By Dane Feldman
In the wake of the tragic mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., many are speaking out in favor of gun control. Yoko Ono in particular has pushed for change. She posted powerful photos of the bloodstained glasses that her late husband, John Lennon, wore the day he was shot in December of 1980. Along with one tweeted photo reads this: “Over 1,057,000 people have been killed by guns in the USA since John Lennon was shot and killed on 8 Dec 1980.”
While some are focused on the fight for or against gun control, others are more concerned about the causes for such cold-blooded murder. Adam Lanza’s murder of 20 children, six staff members, and his own mother sparked questions that have been asked since before Columbine in 1999: What kind of person commits a murder of this type? Why? What are the motives behind it?
Often, we are left without a solid answer. Even so, there are some similarities between murderers like Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook mass murderer and Mark David Chapman, Lennon’s murderer.
According to Live Science, most killings of this type are driven by revenge or envy and this is why many take place at schools or workplaces, says Tony Farrenkopf, a forensic psychologist.
In a Secret Service study, “a staggering 98 percent [of the school shooters in the past 26 years] had recently experienced what they considered a significant failure or loss.” These are likely the reasons behind the shootings that occur at schools like Sandy Hook, Columbine and Virginia Tech. Typically, the shooter feels a sense of failure and with a gun comes the power to avenge said failure. Perhaps this feeling of failure is also the reason behind the suicides that often follow murders of this type (Lanza, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold).
Lanza was raised in a pro-gun household. He was surrounded by weaponry and learned to shoot at a young age. The New York Times reports that Lanza and his mother were part of the National Rifle Association, though the NRA refuses to claim them. Lanza also struggled through school and was often taken out for long periods of time.
When asked if he had a mental condition, his mother answered that Lanza suffered from Asperger’s disease, according to NBC. Many are quick to blame his high-functioning autism, but studies show that people with autism are no more likely than anyone else to commit murder. Others want to blame the violent video games he often played, but again, most gamers aren’t violent.
“No one or two traits or characteristics should be considered in isolation or given more weight than the others,” states a report from the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.
Perhaps the only logical answer is that a murder of this kind requires a perfect storm of potential causes.
In the case of Lee Harvey Oswald, this is certainly true. He was mostly neglected as a child as his father died before he was born and his mother was hardly around. (It is said that a “troubled relationship with parents [and/or] little parental authority” can contribute to the desire to murder.) Oswald was involved in anti-capitalist groups, spent a fair amount of time in Russia, married a Russian woman, and was infatuated with Cuba. All of this occurred during the Cold War, making Oswald a major outcast in America. Many murderers are also outcasts find this.
Oswald believed that, by assassinating a political figure in favor of capitalism, he would become an American hero. Unfortunately, Oswald was killed just two days after he assassinated President John F. Kennedy in November of 1963, so we may never know more about Oswald’s intentions.
Chapman, Lennon’s murderer, had a troubled childhood. Like Lanza, Chapman had a high IQ and was bullied as a child. Chapman cites that his father wasn’t supportive and that he often beat his wife, Chapman’s mother. This struggle with his parents is not unlike that of Oswald. Also like Oswald and Lanza, Chapman was an outcast.
While much of popular culture was infatuated with the Beatles and Lennon, Chapman and his friends would “‘Imagine’ John Lennon [was] dead.” Although Chapman was once a fan of the Beatles, he began to see Lennon as a “phony” after reading The Catcher in the Rye and becoming a born-again Christian. Chapman was so engrossed in The Catcher in the Rye, that he believed he himself was Holden Caulfield, that he was The Catcher in the Rye. After a series of so-called “failures,” Chapman unhinged and plotted to kill Lennon as a statement.
Similar stories involve John Hinckley Jr.’s attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981. Like Chapman, Hinckley wanted to make a statement against the “phonies” of the world. His attempted assassination of President Reagan was meant to impress Jodie Foster, with whom he was infatuated.
In 1995, Yolanda Saldivar murdered international pop sensation, Selena. Saldivar was a supposed disgruntled ex-employee who was fired as a result of some monetary discrepancies. One year later, crazed Bjork fan, Ricardo Lopez, attempted to kill her by mailing her a letter bomb. He then killed himself before learning that the police intercepted the bomb.
While most of these murders occurred as a result of intense loneliness as well as feelings of failure and neglect, it is difficult draw any firm conclusions. Though these murderers and mass murderers have some things in common, there is still no “crystal ball” that tells us what may cause the next assailant to unhinge.