Every time we see reports of a man attacking a crowd of people with a gun, the immediate reaction by most folks is, “he must have been crazy.”

Many people eagerly await updated news reports to come in with confirmation from the “crazed” gunman’s psychologist, a neighbor’s testimony that “he was a loner,” an ex-girlfriend “he beat me nightly after abusing the cat,” or something similar.

Why is the first statement that comes to mind and spills across the lips of so many people, “he must have been crazy?”

Suicide bombers, for some odd reason do not get the same reaction. Labeled a “terrorist,” “religious extremist,” or “insurgent” (a favored media label), the bomber escapes the instant “crazy” diagnosis, and gets a pass on the media mental illness quick-label.

Two or more shooters are never “crazy.” Only the sole gunman (usually a guy) is “crazed.” Why is there no immediate assumption that two shooters are co-crazy?

Why do so many people react to such tragedies by searching for some confirmation of “crazy” for the lone shooters? It is almost a need and then a relief if confirmed. A shooter is not always medically or clinically ill. Certainly killing and mental illness are not inextricably linked.

As a culture we are extremely accepting of killing as normal when carried out by people acting in official capacity, but a lone gunman acting upon perceived individual initiative solicits a unique response. Some comparisons may shed light on this cultural phenomenon.

Mass media reports killings daily. Following are some more examples.

  1. “Nine gang members were shot this weekend, bringing the total to 145 killed so far this year in the Chicago area.”

No mention of crazed gunmen in all too common stories such as these. Do we conclude there is nothing mentally ill about inner city teens pumping one another full of bullets on weekends? Perhaps it’s similar to a sporting event, likened to mixed martial arts where contestants bludgeon one another to the point of brain trauma. Certainly nothing amiss about this entertainment concept.

Does it just seem normal in the American culture? But the public is just a little disappointed there is no footage available so they can watch the gunfight in instant replay on the streets of Chicago. It could make for a highly rated reality series. Any investors care to pony up to shoot a pilot? It would be easy enough to contact some rival gangs and schedule the next firefight after the cameras and lights are in place. There is nothing crazy about good entertainment and higher ratings. We’ll get back to this proposition.

Alas, gang members act in groups. So acting as part of a group, however vicious is apparently not crazy at all.

  1. “Coalition strikes on insurgent positions in Mosul today killed 76 civilians, bringing the total for the recent campaign up to 124.”

Here we have a high number of “collateral damage” victims from bombs dropped from supersonic jets or drones. Bombs are different from guns. And Americans love jets!

We rush out to watch jets on holidays to hear the roar they make when they fly overhead and we feel so good about the U.S. of A.’s supersonic weapons. So a few bystanders get blown into goo and guts, but hey, why were they living near terrorists anyhow? Tough luck.

We know the pilots that drop the ordnance aren’t crazy. They are doing their jobs, following orders, protecting our freedoms, best of the best, highly screened, and well-educated individuals. Certainly the generals that order the strikes aren’t crazy. They’re smart and balanced people, you know, Air Force Academy grads and all, no crazies there.

Alas, soldiers and airmen act in groups and function as teams just following orders, acting as a collective “force.” Teams aren’t crazy.

But collateral damage is slightly unpleasant, so we can blame a “crazy” President for the unfortunate accidental obliteration of bystanders. But the “crazy” Pres. didn’t fly the jet, pick the target, or direct the combat mission. Well, no matter. Some individual must be crazy, it just makes us all feel so much better about collateral damage.

Any President currently in office, if we don’t like him, or perhaps didn’t vote for him, can be “crazy.” Perhaps now we are on to something. The Pres. is perceived as an ultimate authority figure, often acting as an individual. The Pres. answers to no one (some believe), acts independently (so we are told), and so we can place our “crazy” label on him, even blame him alone for stupid wars.

Perhaps in our American culture only an individual can be labeled crazy when connected to killing.

  1. “Distraught gunman kills girlfriend, then turns gun on self.”

We have all seen the word “distraught” many times. If a killer completes his murderous deed with a final bullet to the head and doesn’t discharge the firearm in certain public places, then we often don’t label him crazy. Distraught is just, nicer. It implies that others influenced or pressured the perpetrator, so truly he did not act alone. And he’s dead, let’s show a drop of sympathy.

A gunman who blasts friends, family, and loved ones at home, is likely “distraught.” If the gunman enters a mall, church, park, or store, they can become “crazed.” They should behave properly in such public places and keep their distraught homicidal plans at home.

If a gunman fires his weapon in a school, public, or government building, they can be labeled a  “terrorist,” unless of course they are not because it is politically incorrect for official reasons. In such circumstances an official medical diagnosis is usually necessitated. If the gunman is not a terrorist, but religiously connected, they are also eligible for the “distraught” label.

Are any of us clear on who determines if a gunman is a “terrorist” or not?

  1. “First Sergeant Wesson Smith stopped seven insurgents in one hour during yesterday’s battle in Iraq.”

Well, this is worthy of mention because it’s just cool when we get body counts of dead insurgents at the hands of a single gunman in war. We often see words like “stopped” substituted for “killed” in such circumstances.

War is good, and Americans love killing “terrorists.” The more killed, the better. We support killing as many as possible, as often as possible, wherever possible, and with anything possible, and no matter the cost (missiles, bombs, bullets, depleted uranium, white phosphor, claymore mines, nukes, swords, etc.).

It just feels so much better when a single gunman kills bad guys versus a pilot dropping bombs on a hundred people at once; that’s boring stuff. Why do you think we see so many recruitment posters with Marines wielding swords? Ever see a B-1, B-2, or B-52 on a recruitment billboard? Of course not. Impersonal killing is so, boring.

And a sniper is the epitome of coolness. It is personal when death is delivered one trigger pull at a time to bad guys. No one is interested in a story about pilots delivering bombs by the hundreds and killing thousands of people in a few explosions.

But a sniper, now that’s just so cool. We can make movies about it!

Are snipers crazy? Tragically, they may eventually suffer PTSD, or be a little “off,” but that’s not the same “crazy” as a lone gunman who shoots a bunch of good people in a public place. The sniper is a soldier acting with a team, and following orders shooting bad people. It is all legal.

“Teams aren’t crazy, evil maybe, but never crazy,” so we tell ourselves.

A “crazy” gunman, so labeled, acts independently, alone (“loner”), not with a team. Perhaps it is mostly individuality the herd finds so troubling, so herd members are compelled to reassure themselves after tragedy strikes.

“He must be crazy. I would never act that way. I’m not crazy. I’m no loner.”

Can the herd be crazy? Or perhaps just sick?

Dutifully yours,

The Drill Sergeant

Now drop and give me twenty!

“Copyright © 14JUN17 by Steven A. Schwab”