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Book Reviews- Fall 2016

BOOK: Singular, S., & Singular, J. 2015. The Spiral Notebook: The Aurora Theater Shooter and the Epidemic of Mass Violence Committed by American Youth. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint.

REVIEWER: Dianne R. Layden, Central New Mexico Community College

From 1966 through 2012, the United States had the highest number of mass shooters, five times as many as the next highest country, the Philippines, according to Adam Lankford (American Sociological Association, 2015). Lankford also found more mass shooters per capita in countries with high gun ownership. The U.S. ranks first in the world in per capita gun ownership (Small Arms Survey, 2011).

The Spiral Notebook (Singular & Singular, 2015a) is a contemplative treatment of the mass shooting by James Holmes on July 20, 2012, that left 12 dead and 70 wounded at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, near Denver. For their book, Stephen and Joyce Singular spent 30 months studying the case, visiting its sites, conducting interviews, and attending the trial. The Singulars also take account of gender differences and the link between mass murder and violence against women.

James Holmes, his hair tinted orange, entered the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, wearing tactical clothing and a gas mask. He set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience of more than 400 people with multiple firearms. He was arrested immediately afterwards and told police he rigged his apartment with explosives, which were defused by a bomb squad.

Holmes was a neuroscience graduate student at the University of Colorado. He met seven times with campus psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Fenton between March and June 2012. In June, at the same time Holmes dropped out of school, Dr. Fenton notified the threat assessment team that Holmes expressed homicidal thoughts. Because Holmes was no longer a student, the team did not monitor his movements. The day before the shooting, July 20, 2012, Holmes mailed Dr. Fenton his spiral notebook with detailed plans for mass murder. The notebook was not received until July 23, 2012, and did not become public until May 2015. Holmes’ “anguish and intelligence came through in the notebook” (Singular, personal communication, May 28, 2015).

Holmes pleaded not guilty to murder by reason of insanity. The trial began in April 2015, and in July he was convicted of murder, attempted murder, and explosives possession. The jury’s lack of agreement on the death penalty in August meant a sentence of life imprisonment without parole; the judge imposed 12 life sentences plus 3,318 years in prison.

The Spiral Notebook is much more than a story of this crime. Thousands of pages of legal documents about the case were sealed and the principals were under a gag order, so the authors explored “the society and the generation that had produced not just Holmes but so many other young male killers” (Singular & Singular, 2015a, p. viii).

In compelling language, The Spiral Notebook combines a skillfully drawn narrative of the details and complexities of the Holmes case with a socio-psychological analysis of why mass shootings occur. Chapters about the case are intertwined with relevant comments by young people whose interviews were selected for inclusion. The case vividly illustrates the difficulties in preventing mass shootings and uncovering shooters’ motivations, while the young people’s testimonies, a unique feature, add new perspectives regarding societal influences.

The Singulars’ son Eric, who is about Holmes’ age, reported that he knew guys who could do what Holmes did. Comments by twenty of the many young people the authors interviewed are interspersed between chapters. The themes were that older Americans did not know much about the youthful experience and seemingly limited future, and younger Americans were more than ready for much greater societal and personal cooperation, asking: “When do we actually start to confront and solve problems, instead of engaging in the anger, fear, and finger-pointing that’s characterized American life over the past few decades” (Singular & Singular, 2015a, p. 9)?

Notable in mass shootings is the inability of the killers to cope with their emotional reality: “They’re killing to release a pressure that they don’t know how to release any other way . . . They see violence as the answer to their dilemma,” supported by a violent culture and “a government and military that have used violence on a massive scale around the world to try to solve complex problems” (Singular & Singular, personal communication, August 5, 2015b). In his notebook, Holmes said he looked everywhere but couldn’t find an answer besides violence. Other factors are video games and drug abuse. In sum, in these “massive social crimes,” young male shooters are telling us they need help and it’s time we start listening (Singular & Singular, personal communication, August 5, 2015b).

Although Holmes’ violent actions in the Aurora movie theater seem to be indiscriminate, the Singulars show that women are singled out as targets in other instances. Regarding the National Rifle Association’s continuing efforts to defeat gun control, the Singulars mention a company that sold targets depicting females at an NRA conference “`designed to help YOU prepare for the upcoming zombie outbreak.’ It also offered an ‘Ex-Girlfriend’ target that bled when you shot it. The more bullets you put into the target, the more mangled the once-attractive body became” (Singular & Singular, 2015a, p. 156). The authors also note that “a woman’s chances of being killed by her male abuser go up more than seven times if he has access to a firearm . . .” (Singular & Singular, 2015a, p. 156).

