Florida shooting and the cult of individuality

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Shootings in the United States — the spectacular ones, that is — tend to follow a pattern now etched in social response.

Nikolas CruzThe culprit, estranged and ill, plots revenge over a grievance, actual or perceived. A lethal arsenal is accumulated, assisted by carefree regulations, poor background checks, and rudimentary efforts made to plan an attack. When inflicted, the damage is often catastrophic.

Shootings in US schools, however, demonstrate an inner disturbance that is even more profound than standard mass killings. Criminology, that most imperfect of social sciences, struggles to peer into such minds, and finds, as the authors of a work on mass shootings in the US surmised on Cho Seung-Hui of Virginia Tech, a 'history of mental illness and a skein of red flags popping up since he was a child'. They often feature former students, disgruntled and corroded. They are dormant psychotics, primed for triggering.

The teenager accused of the shootings in Parkland, Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was one such figure. Before the court, the accused, Nikolas Cruz, had the arm of his attorney around him.

The shooting was the 17th school shooting incident this year, involving the wounding and death of students. With the infliction of 17 deaths, it had the dubious honour of being the deadliest since 26 people lost their lives at Connecticut's Sandy Hook school in 2012.

Cruz had been active, noisily so, on social media. Word got around that he was intent on becoming a professional school shooter. That alert came from a YouTube post from user Ben Bennight, who contacted the FBI for some 20 minutes.

Cruz's digital footprint, his presence, had landed the FBI in some hot water. 'Our investigators,' according to Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, 'are dissecting social media. Some of the things that come to mind are very, very disturbing.' All in all, investigative bureaucracy had lagged. Note was made, for instance, of Cruz's behaviour among teaching staff. 'We were told last year,' explained maths teacher Jim Gard to the Miami Herald, 'that he wasn't allowed on campus with a backpack on him.'

 

"Focus in responding to such killings involves two tracks. Rather than being seen as intertwined, critics prefer to segregate the issues. One is the character of the killer. The other is the character of the society that fosters him."

 

The Miami Herald went on to elaborate, 'He preened with guns and knives on social media, bragged about shooting rats with a BB gun and got kicked out of school — in part because he had brought bullets in his backpack, according to one classmate.'

Focus in responding to such killings involves two tracks. Rather than being seen as intertwined, critics prefer to segregate the issues. One is the character of the killer, disturbed, isolated, the ignoble bad apple; the other is the character of the society that fosters him. Far easier for gun enthusiasts to focus on the former than the latter. A common deflective approach, one taken by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is that a mass gun shooting should never permit a debate on guns in light of the grief it causes. Praying is better than legislating.

To that end, the louse that tends to crawl out of the locks in these cases is always gun control, or its conspicuous lack. Cruz assumed the visage of a murderous combatant in an urban setting, sporting that now unsettling symbol of gun freedom: the AR-15 rifle. The description by Sheriff Scott Israel for the press was not that of a civilian but of an urban guerrilla's exploits.

Each massacre prompts a furious round of discussions, speculations and suggestions. Each time, the pro-gun lobby, infused with an indignation fuelled by the protective armour of the constitution, succeeds in limiting change. Such actions demonstrate the sometimes cruel reality that change in the US is rarely conditioned by paternal legislation. The cult of individuality is all powerful.

Florida remains, to that end, both test case and problem. Last week, the Judiciary Committee of the Florida House of Representatives, by a vote of 14-6, passed HB-39/SB 148, a bill affirming the position that a person licensed to carry a concealed weapon 'does not violate the law if the firearms is temporarily and openly displayed'.

The bill is one of 11 on the Florida legislative agenda, including instruments that would permit concealed weapons permit holders to carry firearms on school property 'if a religious institution is located on the property'. They constitute fruit of campaigning by the National Rifle Association, which proudly declares 'its ownership of Republican state legislators' in some three quarters of the 50 states. It also supplied some $10 million to the Trump presidential campaign.

