Looking for answers in the latest Colorado shooting? Don’t be distracted by false explanations


James Holmes is the suspect in the Aurora, Colorado shootings that killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens more.

As reporters work to reveal the identity, history, and character of James Holmes, the suspected shooter in this morning’s massacre in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, they may suggest that his personal interests could have led him to commit a horrific crime.

They’re wrong.

Whenever such a tragedy strikes, we want to understand why it happened, perhaps in the hope of preventing another from happening.

As long as we focus on subjects such as video games, music, faith, or even comic books, we are distracting ourselves from the real clues that may tell us that someone might be on the verge of a violent attack.

Instead, we should be looking at Holmes’ mental state, his life circumstances, his methods of coping — or not coping — with failure and disappointment. These, not patterns of media intake, are the real clues.

I’ll likely have more to say as the story unfolds.

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19 responses to “Looking for answers in the latest Colorado shooting? Don’t be distracted by false explanations

  1. insertfakename

    I’m pretty stoked about reading your critical review on the matter. I never/barely post comments on here, but I thought I’d leave you an encouraging note! I read everything you post 🙂

  2. By not looking at his interests, you are disctacting yourself. I understand that you are into music, movies and video games so you have a vested interest in protecting them. However, companies do not spend millions on advertising because what people see and hear have no influence on them. Also, if someone enjoys listening to music and watching movies that celebrate murder, it may not be the reason they act out, but it is a great tool to measure where their heart is (As a man thinks, so is he). “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake” – Plato

    • Steve, I’m not saying they don’t have any influence. I’m saying they don’t have the extreme negative influence that some people would like us to believe they do. And I don’t agree with you that “if someone enjoys listening to music and watching movies that celebrate murder, it may not be the reason they act out, but it is a great tool to measure where their heart is.” Humans crave aggression. We have to get it some way. Some get it by running, or pulling weeds, or moshing. Some people get it by watching aggressive media.

  3. Beth, you simply cannot equate running with watching “Natural Born Killers” over & over & over again while rooting for the killers. That is a sign that there is something wrong. We cannot say that celebrating murder is on the same plane as pulling weeds, to do so is to be willfully blind. Sure, people can and do watch violent movies without ever acting out, but they are the ones that root for the good guy (Batman) and not the bad (Joker). There is a big difference in the aggression in a mosh pit and rooting for the person who just blew away a group of people. Believe me, I have no vested interest in attacking movies or music, I enjoy them both. However, I have eyes and I can see a major diffence in those that listen to Led Zeppelin as opposed to those that listen to groups that celebrate murder, mutilation & cannibalism. The fact remains, those that spend countless millions on advertising understand that even a 30 second spot can influence people to take action, let alone a song blasted into one’s ears over & over again.

  4. Beth,
    Please tell me where I put words in your mouth. Did you not write that people crave aggression and then compare running to watching aggressive media? Did the Columbine murderers not boast on video that they enjoyed watching aggressive media (Natural Born Killers) over and over while rooting for the killers? It appears they chose that over going for a jog or weeding the garden.
    People are quick to say that music can inspire people to do great things, but then dismiss the idea that it can also inspire evil. It has to be anything but the music in that case, because it does not fit their paradigm.
    Let’s use your own words to illustrate that you believe (or at least write it to sell books) that music is powerful and enters every aspect of life. “Music touches everything. It pervades our memory, accompanies us through emotion and history, and becomes the lens through which we understand culture or politics. If you’ve ever loved music, if you’ve ever found it seeping into every aspect of your life, then you will understand Read the Music”.
    You simply cannot have it both ways. It either touches everything, or it is simply a distraction. What is it?

    • Steve, music can touch you without taking over control of your mind, body, thoughts and actions. Yes, I compared running and aggressive media as outlets for people’s aggressive impulses. However, I never said anything about “watching “Natural Born Killers” over & over & over again while rooting for the killers.” Nor did I say that was a “sign of something wrong.” (Those were your words).

      There’s no evidence that NBK was the reason Harris and Klebold committed their massacre, and every evidence that their mental illness is ultimately to blame. There’s also no reason to take what they said of their own motivations at face value. They have every reason to want to blame something else rather than take responsibility for what they did; the fact that they didn’t want to take responsibility may have been part of the reason they killed themselves rather than facing a jury, though that’s speculation on my part.

      There ARE plenty of people who watch such movies as a way to unwind. They’re capable of recognizing the difference between fiction and reality, and they’re capable of recognizing and exercising their aggressive impulses in a way that doesn’t harm anyone (including themselves).

  5. As a good friend of mine pointed out, and I fear it’s a comment he’s made on so many occasions: heavy correlations between gun violence and violent movies and games are not substantially proven. Heavy correlations between gun violence and the availability of guns, however, are.

    Maybe we should be addressing this man’s ability to get hold of firepower, not whether the geeks are breeding an army of psychopaths. (Would Comic-con not be a breeding camp of violence if that were the case?)

