Mass Murder Myths About Sandy Hook and Adam Lanza

A prosecutor's report debunks misconceptions about the Newtown massacre.

Last December, less than a week after Adam Lanza murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the New York Post described his "eerie lair of violent video games," where he "obliterated virtual victims…until the virtual became a reality." The Post reported that the troubled 20-year-old "was enthralled by blood-splattering, shoot-'em-up electronic games."

The official report on the massacre, released this week by State's Attorney Steven Sedensky, paints a more complicated picture. It casts doubt on the significance of Lanza's gaming habits as well as several other theories about why he did what he did or how he could have been stopped.

Contrary to the impression created by stories focusing on Lanza's enthusiasm for titles like Call of Duty, he enjoyed a wide variety of games. "One person described the shooter as spending the majority of his time playing non-violent video games all day," the report says, "with his favorite at one point being 'Super Mario Brothers.'"

Another game that "enthralled" Lanza in the months before the massacre: Dance Dance Revolution, which he played at a local movie theater for hours at a time every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. If it seems absurd to portray Lanza's obsession with dance moves as a warning sign of the violence to come, it is only slightly less absurd to imply that "shoot-'em-up electronic games" enjoyed by millions of young men who never hurt anyone in real life turned him into a mass murderer.

There is a similar problem with the theory that mental illness made him do it. "The shooter had significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and to interact with others," the report says, but "whether this contributed in any way is unknown."

Lanza was anxious, isolated, socially awkward, rigid, and persnickety—traits his mother attributed to Asperger syndrome (a condition that no longer officially exists, having been folded into the "autism spectrum" in the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual). But as The New York Times notes, "there is no evidence that people with Asperger's are more likely than others to commit violent crimes."

Nor was there evidence that Lanza himself was prone to violence. "Those mental health professionals who saw him did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior," the report says. "Investigators…have not discovered any evidence that the shooter voiced or gave any indication to others that he intended to commit such a crime."

Lanza did not have the sort of psychiatric (or criminal) history that would have disqualified him from owning firearms, which is one reason strengthening the background check system for gun buyers makes no sense as a response to the Sandy Hook massacre. Another reason: "All of the firearms were legally purchased by the shooter's mother."

The Connecticut legislature has since banned the rifle Lanza used, a Bushmaster XM-15-E2S. But the ban does not apply to guns owned before it took effect, and equally lethal weapons remain legal.

Connecticut's new 10-round limit on magazines likewise exempts equipment already in circulation. Even if it didn't, the limit's relevance to Lanza's attack is debatable.

According to Sedensky's report, Lanza fired 154 rounds over five or six minutes—about one round every two seconds. That is not a particularly fast rate of fire, and there is little reason to think it would have made a significant difference if Lanza somehow had been compelled to use 16 10-round magazines rather than six 30-round magazines.

When Lanza shot himself in the head, a minute before the first police officer entered the school, he still had almost 300 rounds for the rifle and the two pistols he was carrying. That suggests ammunition was not a limiting factor.

Easy answers are appealing in the wake of such a horrifying crime. But one year later, we should recognize the folly of trying to explain the inexplicable or prevent the unpreventable.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...which is one reason strengthening the background check system for gun buyers makes no sense as a response to the Sandy Hook massacre.

    It only makes no sense if you view the murders as anything but a means to an end. Gun databases are an early step toward ending private ownership, and any event that can be massaged to further that goal will be used.

    Similar can be said of those looking to ban violent video games, which may have been why the Post tried to steer the narrative in that direction. Or, it all may have been a case of writers trying to fill the void of facts with their own boogeymen.

  • Brutus||

    There are only the fixed goals, FoE. Events come and go, and the connections to those events are constructed as needed to justify the goals.

  • sema832||

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  • ranrod||

    Mental health is the avenue to gun confiscation - it worked for the Nazis..

    300,000,000 prescriptions for psychiatric drugs were written in 2009 alone..

    http://fff.org/explore-freedom.....tally-ill/

  • ranrod||

    Mental health is the avenue to gun confiscation - it worked for the Nazis..

