Murder

Mass Murder Myths

A prosecutor's report debunks misconceptions about the Sandy Hook massacre.

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In December 2012, 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 in November 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 Lanza killed or how he could have been stopped.

Contrary to the impression created by stories focusing on Lanza's enthusiasm for violent titles such as 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 people who never hurt anyone 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. But as The New York Times noted in November, "there is no evidence that people with Asperger's are more likely than others to commit violent crimes."

Nor were there signs before the massacre 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." Connecticut 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, 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 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 more than a year later, we should recognize the folly of trying to explain the inexplicable or prevent the unpreventable.

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  1. Connecticut has since banned the rifle Lanza used, a Bushmaster XM-15-E2S.

    Fortunately, the banning of the AR-15 will prevent such horrid events from occurring in the future. Not the massacre itself, since the shooter could just use a Mini-14. But at least the kids can die in comfort knowing that the shooter had to use a rifle with a handsome wood stock instead of a wicked plastic pistol grip.

    1. Whoa, wait just a minute. He did not use that, or any, rifle. He used pistols.

      It is amazing to me how the lies the gun grabbers tell somehow morph into the truth.

      1. Owned a rifle. Used a rifle. What’s the difference?

        1. Those who used a rifle will need to use a cleaning kit. Those who merely own a rifle can get away without it.

          1. No. Even an unused firearm needs to be cleaned and oiled from time to time.

            1. Technically, only if you intend to ever use it. There are those who own, but never plan on firing. I don’t get these people, but I know they exist.

              1. So you are saying mandatory registration of all cleaning kits would still leave us with a gun use ‘loophole’?

    2. I guess I better de-mod my Mini-14, that ATI stock does look pretty sweet though.

  2. the folly of trying to explain the inexplicable or prevent the unpreventable.

    But we have to DO SOMETHING! FOR TEH CHILDREN!

  3. “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. ”

    Isn’t it time that we adopted commonsense solutions to the menace posed by Assault Dances?

    1. Anyone who twerks shally be flogged, then put in the stocks until they learn shame.

      1. Your combination of the eroticism of twerking with that of BDSM intrigues me and I wish to know more.

        1. Your mind needs cleaning. Others here are beyond hope, but you might still be saved from their extreme perversion.

      2. It is unlikely that anyone who engages in twerking has the capacity for shame.

        1. If they cannot be saved, let them serve as a warning to others who would bring such unappealing motion to the world.

          1. I may have been wrong about there being hope for you. Euthenasia might be the only cure.

            1. Yeah, my perversion is terminal.

            2. Youth-in-asia? Chinese teenagers?

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

    That says it all about you, Jacob.

  5. While US government and movie stars constantly promote new and new educational programs for the poor countries (such as Girl Rising! which have been heard of lately), it absolutely ignores what is going on in their own country. Blaming video games, low IQ, or mental problems ignore the fact that the main reason why those killers appear is their lack of education produced by ever increasing inequality and lack of possibilities both in education and social life. Americans are paying their toll for leaving behind huge amounts of people.

    1. Rising inequality: is there anything it can’t explain?

      1. Dropping crime rates?

    2. I agree… we should NOT be giving our tax dollars to other countries to educate their people.

      And you are saying is that the education system run by the government in not doing a good job of educating our children.

      I completely agree. Remove the government from education.

      Now the part about not everyone having the same socially (inequality). Well… yeah! There’s a reason I sit alone in a cube at work rather than interfacing with people like trying to sell them crap or listening to their problems. That’s a good thing.

      How any of that equates to a reason for someone to kill other people at random is beyond me. Maybe you can explain in detail how all that ties together.

  6. I used to think “reasonable” restrictions were . . . reasonable. But owning and carrying a weapon outside of criminal intent is a right, and compromise on rights is the same as giving them up.
    The whole restrictions game is a trap – transfer rules that are like walking a tightrope over hungry gators, data bases of bullets and firearms bought, and any felony conviction voids the right. Does a felony conviction void my right to a lawyer, or religious liberty or freedom of expression? Dogs can justify searches of homes based on purported smells.
    FYTW – that’s what they should put on the currency instead of “in God we trust”. Compromise is rust, it leads to more rust.

    1. Look up the word inalienable. If government can strip you permanently of your inalienable right to second amendment protections, they can strip you of any right at all. They quit being rights then and become privileges.

      1. That seems the plan . . . “those pesky expectations of liberty are so tedious.”

  7. I’m always amazed at the number of rounds carried by shooters. My amazement is that I don’t believe it. Why I have a box of 500 rounds and it is very heavy. So shooting a 150 + rounds from a rifle, 16 magazines and carrying another 300 rounds plus two pistols even when the ammo is in a sling and not in a box this is very cumbersome and heavy you should be able to see that this person was up to no good long before he arrived. How could a person carry that much and still walk. I’m not into conspiracies but I have to wonder.

    So are there any military people who could enlighten me. I know in the field they carry a lot of weapons and ammo but this much sound excessive to me.

  8. “we should recognize the folly of trying to explain the inexplicable or prevent the unpreventable”

    Wow, there’s a recipe for intellectual stagnation if ever I saw one. But until the end, I thought the article was quite good and I agreed with it.

    I think, however, there are factors that help to explain the shooting that the author didn’t address. Not the easy explanations like access to ammo that the author dispenses with, but more difficult and amorphous factors: isolation, infantilization, dispossession and alienation.

    Isolation and infantilization should be obvious. Anyone who spends the majority of his waking hours playing video games, violent or non-violent, is going to be socially stunted. As for dispossession and alienation, go no further that Lanza’s call-in to a radio programme. Lanza speaks very clearly about the causes of random outbursts of violence. It’s worth a listen. Provided you haven’t already drunk Sullum’s self-defeating koolaid.
    http://www.examiner.com/articl…..e-attitude

    1. more difficult and amorphous factors: isolation, infantilization, dispossession and alienation.

      Except that the overwhelming majority of people who are isolated, infantilized, dispossessed and/or alienated don’t become mass murderers. So in what sense are those possible explanatory factors?

      1. “Except that the overwhelming majority of people”

        We mustn’t overlook the fact that Lanza was an individual and he and his actions deserve to be treated as an individual. Lanza was unique and the behaviour of the overwhelming majority of any group doesn’t change that.

        People who are isolated and alienated etc. may become alcoholics, suicides, mass murderers or they may learn to cope and live productive and meaningful lives. Individuals react individually, and I find it strange that self-styled libertarians would expect anything different. The easy answers that you expect to find don’t exist.

  9. LANZA DID NOT HAVE ASPERGER SYNDROME. HE WAS NEVER DIAGNOSED.

    He had a book on it. That is all. I was was officially diagnosed (rigorous six hour evaluation) with asperger syndrome but i’m also fascinated with schizophrenia and sociopathy, all of which are mutually exclusive, and don’t put down someone just because they’re self-diagnosed. I self-diagnosed myself two years before I was able to get evaluated. Contrary to what cyberbullies claim you can’t get evaluated at the snap of your fingers. It’s also expensive.

    Also, people who have asperger syndrome are extremely rigid when it comes to what’s tangible and what isn’t. Pixels don’t bother me. Actual injuries right in front of me do.

    And check out some videos of Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and early media appearances of Ron Paul. Obvious aspies are obvious.

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

  13. 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut

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