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Is Overmedication The Culprit Behind America's Mass-Killing Spree?

On Friday, we profiled Chris Harper-Mercer, the 26-year old posthumously accused of murdering nine people at an Oregon community college last week. 

The episode was the latest in a string of mass shootings in the US, all of which raise serious questions about whether the social fabric in America is beginning to rip apart at the seams. 

As was the case with every similar scenario that’s unfolded on American soil over the past decade, what happened at Umpqua Community College has intensified the debate regarding how these types of events can be avoided. As the Washington Post notes, the US has seen more "mass" shootings than it has days in 2015:

There have been only 274 days this year. The shootings are captured in this calendar, drawn from the the Mass Shooting Tracker. The tracker draws some criticism because its definition is broader than the FBI's definition, which requires three or more people to be killed by gunfire. But the broader definition is nonetheless a useful one, because it captures many high-profile instances of violence — like the Lafayette theater shootings — that don't meet the FBI's criteria.

 


Democrats are quick to pounce on the gun control narrative, which of course leads directly to what they don’t want to see. Case in point (via FT): 

Business has been brisk for Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns in North Carolina, since the Oregon community college shooting last week that left 10 people dead, including the 26-year-old suspect.

 

Mr Hyatt saw an even bigger surge in customers after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 26 people dead, including 20 children, before the gunman killed himself.

 

After that incident, President Barack Obama made his first major push for stricter gun laws. In the wake of the Oregon shooting, Mr Obama on Friday again urged Americans to challenge the powerful gun lobby, saying he could not do it alone.

 

However, the calls for tighter gun laws lead to an increase in weapons sales. “Once the public hears the president on the news say we need more gun controls, it tends to drive sales,” said Mr Hyatt, who owns one of the largest gun retailers in the US. “People think, if I don’t get a gun now, it might be difficult to get one in the future. The store is crowded.”

Then there are those who frame the shootings as a mental health problem and frankly, they're probably right. At the risk of coming across as overly crass, all kinds of people have guns in the US and they aren't killing people in classrooms, which certainly seems to suggest that it is a combination of media-assissted suggestion (i.e. the copy cat effect) and mental illness of one kind or another that is the proximate cause here. The caveat is that there are obviously a variety of aggravating factors at play, including perceptions of social injustice, alienation, racial tensions, etc., but at the end of the day, it's probably safe to say that many of these shooters are suffering from something far more serious than poverty and racial intolerance.

It's with that in mind that we present the following excerpts from The New York Times, which has endeavored to take a closer look at Harper-Mercer's mother and the circumstances surrounding last week's tragedy:

When a downstairs neighbor of Laurel Harper learned there was a gunman on the loose at Umpqua Community College here, he ran up to tell her, knowing that her son, Christopher Harper-Mercer, was a student there. Like other parents, Ms. Harper started to set out in a desperate search, fearing her son could be hurt.

 

“She was very upset,” said the neighbor, who asked not to be named, citing his family’s privacy.

 

But as she was leaving, the sheriff and his deputies intercepted her and broke the news that her son was the gunman.

 

Ms. Harper, who divorced her husband a decade ago, appears to have been by far the most significant figure in her son’s troubled life; neighbors say he rarely left their apartment. Unlike his father, who said on television that he had no idea Mr. Harper-Mercer cared so deeply about guns, his mother was well aware of his fascination. In fact, she shared it: In a series of online postings over a decade, Ms. Harper, a nurse, said she kept numerous firearms in her home and expressed pride in her knowledge about them, as well as in her son’s expertise on the subject.

 

She also opened up about her difficulties raising a son who used to bang his head against the wall, and said that both she and her son struggled with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. She tried to counsel others whose children faced similar problems. All the while, she expressed hope that her son could lead a successful life in finance or as a filmmaker.

 

In an online forum, answering a question about state gun laws several years ago, Ms. Harper took a jab at “lame states” that impose limits on keeping loaded firearms in the home, and noted that she had AR-15 and AK-47 semiautomatic rifles, along with a Glock handgun. She also indicated that her son, who lived with her, was well versed in guns, citing him as her source of information on gun laws, saying he “has much knowledge in this field.”

 

“I keep two full mags in my Glock case. And the ARs & AKs all have loaded mags,” Ms. Harper wrote. “No one will be ‘dropping’ by my house uninvited without acknowledgement.”

 

In addition to talking about guns, Ms. Harper, 64, was a prolific commenter in online forums dealing with medical issues, frequently answering questions from strangers with a tone of empathy and concern. She expressed having expertise in autism, saying that both she and her son — whom she never identified by name — had Asperger’s syndrome.

 

Consoling another parent seeking help with disruptive behavior by an autistic child, Ms. Harper said that her own son “was, among other things, a head-banger” when he was younger and was initially given a misdiagnosis of attention deficit disorder. But over time, he had learned to cope and was doing better, she wrote: “I was in your shoes and now my son’s in college.”

 

She expressed frustration with people who questioned how successful a person with autism could be, noting: “I have Asperger’s and I didn’t do so bad. Wasn’t easy (understatement) but it can be done.” She also said she had “dealt with it on a daily basis for years and years” because of her son, who she said was progressing well.

 

“He’s no babbling idiot nor is his life worthless,” Ms. Harper wrote. “He’s very intelligent and is working on a career in filmmaking. My 18 years worth of experience with and knowledge about Asperger’s syndrome is paying off.”

Out of a respect for decency we won't comment on the last bolded passage there, but after reading all of the above one is left with serious questions about mental illness and cause and effect. That is, are these episodes simply the result of someone being "off their meds" (to use the crude cliche) or is it in fact the opposite? That is, is this a feedback loop wherein sick people get sicker as their brain chemistry is constantly altered by increasing the dosage of drugs that doctors don't fully understand? 

Those questions aren't easily answered, and while we absolutely are not attempting to detract from the scope of the tragedy here, it's worth noting that people are dying every day all over the world in suicide attacks that, false flag or no false flag, appear even more senseless than what happened in Oregon last week. That, in turn, raises questions about society in general, as one is left to ask whether, despite the development of touch screen phones and futuristic SUVs, we might not have come very far as a people after all...