A May 2014 mass shooting that targeted young women (and men) was followed immediately by a social media movement in which users tell stories of misogyny and violence against women: “Called #YesAllWomen, it went viral and amassed 1.5 million tweets in its first three days” (Singular & Singular, 2015, 237). Elliot Rodger killed two females and four males, all students at the University of California-Santa Barbara, and wounded others before he committed suicide. The Singulars stated that he was “[e]nraged at being rejected by young women he wanted to date . . .” (Singular & Singular, 2015a, p. 236). Before the shootings, Rodger posted a final YouTube video called “Day of Retribution” and left a 140-page manifesto “outlining his wounded feelings and desire to extract revenge” (Singular & Singular, 2015a, p. 236). In his manifesto and videos, Rodger complained of rejection by women.

The book’s references to gender are highly relevant. Databases of mass shooters revealed, first, that female mass shooters are rare. Fox and Levin (2015) reported only 5.9 percent of 1,176 mass murder offenders were female in 917 incidents from 1976 through 2011, although female offenders represented 11.6 percent of all homicide offenders during this period (Fox & Levin, 2015, p. 166-167). Similarly, Duwe (2007) reported that six percent of 735 mass murder offenders from 1966 through 1999 were female (Duwe, 2007, p. 92). (See also Follman, 2012; Blair & Schweit, 2013; Krouse & Richardson, 2015; Stanford, 2015; and Schildkraut & Elsass, 2016.)

James A. Fox, who has written extensively about murder and mass murder, explained why murder is a “man’s crime”: Fox averred men “are often more likely to own a gun, to be trained and comfortable around firearms. They often have poorer support systems, and are less likely than women to share their feelings…. `Women tend to see violence as a last resort, as a self-defense mechanism…. Men tend to use violence as an offensive weapon, to show them who’s boss’” (Ford; see also Fox, Levin, & Quinet, 2012, p. 51-54). Also, men tend to blame others or outside forces for their problems, while women tend to blame themselves (Batton in Weeks, 2013; see also Batton, 2004). The gender gap in violence is said to be universal, to exist in virtually all cultures and time periods (Fox & Levin, 2015, p. 177). Yet women’s violence, Patricia Pearson argued, based on research by anthropologist Victoria Burbank, is sublimated by societies that do not sanction its expression but can equal that of men in societies that do sanction its expression (Lenz, 2015).

Second, notably, databases of mass shooting victims revealed females may comprise at least half the total number of victims (Everytown, 2015; Jeltsen, 2015; Starr, 2015), a phenomenon not widely recognized in the mass shooting literature. Family annihilation is the most prevalent form of mass murder (Fox, Levin, and Quinet, 2012, p. 180). From 1976 through 2009, of 1,287 mass killers responsible for 922 mass murders, 248 (27 percent) were family murders with four or more family members killed, usually by the father (Fox, Levin, & Quinet, 2012, p. 180). Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence, frequently precedes mass murders generally (Auchter, 2010; Mascia, 2015; Taub 2016; Chemaly 2016). In 2011, the lifetime prevalence of intimate violence against women was an estimated 31.5 percent (Breiding, et al., 2014). A woman who is in a violent and potentially lethal relationship with a spouse or intimate partner may be unable to leave because of financial or emotional dependency or in order to provide her children with a father (Fox, Levin, & Quinet, 2012, p. 73).

The expansion since the 1970s of policies, programs, and services to reduce domestic violence, such as legal advocacy, hotlines, mandatory arrests, and firearm confiscations, has contributed to a substantial decline in intimate partner homicides (Dugan, Nagin, & Rosenfeld, 2003). Statutes include the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, strengthening federal criminal justice responses; federal and state laws banning gun possession by people convicted of domestic violence; Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 including the “risk of violence and significant personal injury” at the workplace as a “recognizable hazard” that employers are required to eliminate; and state laws protecting workplace rights of victims.

Private organizations that assist victims include the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which promotes creation of a culture in which domestic violence is not tolerated (What is Domestic Violence?). Research about prevention is conducted by government agencies (Breiding, et al., 2014; Klein, 2009), private organizations (Female Homicide Victims by Males: An Analysis of 2013 Data, 2015), and university researchers (Jiwatram-Negron, 2015). The FBI held a conference in 2013 on the prevention of mass victimization. Family murders were not addressed per se, but one community strategy to reduce mass murders generally is to promote awareness through trainings, workshops, or town meetings (Jarvis & Scherer, 2015, p. 27-31). Currently, the Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research is planning a special issue about preventing femicide (Emerald Group Publishing, 2016).

