Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mental illness or terrorism?

In the wake of the Newtown shootings, I am increasingly bothered by the turn the dialogue has taken.  Specifically the idea that the mentally ill should be locked up.
After the news broke that Adam Lanza may have had Asperger's Syndrome, the conversation turned quickly to the need to lock up the mentally ill for the protection of society.  Many lamented the dearth of mental health services (read: long-term institutional care).  "Drug 'em and let 'em go" is the motto.  And That Has To Change!
Two things bother me about this.
First of all, Asperger's is not normally associated with violence.  When I think of Asperger's, I think of the quirky accountant that obsessively plays World of Warcraft in his off-hours, not of the sort of violence that would allow someone to shoot 27 people, most of them small children.  In fact, the definition of "mental illness" is so broad, that I would venture to guess that we all qualify as mentally ill under the DSM-V.  Should we all be locked up?
Secondly, we only seem to reach for "mental illness" as a reason when the attacker is Caucasian.  Well, why not call it by its proper name--terrorism?  And, for those who think that "terrorists" are scary Arabs who blow up buildings, look no farther than Northern Ireland in the 1980s.  Or Waco.  Or Ruby Ridge.  Or Oklahoma City.  Or the Unabomber.  Or Charles Manson.  Even the recent mass shootings in a movie theater and a shopping mall were committed by Caucasians.  And, let's not forget that the school shootings in Jonesboro, AR and Columbine were committed by white teenagers.  In fact, the most common trait found among random killers seems to be a Y chromosome.  So, why not stereotype violence along gender lines instead of racial ones?  And call terrorists by their right names.


  1. Since there's nothing known about Adam Lanza's motive, it's easy to reach for the mental illness label. That was my initial reaction, but honestly, once I heard he destroyed his computer before the attack (if that info is accurate), I am not nearly as sure. That's not the action of someone snapping; that's indicative of aware premeditation, and therefore, evil.

    As for Asperger's, we have that in my family, and not only is it not associated with violence, many of the stereotypes are not accurate. Not everyone with Asperger's is shy and/or lonely. It's actually really hard to generalize about the autism spectrum since autism presents in so many ways. Sigh...

  2. As the aunt of a sweet little boy on the autism spectrum, these comments have scared me too.

    My concern with the vast majority of comments made on the supposed causes of the massacre is that we simply don't know enough yet to say why it happened. Asperger's alone wouldn't explain it. I wouldn't be quick to label it terrorism either. Terrorism is generally considered to be something done for a specific goal, and so far we haven't identified any.

  3. The mental health diagnosis is irrelevant in this case. I also know a couple of Aspy's and they're totally harmless (so far).


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