    300,000,000 prescriptions for psychiatric drugs were written in 2009 alone..

    http://fff.org/explore-freedom.....tally-ill/

  • cavalier973||

    I'm waiting for the story where a girl walks into an elementary school and starts pinning people to the wall with her bow and arrow, and these clowns blaming it on "The Hunger Games".

  • ||

    We're only one step away from that. Check out the movie "We Need to Talk About Kevin". Hilariously stupid attempt to delve into the psyche of a school "shooter" (I use scare quotes because the kid uses a bow and arrow to kill his school mates). IIRC, they even painted him up to look all goth or like Robert Smith or something. It was a really stupid movie, but the part where he massacred a gym full of kids with a bow and arrow was so ridiculous it was funny.

  • GILMORE||

    Assault Bow?

  • JCStephens||

    Did he ride a shield down a staircase too?

  • JidaKida||

    That dude jsut looks liek a real wacko!

    www.Comp-VPN.tk

  • ||

    Is this the first time that the Government has been on the record confirming the extent of the usage of the Bushmaster in the incident? I thought for a while there was a lot of conflicting reports about the weaponry that was actually used at Sandy Hook vs. what was simply associated with the shooter.

  • Ann Cap||

    As usual the media reported speculation and rumor as fact.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    True. There is almost nothing in the official reports that can be independently confirmed.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Disclaimer - video games should be legal, video games should be legal, video games should be legal. I hope I repeated that often enough to ruin the credibility of anyone who says I want to ban these games, but one never knows, some folks are unteachable.

    Video games dont turn people into murderers - that is dumb. Look at these games like any other piece of literature, and instead of asking if it will make the gamer a criminal, ask what kinds of attitudes it inculcates toward violence by others. Does it glorify heroic violence in the context of violence or just war against evildoers, or does it glorify nihilistic violence against random, unoffending targets? If the latter, the player might get coarsened, though theres little chance hed go on a real life shooting spree. The coarsening effect is worth investigating, but sociologists are so hoplophobic that theyll lump all violence together, whether heroic or nihilistic, under a general "eek, guns" category.

  • BillEverman||

    Disclaimer noted--I don't hate you.

    Your "coarsening" theory isn't bad, but I would also suggest that there is a catharsis factor to violent video games: for some people, video games may act as a safety valve, gradually releasing the pressure that might build up and eventually drive someone to act violently in real life. This theory is, if not supported, at least not refuted by the downward trend in violent crime as more realistic and violent games have become more popular.

    Probably both of these theories have some truth to them.

    I am frankly shocked that it is now being reported that Lanza was not an avid player of violent games--not because I think there's any evidence that violent games cause real-life violence, but because it makes sense that someone with an inclination toward acting out violently would seem more likely to take an interest in simulated violence as well.

  • GILMORE||

    " it makes sense that someone with an inclination toward acting out violently would seem more likely to take an interest in simulated violence as well"

    Clearly you've never played Dance Dance Revolution

  • The Original Jason||

    The Romans didn't have violent video games but they did have dance. What is Dance Dance Revolution but an electronic dance coach?

    Clearly it is dancing that caused the Sandy Hook Shooting and should be banned!

  • Ann Cap||

    Jack Van Impe tried to warn us about Elvis' undulating hips. Maybe we'll listen next time.

  • Tagalog||

    The imperial Romans didn't have video games; they had the real thing, which they held in the Coliseum and the Circus Maximus, where the stakes were real and the audience participated.

  • GILMORE||

    99% of what adolescent males do for entertainment is "simulated violence" of one form or another.*

    Either that, or I am going to have to ask for my college anthropology teachers to give me the money back, because boy was that a rip off.

    (*dance dance revolution? I don't know. A beta male peacock exercise machine? if they had any sense they'd just go out and pick a fight with someone and get laid a lot faster.)

  • Daily Beatings||

    It's Footloose all over again with six degrees of Kevin Bacon just for good measure.

  • PD Quig||

    After the disco / dance movies of the 70's and 80's, any dance-inspired murder would have been justifiable homicide.

