no other evidence established a reason.  Terrorism: 4%.  Mass lynchings: 8.4%.  The single biggest proximate cause?  Murderer with unquestionably severe mental illness: 24%.  Another 3% are likely mental illness and a few other categories certainly hint at it: 2% where usually the father murdered his family and commited suicide to avoid them falling into poverty.

Among the graphs I have produced is one that shows the mental mass murder deaths/100,000 population by decade.

Yes, those rates are very low because mass murder is less than 1% of U.S. murders.  But why these two peaks, one in the 1860s and 1870s, and another one starting in the 1980s.  I suspect the 1860s and 1870s were PTSD-related.  The Civil War was our first war where PTSD has been identified, and an enormous fraction of our population served and were scarred.

What about this recent peak?  In the 1960s and 1970s well-intentioned people trying to force the government to spend more on mental health care; they formed common cause (they thought) with ideologues who believed that mental illness was invented as a tool of oppression.  They destroyed our state mental health care systems.  By making involuntary commitment almost impossible, except for those in imminent danger to self or others, mental hospitals emptied out and those just developing severe mental illness were not hospitalized.  (This included my late brother, who wasted almost 50 years because of a failure to receive treatment when it is most effective, in the first year.)

Instead, these deinstitutionalized mentally ill people became a large part of our homeless population, living in alleys, begging, eating out of garbage cans, annoying people in public libraries, freezing to death: wasn’t this a grand result?  Some became a large fraction of our current mass murder problem.  An involuntary commitment is a lifelong firearms disability.  But because this tool is now largely off the table, people with serious mental illness problems may lawfully buy guns.

The Navy Yard shooter?  He told police that he was being controlled by microwaves.  He was not taken in for observation.  The Virginia Tech shooter? A judge told him to go to a mental hospital, but it wasn’t mandatory.  He left after one day.  The Sutherland Springs church shooter?  The military involuntarily committed him, but neglected to inform the FBI that this guy was now prohibited for life from buying or owning a gun.  The 2012 Aurora shooter?  His psychiatrist warned the police that he was dangerous, but Colorado law essentially asks a person to show up to discuss if he is crazy.  The Parkland shooter?  School staff had wanted involuntary commitment; Florida’s Baker Act would certainly have allowed that commitment  if the police had used it.  As with everything else, they dropped the ball.  Unfortunately, I can give you lots more.  I am writing the least cheery book in history.

If we solve the mental illness issue, the guns do not matter.  Focusing on the guns just directs the severely mentally ill to other weapons.
Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho.  His ninth book Lock, Stock, and Bqrrel was published in 2018.


  1. "I am writing the least cheery book in history."

    no effing kidding.

  2. God bless you, Mr. Cramer! You work on the scandal of the destruction of the mental health system is fact and the truth. Sophistry and cognitive dissonance are no defense. Thank you for the call against the silence and inaction of the press, the legislatures, the courts and academia. I have seen first hand evidence of this scandal having been employed in the jails, in patrol and as a detective while a Sheriff’s Deputy in California.

  3. Well done and I hope you can get it published. Try National Review. If that fails, try PJ Media or Breitbart.

    One typo (I think): " mental mass murder deaths"

    Did you mean "mental illness mass murder deaths?"

  4. If it is PSTD related, you would assume there would be another spike after WW1, WW2, Korea and Vietnam.

    I am not seeing that at all.

    Also, how many of these killers were combat vets? That does not appear to be common at least recently. I can only think of one.

  5. http://readjamesonparker.com/archives/4608

  6. Some insight into the Ohio murderer from someone who claims to be a former girlfriend: https://medium.com/@_adeliajohnson_/my-ex-boyfriend-was-the-dayton-shooter-2b7f2d792b68

  7. This is a book that has to be written. I commend you on your hard work and have no doubt that it will be as well researched and thorough as your previous works.

    When it's published, I will buy a copy.

  8. A much larger part of our population saw combat in the Civil War; more soldiers and more fighting instead of support functions. Also look at the sudden rise inn the 1940s.

  9. "I am writing the least cheery book in history."

    Don't let the subject break you down. Iris Chang, the author of The Rape of Nanking, suffered from bouts of depression for the rest of her life, which she eventually ended herself.

    Focus on what you hope to achieve: bringing the issue of what failure to address mental illness can lead to. If you succeed, these incidents could become vanishingly rare.

  10. Problem: is the increase due to an actual uptick in violence, or coverage?

  11. Coverage. Mass Murder is unchanged. Non-gun mass murders are ignored by the national media.