James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist

  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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‘Killer American Idol’: Mass murder no surprise, more likely to come

Posted by James McPherson on April 5, 2009

palin_with_gunOne of the most troubling leads I’ve read in a long time, from CNN today: “People who knew the suspected gunman in Friday’s shooting at an immigration services center in Binghamton, New York, were not surprised by his actions, the police chief said.”

I’m not shocked, in the abstract, by mass murder–though individual cases, like the one in my own state in which a father apparently shot and killed his five kids, do still surprise me. In a broader sense, though, killing a bunch of people is a too-common way for the clueless and the hopeless to gain attention, and the suicide (or “suicide-by-cop”) that almost always concludes these events keeps the cowardly killer from having to face his inability to deal with the world.

One notable and perhaps regrettable exception (I oppose the death penalty but agree that certain people deserve to be dead, and that there are certain people for whom I’d be willing to pull the trigger) is the nutcase who gunned down three police officers in Pittsburgh. Because he wore a bulletproof vest–like his fellow coward in Binghamton, N.Y., who killed 13 other people–the Pittsburgh cop killer survived.

People have been committing mass murder for attention for a long time; consider it a form of “American Idol” for killers. The preponderance of guns in our culture doesn’t help–notably, one of the arguments of the Pittsburgh coward is that he, like the National Rifle Association and an assortment of other right-wingers,  “feared the Obama administration was poised to ban guns.”

These cases also demonstrate, of course, that many of those who most love guns are among the people we should least trust with them. That obvious fact didn’t stop the Bush administration from making gun purchases easier to buy and carry, while making it tougher to track those purchases.

Nor has that fact, or the fact that most of the guns in the drug wars now going on in Mexico come from the U.S., managed to persuade the conservative Obama administration and a conservative Congress to get tougher on gun violence. Maybe a few more killings will do the trick–but probably only if they occur on Capitol Hill.

One thing we do know: With a faltering economy and a culture that glorifies violence, many more such killings will come. Especially if people are “not surprised” that a neighbor might turn out to be a mass murderer, but do nothing to prevent it.

7 Responses to “‘Killer American Idol’: Mass murder no surprise, more likely to come”

  1. Whippersnapper said

    How would you propose to “get tougher” on gun violence? This is the vague water cooler declaration that people make without thinking about the end result. Do you ban the sale of all guns? Do you ban the sale of scary looking guns? Do you ban the import, like Clinton did of certain types of guns? Do you disarm people who have not yet committed a crime? Do you take away certain classes of guns? Do you see how disarming people is problematic, both legally and in practice?
    I agree that some gun aficionados have world views that are skewed toward distrust of government or the unreal expectation that they may be attacked by unseen forces. But most have not committed mass murder.
    I believe many people want more laws, and assume it will somehow curb violence. Most of us are deeply saddened by abhorrent crimes that people perpetrate on other human beings. But I don’t lose my sense of logic and start calling for more laws out of that sense of outrage.
    In one paragraph you try to link a mass murderer to the NRA by saying they are both irrationally afraid of gun bans. Two paragraphs later you imply that the congress should make more laws to curb gun violence, essentially one of the possible bans or limitations I mentioned above. So which is it? Gun ownership freedom or more laws to curb it?

  2. James McPherson said

    As someone who owns guns, I generally (I don’t have time or space for a longer explanation) favor laws that make it more difficult for people to purchase some types of weapons (not by appearance, but by intended purpose), computer records that track of dealers who most often sell them illegally (we used to keep those kinds of records but stopped under “kept us safe” Bush), laws to restrict certain types of ammunition, and regulations that mandate gun safety training (which, incidentally, I used to teach).

    I don’t favor knee-jerk NRA-type fearmongering about gun rights. That type of argumentation leads to letting too many homicidal lunatics like the Pittsburgh killer (though I don’t know the specifics of his case) have easy access to guns. Sorry if I didn’t make that point clear, and thanks for the comment.

  3. Based on the letter he left, it sounds like he was a target of a practice that is being termed Gang Stalking.


    This involved rumours, slander, 24/7 surveillance, constant job loss, moving from place to place, and community harassment. Most targets of this practice commit suicide, or end up being falsly institutionalised. Other just like workplace mobbing, do commit acts of violence.

    I suggest that those who care about the people that died, help request his Freedom Of Information Act records, the public has a right to know if these types of ongoing investigation are driving people to acts of violence.

  4. zelda said

    James James James…………your brain is like a ping pong game.
    “as a gun owner” you said you don’t have the time to go into the whys etc. of why that is ok.
    Well……….I for one would like your rational on that one.
    Who decides who is able to “handle” owning a gun by the way.???
    Evidently You are an ok person in that regard so YOU can have a gun?Come on now……….

  5. James McPherson said

    Since you cared enough to ask, I’ll expand a bit. There are some weapons (automatic weapons and hand grenades) and ammunition (armor piercing bullets) that I would ban. There are others (assault weapons and pseudo-assault weapons) that I would make far more difficult to buy (using waiting lists, for example) than they currently are. I would keep track of gun dealers as we once did, and perhaps of gun buyers. I would require handgun owners and juvenile gun users to be licensed and to have taken gun safety training. I am open to negotiating details.

    And aside from the fact that I think I should be allowed to decide everything in the world :-), because of my background I am sometimes asked by people what they should buy for self defense. For almost no one is my answer a handgun. For home protection I suggest a dog. If you feel you need a gun, get a shotgun, which is easier to use, less likely to miss, and less likely to kill someone in another room or in your neighbor’s living room than a handgun or rifle. For personal protection, get pepper spray.

    The only people who should carry guns for protection are people who are trained to use them and who are relatively certain they’re willing to kill another human being. In certain circumstances, I fit both categories (and feel a bit guilty about it, but that’s another issue).

    Aside from that, I would point out that as a society we decide these kinds of things all the time. Who decides who gets to drive (or what they can drive, and where)? To drink? To vote? Etc. Thanks.

  6. zelda said

    Thanks for your reply……….and as always..interesting.

  7. […] ‘Killer American Idol’: Mass murder no surprise, more likely to come […]

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