  • Locke||

    Both. Some games glorify heroic violence against "evil" enemies, like the Call of Duty series. Some glorify nihilistic random violence, like GTA. Some have fairly intricate plot structures, which lead you to question "Wait, am I really the good guy?" I'm 31 and have been playing games since I was a teenager, including the original GTAs when I was younger. If anything video games didn't make me "coarsened", the Marine Corps did.

  • wwhorton||

    Disclaimer noted.

    I've been playing video games, violent and otherwise, for 30 years. I have been in a few fights, but that's the extent to the violence I've exhibited in my life. I've never felt especially compelled to murder (outside of dramatic teen/20s rage events, usually related to cheating girlfriends and the like) and certainly have never considered shooting up a school.

    I also can say that I'm in no way desensitized to violence, despite a lifetime of horror movies and violent games. One of the hardest things for me to learn when I joined a jujitsu class was how to inflict actual pain on actual people without flinching. Although I would certainly shoot someone in self-defense or to defend my family, the idea of actually killing someone horrifies me.

    I would love to see a solid, well-designed study done to once and for all put to bed the notion that violence in media begets violent behavior, or that it even desensitizes the audience to real-life violence.

  • wareagle||

    people always want simple answers to complicated questions. No one will ever really know why Lanza did what he did. You never know how mental issues will ultimately manifest themselves. Banning the inanimate is politicians being politicians, the "we have to do something" philosophy wherein activity is disguised as action.

  • Gray Ghost||

    Your website, your rules, Mr. Sullum; but I'd be thankful if you'd kindly stop showing that scrawny piece of filth's face on every article you guys do that deals with Sandy Hook. This garbage needs to fall into obscurity, not have his face on every media outlet, thereby inspiring some other loser to seek the fame in a messy death that they couldn't attain in life. Basically, it's the same complaint you guys received ad nauseum when discussing the Gabby Gifford's shooter.

    Other than that, I agree with most of the points in your article. About the only things I can think of that might have slowed him down would have been his mother getting him better psychiatric care, or letting teachers/school employees with CHLs carry on campus. If the released timeline is correct, the cops showed up about 5 minutes after the 911 call, and the shooter killed himself roughly 60 seconds later. This requires that it was over 5 minutes between the start of the shootings to the first 911 call being placed, which seems awfully high. I don't expect the cops to be on scene within 5 minutes, and I don't know how you could expect them to be there any faster. CHL holders aren't there to kill a shooter---though it's great when it happens---they're there to provide enough resistance that the coward runs off, hunkers down, and stops shooting innocents long enough for the cops to show up.

  • Tomblvd||

    Your website, your rules, Mr. Sullum; but I'd be thankful if you'd kindly stop showing that scrawny piece of filth's face on every article you guys do that deals with Sandy Hook. This garbage needs to fall into obscurity, not have his face on every media outlet, thereby inspiring some other loser to seek the fame in a messy death that they couldn't attain in life

    This.

    The media has to stop turning these psychopaths into rockstars. Report the crime, report the perp., and then forget his name and picture exists.

  • Rich||

    "The shooter had significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and to interact with others," the report says, but "whether this contributed in any way is unknown."

    "This having been said, however, we strongly recommend erring on the side of caution and proceeding with our plans to ensure no child becomes abnormal."

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    "This having been said, however, we strongly recommend erring on the side of caution and proceeding with our plans to ensure no mental health professional remains unemployed."

  • Earlycuyler||

    This is proof Super Mario Brothers is a gateway game.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "Must...have...more mushrooms..."

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Easy answers are appealing in the wake of such a horrifying crime. But one year later, we should recognize the folly of trying to explain the inexplicable or prevent the unpreventable.

    But if we can save or create just one political career, we have an obligation to try.

  • Rich||

    explain the inexplicable or prevent the unpreventable

    This is The Century of The Brain. No problemo.

  • Ramjet||

    I heard yesterday that the video game he spent the most time playing (as in 8-10 hours at a time) was...Dance, Dance Revolution. Too bad he didn't stomp everyone to death because at least that would fit the meme.

  • GILMORE||

    I think the more important take away here is = Dancing Fools are just one step away from mass-murder.

    Ergo = Ban Disco*

    (*all forms of house music to be included in open-ended definition of disco)

  • Alice Bowie||

    Is this the ONLY PHOTO we have of this character ?
    This must be done for theatrics.

