Lanza, 20, shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, at home, and then invaded Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 20 first-graders and six adults, firing 30-round clips from a .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle before taking his own life. How many bullets? “Hundreds,” Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance said Sunday.
Detectives recovered evidence at the Lanza home that might help explain the killer’s thinking, but authorities have not revealed what they found. For the moment, the Newtown massacre remains as inexplicable as it is horrifying. “We don’t have a specific reason,” Vance said.
The location and lethality of the Newtown tragedy, and the preciousness of the victims, have turned the holiday season into a period of national soul-searching and calls for action to curb gun violence. Newtown dominated the Sunday talk shows. President Obama flew to Connecticut to join the mourning, and people nationwide revisited with new urgency the complex issues of gun laws, mental illness and access to mental health care.
The Newtown discussion necessarily sweeps in the news media, which give the killers a notoriety they couldn’t have achieved legitimately. The discussion touches on Hollywood, which markets spectacular make-believe violence. Also implicated: The computer gaming industry, which profits from ultra-realistic shooting games that are bloodier than ever.
“I point the finger unreservedly at the entertainment industry, which has spawned and cultivated gaming that by design is increasingly real, geared to action as the shooter’s point of view, increasingly dehumanizes victims, and increasingly rewards players by how many they kill,” said Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist and chairman of the Forensic Panel, who works on more than 20 homicide cases a year.
Although the profile of the mass shooter is often a familiar one, that is true only after the fact — when it’s too late. And the overwhelming majority of young men who play violent video games and are social misfits do not commit any crimes at all, much less shoot up a grade school.
How does society tell the truly dangerous ones from the ones who are just a little weird?
“We’re not even good at predicting minor violence. When you’re talking about preventing a mass shooting, that’s a needle in a haystack,” said Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine. “You can’t just go out and lock up all the socially awkward young men in the world.”