I’ve written in Pharyngula comments before about something called the Pseudocommando shooter type. These are the folks who get big rifles with rapid fire capability and carry multiple weapons and huge number of rounds of ammunition to a target location and then shoot as many people as they can. The psychological research on the type shows that serious mental illness is uncommon in such shooters, though they do show an above average rate of mild to moderate depression and a couple of other of the most common mental illnesses. Some of the research that initially characterized the type found even these mental illnesses affected only about 40% of such shooters.
They studied a number of facets of pseudocommando mass shooters’ personality, finding them to be far better characterized by a combination of rigidity, detail focus, and grudge holding than by mental illness. But one thing those studies did not investigate was the level of sexism we can expect from such shooters. Yet that’s another topic we’ve discussed here on FtB as the most horrific mass shootings roll monthly by. Off the top of my head there was a high schooler in Texas motivated my sexist rage who first shot a girl who rejected his the relationship overtures he sandwiched between his stalking behaviors. There was a newspaper office that was shot up, where the shooter initially was angry at the paper regarding their coverage of his conviction for stalking (or, as Maryland refers to it in statute, Criminal Harassment). The person he stalked was, of course, a woman with whom he wanted a romantic relationship. She, apparently and wisely, wanted nothing to do with his scary, threatening and ultimately violent ass.
The Las Vegas shooter who injured some 500 had a history of domestic violence and stalking. He is a good example of the tendency for such shooters to have a history of domestic and sexual violence against the women in their lives (not merely strangers) even when there is no obvious connection between a particular woman or a particular sexist goal and the motive for the mass shooting. Sexism and sexist violence are red flags that can warn us of a willingness to escalate violence, if society is willing to listen.
But today is the anniversary, the 30th anniversary, of the École Polytechnique massacre. There was no doubt of the motive there: the shooter held a room full of people at gunpoint, then demanded that the masculinely gendered hostages all leave. They did. Once they were gone, the murderer Marc Lepine asked if the women knew why he was holding them. They did not. He told them he was there to fight feminism. One woman stated that they were students and not necessarily feminists. He replied that they were women and intending to be engineers. To him, that made them feminists. Then he told them, “I hate feminists,” and shot all nine human beings standing before him, killing six.
Too often, sexist violence has been seen as barely relevant to the question of whether or not a person poses a danger to the public. Girlfriends, wives, these women aren’t “the public” to many courts or parole boards. As such, we’re still struggling to pass so-called “red flag” laws that can temporarily – sometimes for a very significant period of time – remove guns from the possession of someone convicted of certain types of violence that we know are associated with a risk of not mere steady-state recidivism, but escalating violence, unrecognized until it bursts out in a manner that harms men or at least gets captured on camera such that the violence can no longer be ignored.
But as I often do when we discuss things like police violence or racist violence (not always different topics) or violence of other forms, I want us to take notice of the fact that this isn’t all a problem of one small group. Police are not held accountable in the US justice system, but complaining that prosecutors and mayors and governors aren’t doing their jobs isn’t exactly fair when we, the electorate consistently elect people who have already proven that they won’t hold cops accountable. Yes, they’re failing in their responsibilities, and yes, we should demand different and better, but demanding different and better is not going to just suddenly happen. We, all of us, have a hand in creating these terrible tendencies else they would not be so damnably persistent.
That’s why I think it’s so painfully on the nose that on this anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre, the Onion has published an article titled:
You should read the whole thing, but here’s one salient excerpt:
Sometimes the right one has to come along before a boy will stop barraging girlfriends with constant comments about their weight, or hang up those youthful desires to isolate a woman from her friends and family in order to take advantage of her. Devin’s having his fun, but mark my words, before he hits 30, he’ll get tired and settle down.
To me this is quite reminiscent of the case of the man who murdered the staff of the Capital Gazette to which I referred earlier. The initial conviction that was reported by the Gazette included horrifying and scary behavior:
Ramos sent a friend request on Facebook to the woman, and the experience turned into a “yearlong nightmare.” Ramos allegedly wrote the woman and said she was the only person who ever said hello to him or was nice to him in school.
Ramos then allegedly called her vulgar names and told her to kill herself, Hartley wrote. He allegedly emailed the bank where she worked to get her fired.
But the court described the behavior with a phrase quite different from the Onion’s “emotional terrorism”, not matter how apt that phrase might be. No, upon conviction, the judge described Ramos’ behavior as “rather bizarre”.
I may find that entirely too understated a description, perhaps both of my readers do as well. But the legislatures and courts won’t take misogynistic violence seriously unless we as a society do. And we as a society are made up of I the individual, and you the individual, and you the individual, yes, but also 320 million other individuals in the US and nearly 40 million more in Canada. The responsibility for the ongoing interrelated tragedies of misogyny and sexism is spread wide.
I’m not saying that on this anniversary of a horrifying tragedy wrought by our sexism that we shouldn’t be lobbying legislators to change laws and give government the power to remove guns from dangerous hands. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be trying to educate individual judges on the differences between behavior that is bizarre and behavior that is dangerous or threatening. I’m just saying that it requires more than that. It is time for all of us to be the change that we wish to see in this world.
We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. – Mohandas Gandhi