    If we restricted gun manufacturing and proliferation (something that many Americans don't want), this person would had resorted to another way to kill many people.

    If you recollect, before Timothy McVeigh, Julio Gonzalez was able to KILL 87 people with $1 worth of GASOLINE in a DISCO.

    GET RID OF ALL GUN LAWS, they are SIlly

  • RightNut||

    When I release my game will their be a call to ban sexual robot violence? If so that would be amazing.

  • Alice Bowie||

    Will it run on the Wii U?

    Instead of a JoyStick, it will be a Fuck-Me-Barbie ??

  • Tagalog||

    As a lifelong shooter, I would remind Mr. Sullum that the NRA defines "rapid fire" in a target-shooting context (Bullseye shooting) as 10 rounds fired in 20 seconds, i.e., one round every two seconds. If you try that, you will find it somewhat demanding and tiring. To keep that up for five or six minutes with a semi-automatic firearm is a rate of fire that I (and, I'm sure, many others) think of as unarguably a fast rate of fire. In a context where the targets are living people and the shooting is likely to be done while moving, I would call it very fast shooting.

  • RightNut||

    So did Lanza have some type of training then?

  • Tagalog||

    I don't know. Maybe he was just pulling the trigger as fast as he could. No doubt the adrenalin levels and pulse rates for everyone were very high at the Newtown school incident.

  • Ann Cap||

    He frequently went shooting with his father and his mother. This had been going on for years.

  • GILMORE||

    "I would call it very fast shooting."

    So you object to 'rapid' in favor of 'very fast'. Done.

    Did you have some other point?

  • Tagalog||

    Well, no, I don't have any objection to using the term "rapid" or the term "fast" or the term "very fast" to what Mr. Lanza was doing. So I think you may have missed my point.

  • GILMORE||

    "I think you may have missed my point."

    Possibly. Given that I asked what it was.

  • Tagalog||

    No; you asked if I had some other point, implying that you got it.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Note that there were no wounded. All that were shot died. This is amazing, phenomenal shooting. Add to this, that Lanza was reported (officially) to have brought in with him over 60% of his body weight (120 lbs) in additional guns, ammo, and other accouterments, and this becomes preposterous.

    BTW, why are we not allowed to see the front door where Lanza allegedly shot his way into?

  • GILMORE||

    "The official report on the massacre, released this week by State's Attorney Steven Sedensky, paints a more complicated picture"

    DUH. Look at his picture. If that doesn't say to you, "Brain currently under control by Aliens", I don't know what does.

  • thorax232||

    If only people were allowed to defend themselves, this wouldn't have been such a big deal.

  • Tony||

    First graders?

  • The Original Jason||

    If Miko Andres were in that classroom, things would have turned out differently...

  • The Original Jason||

    Connecticut's new 10-round limit on magazines likewise exempts equipment already in circulation. Even if it didn't, the limit's relevance to Lanza's attack is debatable.

    Even if he had only 10 round magazines, he still could achieve a high rate of fire.

    Huffington Post has some pictures of inside the Lanza's home. One of the pictures includes some magazines that appear to be taped together jungle style.

    That's without adding in speed reloading.

  • Tagalog||

    The article repeats something that has been said often, namely, that Lanza's mother got her Bushmaster AR-15 legally; but the Connecticut statute that precedes the current post-Newtown statute specifically prohibits the ownership or possession of a Bushmaster AR-15. So it appears that the mom's purchase of the Bushmaster AR-15, unless it was accomplished before the relevant statute was in place, was unlawful and simply a purchase on which law enforcement did not follow up.

    This suggests that the typical Connecticut feel-good gun law is going to be passed, then ignored in practice. Such laws, that are passed but not enforced, should be repealed as soon as practicable.

  • Tagalog||

    Correction. The Bushmaster was the XM-15 model, not an AR-15. The two firearms are probably identical except that Bushmaster uses the XM designation for some reason, probably for patent or trademark reasons. My error.

    Conn. General Statutes, Section 53–202, prohibits possession or ownership of a Bushmaster XM-15 if purchased after October 1, 1993.

