It is certainly understandable that so many people are trying to understand the gun spree during which Alan Lanza murdered twenty 6-and 7-year-old children and six women before turning the gun on himself. But I have been appalled over recent days to see how many reputable sources are suggesting that Lanza suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome as if this explains his psychopathic behavior.
Albert Einstein probably suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome.
People suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome are not intrinsically psychopathic murderers. Lanza may very well have been suffering from Asperger’s, but it is no more of an explanation of his behavior than it is to say that he was unusually intelligent, or that his parents had been divorced, or that he had brown hair. Asperger’s is a learning disability in relation to understanding the feelings and thoughts of others. It is not a mental illness.
The evidence available to the public at this point does suggest that Lanza was suffering from both Asperger’s Syndrome and mental illness. But they are two completely different things. Asperger’s is a relatively new diagnostic category and sometimes difficult to identify. It is a terrible misunderstanding of those individuals who do suffer from this learning disability to shout “Asperger’s!” in relation to this tragic incident.
But even the diagnosis of mental illness is an incomplete explanation. Psychiatrists and psychologists recognize that the form mental illness takes in an individual is shaped by the values of the culture in which it is manifest. For a period of time in the 1950- and -60’s, an unusual number of Puerto Rican women living in New York were diagnosed as schizophrenic. Diagnostic levels returned to normal with a better understanding that some manifestations manifestations of grief or anger were seen as quite normal and acceptable in some Hispanic communities and were not intrinsically pathological.
And so we individual Americans who would not ourselves in a million years walk into a class full of first graders and shoot them all can still ask if there are deeply held American values which are reflected in our recurring gun crime. Our country was conquered by the gun. Our heroes of the wild West ruled by the gun. We shoved the Indians onto reservations at the point of a gun. We finished World War II by dropping two atomic bombs on Japan.
Why is gun crime so prevalent in America compared to other countries where just as many people have guns? Do we think America is great because we have the biggest weapons? Is someone an achiever because he has the fastest gun in town? Are guns really our best protection? Is this our strength?
Or also our weakness?