Then come the vain efforts of such figures as Senator Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat who had attempted to push a legislative agenda prohibiting the sale or transfer of assault weapons. 'There is no reason for high-powered assault weapons to be so readily available in a civilised society.'

Unfortunately for Stewart, the mass murderous gun, even in the hands of a disgruntled teenager, remains a manifestation that will linger in the face of legislative apathy and constitutional fervour. A civilised society may, according to Stewart, not require such guns, but US civilisation expresses a certain frontier brutality that refuses to abandon them. Such an essence has proven nigh impossible to change.

 

 

Binoy KampmarkDr Binoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar who lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, Florida, school shooting, gun laws


 

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The right to bear arms. What about the responsibility? On the news coverage it was heart-rending (again) to see a mother scream at the camera about getting rid of the guns. It's the cowboy culture, the rage of a society where profound inequality is the norm and the apathy of those who don't want to know.
Pam | 17 February 2018


“If you see something, say something” is good advice—provided authorities act. Nikolas Cruz had 39 visits from police in seven years; been expelled from school for disciplinary reasons; and been reported to the FBI for posting “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” The FBI did nothing, just as they did nothing after Omar Mateen, the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooter, was reported to them. But today’s culture fosters violence and disregard for human life. Hollywood promotes violence and porn; the ‘Culture of Death’ promotes abortion and euthanasia; No-fault divorce facilitates family breakdowns; and Leftists of the Frankfurt School deliberately set out to destroy everything: “One can rightfully speak of a cultural revolution, since the protest is directly against the whole cultural establishment, including the morality of existing order…what we must undertake is a type of diffuse and dispersed disintegration of the system.” (Herbert Marcuse) With cultural breakdown, recent studies show a rise of narcissism among young people who crave to be famous; Professor Tom Nichols speaks of “the combination of immaturity and grandiosity” amongst young males; and Fulton Sheen wrote, “As the goal and purpose of life is lost, men become violent.”
Ross Howard | 18 February 2018


We grieve for those in South Florida and in so many other places because of gun violence. But we know that our sorrow must lead us to changing the systems that support violence and death. There are terrible social sins woven into the fabric of our societies. We need to engage in political advocacy and personal action to help prevent such violence and death. Gun reform is urgently needed but so are other social reforms. An even bigger issue is climate action. Catastrophic climate change will kill vast numbers of people and create millions of climate refugees. Sadly the US President is a climate change denier, and many national governments, including the Australian Government are doing far too little to combat climate change. Don't sit idly by while our planet cooks and the lives of our grand-children are placed in terrible jeopardy! Act now to save our children from gun violence and to save them and their children from the ravages of escalating catastrophic climate change.
Grant Allen | 18 February 2018


Reasoned and logical when what is needed is fury, anger. Seventeen school shootings - not in Baghdad or Haiti or some third world place still living in the 19th century, but in the USA. It is the kind of place that if you said "the problem is that there are too many schools; ban schools and there would not be so many shootings" you would find the civil rights mob citing freedom of speech to those who condemn you. I hope this country realises the debt they owe to John Howard and his reaction to the Tasmania shootings. And some of his own followers are now trying to roll back that legislation.
Frank | 19 February 2018


Binoy, I would like to suggest that it is the culture of narcissism that is at the base of this death-dealing society. Individualism can come about because of the lack of mutuality, and respect for diversity, in groups, communities, nations, and societies. When the "expert" is the only person who is permitted to know anything that society will listen to ... and knowledge gets "professionalised" ... no wonder a person who doesn't feel like they belong (or even 'can' belong) sees options that are death-dealing and harmful to themselves and others. What sort of culture generated this young man's capacity to undertake such violence? " ... a certain frontier brutality" ... indeed. The USA obviously hasn't learnt the truth of impermanence!
Mary Tehan | 19 February 2018


Mary, isn't it just possible that an exaggerated "respect for diversity", aided and abetted by the programmatic moral and social deconstructionism summarised in Ross Howard's comment above, is a significant contributing factor to the cult of individuality identified in the title of Binoy Kampmark's article?
John | 19 February 2018


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