  • LarryA||

    Because a rifle is so much more dangerous if it has "Bushmaster" stamped into the reciver than if it's labeled "Fuzzy Kitty."

  • juliajuli145||

    until I looked at the check which was of $4814, I be certain that...my... mom in-law could actually bringing home money in there spare time on-line.. there aunt started doing this for under 20 months and at present cleared the debts on their appartment and got a top of the range Ford Mustang. why not try this out

    ==============================
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    ==============================

  • Baldur||

    Other sources now claim that Lanza possessed materials championing the rights of pedophiles and children, as well as materials suggesting he may have been a boy lover. Whereas the English-speaking nations have been waging genocide against pedophiles for several decades now, and seeing as such protests as Neil Wilkes' self-immolation have been ignored or mocked and have largely been ineffective, it is possible that Lanza felt it was necessary to strike back against a target that would most harm his persecutors even if he felt no desire to do so otherwise.

    In other words, this may have been an act of war, a case of blowback - and an example of what the 2nd Amendment is all about - to allow a persecuted minority to strike back against tyranny. Sadly, innocent children got caught up in this war that was not of their making - but we can say the same thing about the innocent children that the U.S. kills in Middle Eastern countries every day. I only hope that the conflict can be resolved while the body count is still low.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Are you high?

  • Paul257||

    Say anything anyone wants. Go ahead, get it off your chests.
    Bottom line, as in any illegal shooting, is/are always the same.
    Had those firearms been properly secured , and this person had not had any access to them in any way, shape or form, we would not be having this discussion. (basic, simple firearm handling and safety). As preached by the N.R.A. and all affiliates.
    But, since the doctor for this person suggested to the mother "your son ought to take up shooting as a hobby"(sic), where is the outrage for this? Do I have to remind anyone the son was mentally disabled?
    And the mother? Well, she was just a little off the wall to begin with, judging from the evidence after the facts.
    And the friends of the family, well, about the same.
    And the family members, well, about the same also.
    Was there a pattern forming here? Sure as shit there was!
    And, who suffers from all this? (besides the victims and families of them).
    Well, all the legal firearm owners who had nothing to do with it!
    One question. Just how long are we supposed to take this abuse ?

  • LarryA||

    Do I have to remind anyone the son was mentally disabled?

    "Mentally disabled" is a wide brush.

    Nor was there evidence that Lanza himself was prone to violence. "Those mental health professionals who saw him did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior," the report says. "Investigators…have not discovered any evidence that the shooter voiced or gave any indication to others that he intended to commit such a crime."

    ...judging from the evidence after the facts.

    Hindsight is always 20-20.

  • Laka||

    We do know that Lanza was fascinated with prior mass murders, especially Columbine. How is it so difficult to figure out his motivation? He did it for the fame. Plain and simple. Just like most mass murderers.

    All of the people who make money from these things, and especially the people who try to make political hay out of them, must recognize that drawing attention to these crimes creates a sick carnival atmosphere around them, that encourage potential mass murderers to correctly conclude that they can themselves gain such vast attention and enduring fame.

  • Laka||

    We do know that Lanza was fascinated with prior mass murders, especially Columbine. How is it so difficult to figure out his motivation? He did it for the fame. Plain and simple. Just like most mass murderers.

    All of the people who make money from these things, and especially the people who try to make political hay out of them, must recognize that drawing attention to these crimes creates a sick carnival atmosphere around them, that encourages potential mass murderers to correctly conclude that they can themselves gain such vast attention and enduring fame.

  • Tomblvd||

    Had those firearms been properly secured , and this person had not had any access to them in any way, shape or form, we would not be having this discussion. (basic, simple firearm handling and safety)

    Because we all know that firearms are completely impossible to obtain illegally.

    And we also know that a homicidal/suicidal maniac would never, if denied the use of firearms, done something else to live out his murderous tendencies. (Maybe we should ban the internet so people like him cannot look up how to make simple explosive devices or poisons.)

