Every time we see reports of a man attacking a crowd of people with a gun, the immediate reaction by many 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 reactively search for some confirmation of “crazy” for lone shooters? It is almost a need and then a relief when 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 group circumstances, 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. “Seven gang members were shot this weekend, bringing the total to 145 so far this year in the Chicago area.”

No mention of crazed gunmen in all to common stories such as these. Do we immediately 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.

It just feels normal. But we are all a little disappointed there is no footage available so we 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 56 civilians, bringing the total for the recent campaign up to 124.”

Here we have a high number of “collateral damage” victims from bombs dropped by supersonic jets or drones. Bombs are different from guns. And we love jets! We rush out to watch them on holidays to hear the roar they make when they fly overhead and we feel so good about the U.S. of A. So a few bystanders got blown into goo and guts, but hey, why were they living near the 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. They are 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 obliterating. But the “crazy” Prez didn’t fly the jet, pick the target, or direct the combat mission. Well, no matter.

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 Prez is perceived as an ultimate authority figure acting as an individual. The Prez answers to no one ( some believe), acts as an individual, and so we can place our “crazy” label on him, even blame him alone for stupid wars.

Perhaps in our 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 homiciding at home.

If a gunman fires his weapon in a school, 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 eligible for the “distraught” label.

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

  1. “First Sargent Wesson Smith stopped 7 insurgents in one hour during yesterday’s battle in Fallujah.”

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 we 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 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.

And a sniper is the epitome of coolness. It is so much more personal when death is delivered one trigger pull at a time to the bad guys. No one is interested in a story about pilots delivering bombs by the hundreds and killing thousands of people? But a sniper, now that’s entertainment.

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

“Teams aren’t crazy, evil, sure, but never crazy.” So we tell ourselves.

A “crazy” gunman, so labeled, acts independently, alone (“loner”), not on a team. Perhaps it is mostly individuality the herd finds so troubling. So herd members appear compelled to reassure themselves, individually, 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?

Dutifully yours,

The Drill Sargent

Now drop and give me twenty!

“Copyright © 14JUN17 by Steven A. Schwab”