  6. Video games have gotten exponentially more popular over time, whereas these mass murders haven’t occurred at a great enough frequency to show any correlation whatsoever to game playing, statistically.

  7. Beth, your responses are laughable. You are contortionists trying to make excuses for a possible cause. There is no movie called “aggressive media” I was simply using one of the Columbine killer’s favorite “aggressive media”. Obviously, your use of “aggressive media” was used to cover the gamut of movies, music, games, etc… To state that I was putting words in your mouth is completely disingenuous.
    Also, to ignore the overwhelming number of people who commit crimes and are into violent media is akin to blaming cars for all the drunken driving deaths. You are getting whiplash turning your neck to avoid seeing what is right in front of you. Sure, there could be mental illness involved, but there are those that claim that the violent media contributes to the mental illness. You may not believe it, but when it comes to the study of psychology, that’s all it is – belief. It is constantly changing and what is true today will not be tomorrow. To be so dogmatic on one side is silly. I am open to the debate, your site and writings make it clear that you believe yourself to be the one with supreme knowledge.
    If someone is born with a predisposition to alcoholism, is it best for them to avoid alcohol, or to consume as much of it as possible? In the same vein, if someone has some mental issues, would indulging in violent imagery help or hinder them? Mental illness is the fuel and the “aggressive media” is the flame that ignites an inferno.
    As to the plenty that watch these movies and never do anything wrong, I am not so sure about that. There are many that beat their families, commit road rage while blasting hard core music, etc… They don’t have to shoot up a theatre. I have never been cut off in traffic by someone listening to Journey or the Eagles, but many times the road rage is accompanied by deafening Rap or Metal.
    How does music touch you without any response to it? That makes no sense. You write it is the lens through which we understand our culture & politics. Who understands culture and politics in a certain way and does not respond in kind? Would it not at least lead one to vote a certain way or protest for a cause they believe in? Otherwise, there has been no true understanding of culture or politics.
    Madelineseb, there will always be those on both sides of the issue, so neither side will ever be substantially proven. As for the crimeless Comic-Con, where have you been hiding? How about one attendee stabbing another in the face for sitting too close to him (http://articles.cnn.com/2010-07-25/justice/comic.con.pen.stabbing_1_comic-con-fanboys-and-fangirls-pen?_s=PM:CRIME) or Rhys Ifans assaulting a female security guard because he didn’t have his credentials (http://content.usatoday.com/communities/livefrom/post/2011/07/amazing-spider-man-star-rhys-ifans-arrested-for-comic-con-incident/1)?
    I also welcome you to compare the arrests at Oz Fest or Woodstock 99 to a Springsteen or U2 concert.
    Aigeanta, while it is true that there are not mass murderers en masse (Thank God), the rate of individual murders is out-of-control. In Chicago where they have very strict gun laws, there have been more than 5,000 people killed since 2001, more than all the American troops killed in Afghanistan (2,000) in the same time frame (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/16/chicago-homicide-rate-wor_n_1602692.html)
    We cannot be so arrogant to claim that looking at any possible cause is distracting. Only a complete narcissist could make such a bold claim. We need to admit that we don’t know and examine all possible signs, not dismissing any because it is uncomfortable.

  8. I have to agree. We must take a look at every possible reason and not discount any. This type of thing did not happen when kids were listening to the Bee Gees and playing Pac Man. It is much better to explore and find nothing, than to ignore a possible cause and be found wrong.

    • This type of thing absolutely did happen when kids were listening to the Bee Gees and playing Pac Man. Here are some examples from the 1970s and 1980s:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_shooting#1970s