  • Paul257||

    Tomblvd.....I hear you loud and clear. The point I am making is this criminal act could have, and should been prevented. Of course illegal possession of anything object will never be stopped. Lips were sealed, jaws were locked on this case. It was so easy to prevent. And believe me, it will happen again, it is plain human indifference. Your words are well spoken. We as a people have to realize we do not live in a glass bowl. Some will die no matter what the instance. It is part of life. May anyone confronted with a violent criminal act have the tools to fight off the aggressor. What is so hard to understand this ? Just think of this.....Right now, as you are reading this, someone, somewhere, is being attacked violently. I will leave it at that.

  • Joshua R. Poulson||

    You did not mention, like you mentioned with the videos games, that millions of AR-15 pattern rifles are owned by Americans, so there's no evidence that people with AR-15s are more likely than others to commit a crime. Nevertheless, I think the point comes across.

    Adam Curry called the hysteria around video games "The War on Crazy" and noted the trumped up claims against Asperger's, ADHD, Autism, video games, and firearms ownership as following a pattern that seems to lead to getting classes of individuals branded by the state as dangerous and needing control.

    What I didn't see in this article is the other thread of inquiry blaming the incident on mind-altering drugs often prescribed to people with Asperger's (as well as the rest of the Autism spectrum). I don't think that claim went anywhere either.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    What is it that legal/political commentators say about "hard cases make bad law"?

    The Legislature turned itself inside-out to impose restrictions on the ownership of personal weapons, restrictions that would have no affect on another Adam Lanza - yet those restrictions are draconian limitations on personal freedoms and commerce - and they did this in just a matter of days after this tragedy; but it took the State almost a year to issue a not-quite comprehensive report of what happened, a report that does not, or will not, get to the answer of the question "Why?".

    Is it any wonder that vast tracts of the American People have lost all confidence in the competence, and intentions, of their government.

  • Paul257||

    Nope, no wonder in the least. What drives me nuts is the fact WE do nothing but bend over and take it !

  • werewife||

    There are two motives for mass murder that the eneMedia refuse to acknowledge: the first is Islamic jihad (but you knew that already), and the second is Lanza's most likely driver, herostratism. And they can't acknowledge that motive because of their own complicity in it. Sad but simple, really.

  • Goethe||

    Lots of discussion about mental health and recreation choices, what about other aspects of a person's personal life that might affect behavior. Many postmoderns ask "Ummm, like what? - material influences explain everything."
    I noticed an early report the day after the shooting that evidence of occult activity was found. No information about the Lanza household and Adam's spiritual stance has been reported or discussed since. Seems like it would have if he were a Muslim convert, for sure we would know if he were an Evangelical or Catholic....

  • Wallter||

    "But one year later, we should recognize the folly of trying to explain the inexplicable or prevent the unpreventable"

    Not a good conclusion. There are no easy answers. That does not mean that there are no explanations or preventative measures that could be implemented to reduce these incidents. The question is whether there is valid reason to take those authoritarian measures to reduce(not eliminate) these sorts of incidents, or whether such preventative measures would violate the reason-based rights of Americans.

  • LarryA||

    It's almost like we should wait for all the facts to come out so we know what the questions are before we propose answers.

  • pvalemont@bigpond.com||

    There can be do doubt that the mental health authorities and current system plus Nancy Lanza’s ridiculous and irresponsible attitude to letting Adam carry 3 of her guns at the time she was extremely worried about his mental health, were the primary causes for these fatalities. However, his father is not exempt from blame. I have just seen a picture on the Internet of Adam Lanza at one year of age or possibly younger, playing with a real gun, surrounded by an arsenal of weapons. His Dad now says he wishes he had never been born. I am sure Adam also wishes this now, in retrospect, that he had never been born, certainly not into that family. They, the crazy gun culture of America to which they ascribed and contributed, combined with the absence of tight gun laws in the USA are entirely responsible for this incredibly cruel tragedy. There is no psychological test that can adequately safeguard the community against such a crazed gunman, and no way of knowing when they will strike, where, or at whom. The only answer is to ban the guns out of the hands of the general populace, especially heavyweight military hardware, for whom such guns were not designed in the first place.

    Adam Lanza and the Newtown Massacre ebook
    http://www.lulu.com/shop/pamel.....81329.html

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