      1970s
      The mid to late 1970s is considered the second most violent period in U.S. school history with a series of school shootings, most notably were;
      December 30, 1974: Olean, New York, Anthony Barbaro, a 17-year-old Regents scholar armed with a rifle and shotgun, kills three adults and wounds 11 others at his high school, which was closed for the Christmas holiday. Barbaro was reportedly a loner who kept a diary describing several “battle plans” for his attack on the school.[31]
      June 12, 1976: California State University, Fullerton massacre, where the school’s custodian opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle in the library on the California State University, Fullerton campus killing 7, and wounding 2.
      February 22, 1978: Lansing, Michigan After being taunted for his beliefs, a 15-year-old self-proclaimed Nazi, kills one student and wounds a second with a Luger pistol.[31]
      January 29, 1979: Grover Cleveland Elementary School Shootings, California, where 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer opened fire with a rifle, a gift from her father, killing 2 and wounding 9.
      [edit]1980s
      The early 1980s continued much as the 1970s had been, many single shootings;
      April 7, 1982: Littleton, Colorado Deer Creek Jr. High School, The gunman, 14-year-old Jason Rocha, was a student at Deer Creek. Rocha shot and killed 13 year-old Scott Darwin Michael.[32]
      The early 1980s saw only a few multi-victim school shootings including;
      January 20, 1983: St. Louis County, Missouri the Parkway South Middle School, eighth grader brought a blue duffel bag containing two pistols, and a murder/suicide note that outlined his intention to kill the next person heard speaking ill of his older brother Ken. He entered a study hall classroom and opened fire, hitting two fellow students. The first victim, was fatally shot in the stomach, and the second victim received a non-fatal gunshot wound to the abdomen. Then he said, “no one will ever call my brother a pussy again” then committed suicide.
      According to the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, in the United States, from September 1986 to September 1990 (four year period):[33]
      At least 71 people (65 students and 6 school employees) had been killed with guns at school.
      201 were severely wounded by gun fire.
      242 individuals were held hostage at gunpoint.
      According to a 1987 survey conducted by the American School Health Association,[34] ” 3% of the boys reported having carried a handgun to school at least once during the school year; 1% reported carrying a handgun on a daily basis.”
      The late 1980s began to see a major increase in school shootings including;
      May 17, 1984: Des Moines, Iowa While students in a French class at Southeast Polk High School were taking a test in the hallway, a 17 year old boy shot and killed a 16 year old female student, before firing a single shot into his own head, killing himself.[35][36]
      September 4, 1985: Richmond, Virginia At the end of the second day of school from the East End Middle School a 12yr old boy shot a girl with his mother’s gun.[37]
      October 18, 1985: Detroit, Michigan During halftime of the homecoming football game between Northwestern High School and Murray-Wright High School. A boy who was in a fight earlier that day, pulled out a shotgun and opened fire injuring six students.[38]
      November 26, 1985: Spanaway, Washington A 14 year old girl shot two boys dead then killed herself with a .22-caliber rifle at the Spanaway Junior High School.[39]
      December 9, 1985: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania At the Archbishop Ryan High School for Boys, a 22yr old Mental health patient took 6 students hostage with what ended up being a starter pistol. No one was hurt in the ordeal.
      December 10, 1985: Portland, Connecticut At the Portland Junior High School, the Principal was having a heated discussion with a 13-year-old male eighth-grader when he locked the boy inside an office. The student then pulled out a 9mm firearm and opened fire. The bullet shattered the glass door and struck the left forearm of the secretary and the glass injured the Principal. The boy fled for the 2nd floor, were he encountered the janitor, and he shot him in the head. The boy then took a seventh-grader hostage. The boy’s father and another family member came to the school and talked to him over the intercom system. After 45 minutes, he tossed the gun out a school window and was taken into custody.[40]

      If you click through on the Wikipedia link, you can follow links that describe each one of those incidents in detail.

  9. By the way, I am not sure there is a connection, but I am not sure there is not. As someone that now has nephews, I don’t want them to hang with the metal heads I call friends. I know for myself that I was getting darker the more I listened. I guess I am becoming more like Brian “Head” Welch all the time.

  10. Anthony Barbaro, during his shooting rampage, was reacting to fiction as if it were fact. His English teacher made the first suggestion that this might be possible. She told of a paper Tony wrote about the film, FAHRENHEIT 451. It contained the following passage: “The society of book burners depicted in the film isn’t the landscape of a thousand years from now. The director shapes it frightenly close to our own time. It could be in a few short years.”

    Joseph Engelhof, the reporter who wrote the article for the TRIBUNE asked, “Is that a subtle clue to Tony’s behavior?”

    FAHRENHEIT 451 was a film based on a science fiction novel by Ray Bradberry. It told of a future society in which firemen who, instead of putting fires out would start them whenever a book was found. The name was chosen from the fact that Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which books will burn. It was a depressing, frightening story, but just a story.

    Not to Tony Barbaro! His emotions told him the frightening scenario was about to come true. His intellect did not correct this impression. Fiction affected his emotions as if it were reality. Was Tony trying to prevent the book burning his mind had accepted as reality? Did he feel he had to do something to prevent its happening? He made his plan. He carried it out.

    When Tony got inside the school he put on his gas mask and set off the smoke bomb. More than likely he also set off the fire alarm. Why? Could it be because he wanted to summon and then kill firemen to prevent them from becoming book burners?

    The killing frenzy was premeditated. Was Tony’s mind dominated, yes hypnotized, by the idea that he had to do something to prevent firemen from becoming book burners and destroyers? Tony was in such a state of concentration on his goal that he never noticed the boys throwing snowballs. He did not even think to turn off the ignition in the car. He went straight to work carrying out the plan his confused and troubled mind had conceived.

    It may seem strange that I predicted the Olean incident would not be the last, but rather one of the earliest of many future murders and suicides by children. This depressing prediction of tragedy was first made May 2, 1974,–before Tony’s shooting frenzy, but it was after I had attended the Midwest Regional Conference of the National Council for the Social Studies which was held at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee April 25-27, 1974.
    http://www.newswithviews.com/Erica/Carle10.htm

  11. Come to think of it, the start of the shootings is about the same time that abortion became legal. When we protect the unborn eagle, but willingly put to death the unborn human, it is no surprise that live has become cheap. It goes hand-in-hand with the the way we cheapen life in song and film.

  12. Agree with Sharkman. Only common sense.

  13. Beth, I would no sooner pull your leg than I would pull the limbs off a baby in the womb.

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