References

American Sociological Association. (August 23, 2015). ASA News: U.S. has 5% of world’s population, but had 31% of shooters in 1966-2012. ASA Press Releases. Retrieved January 24, 2016, from http://www.asanet.org/press/US_population_shooters.cfm.

Auchter, B. (2010) Men Who Murder Their Families: What the Research Tells Us. U. S. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice. NIJ Journal / Issue No. 266 (June 2010). Retrieved September 5, 2016, from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/230412.pdf.

Batton, C. (2004). "Gender differences in lethal violence: Historical trends in the relationship between homicide and suicide rates, 1960-2000." Justice Quarterly 21.3: 423-462. Retrieved September 20, 2016, from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07418820400095861.

Blair, J. P., & Schweit, K. W. (2013). A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States, 2000-2013. Texas State University and Federal Bureau of Investigation, U. S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., 2014. Retrieved January 2, 2016 from https://hazdoc.colorado.edu/handle/10590/2712.

Breiding, M. J., Smith, S. G., Basile, K. C., Walters, M. L., Chen, J., & Merrick, M. T. (September 5, 2014). "Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization – National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, September 5, 2014 / 63 (SS08): 1-18. Retrieved September 17, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6308a1.htm?s_cid=ss6308a1_e.

Chemaly, S. (June 13, 2016). "In Orlando, as Usual, Domestic Violence Was Ignored Red Flag." Rolling Stone Magazine. Retrieved June 14, 2016, from http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/in-orlando-as-usual-domestic-violence-was-ignored-red-flag-20160613.

Dugan, L., Nagin, D. S., & Rosenfeld, R. (2003). "Exposure Reduction or Retaliation? The Effects of Domestic Violence Resources on Intimate-Partner Homicide." Law & Society Review 37.1 (2003): 169-198. Retrieved September 18, 2016, from https://ccjs.umd.edu/sites/ccjs.umd.edu/files/pubs/lasr_03701005.pdf.

Duwe, G. (2007). A History of Mass Murder in the United States. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Emerald Group Publishing. (n.d.). Extended Deadline to 1st September: Prevention of femicide: Explanations and effective solutions. Retrieved September 17, 2016, from http://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/products/journals/call_for_papers.htm?id=6626.

Everytown for Gun Safety. (2015). Analysis of Recent Mass Shootings. Retrieved January 3, 2016, from http://everytownresearch.org/reports/mass-shootings-analysis/.

Female Homicide Victims by Males: An Analysis of 2013 Data. (2015). Violence Policy Center. Retrieved September 16, 2016, from http://www.vpc.org/revealing-the-impacts-of-gun-violence/female-homicide-victimization-by-males/.

Follman, M., et al. (2012). U.S. mass shootings, 1982-2015: Data from Mother Jones’ investigation. Retrieved January 3, 2016, from http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data.

Ford, D. (July 24, 2015). Who commits mass shootings? Retrieved September 17, 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/27/us/mass-shootings/.

Fox, J. A., & Levin, J. (2015). Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder. 3rd ed. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Fox, J. A., Levin, J., & Quinet, K. (2012). The Will to Kill: Making Sense of Senseless Murder. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Jarvis, J., & Scherer, J.A. (2015). Mass Victimization: Promising Avenues for Prevention. Washington, D.C.: Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Jeltsen, M. (August 25, 2015; updated September 15, 2015). We’re missing the big picture on mass shootings. Retrieved January 6, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mass-shootings-domestic-violence-women_55d3806ce4b07addcb44542a.

Jiwatran-Negron, T. (2015). Intimate Partner Violence: Prevalence, Effects, and Promising Interventions. Annotated Bibliography. Prisoner Reentry Institute, John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Retrieved September 17, 2016, from http://johnjayresearch.org/pri/files/2015/03/IPV-Annotated- Bibliography-PRI.pdf.

Klein, A. R. (2009). Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors, and Judges. NIJ Special Report / June 09. NCJ 225722. U. S. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice. Retrieved September 17, 2016, from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/225722.pdf.

Krouse, W. J., & Richardson, D. J. (2015). "Mass Murder with Firearms: Incidents and Victims, 1999-2013." Congressional Research Service. 7-5700. R44126. Retrieved August 5, 2015, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R44126.pdf.

Lenz, L. (December 7, 2015). Tashfeen Malik and the Role Women Play in Mass Shootings. Retrieved June 6, 2016, from https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/tashfeen-malik-and-the-role-women-play-in-mass-shootings.

Mascia, J. (December 1, 2015). Domestic Abusers Often Graduate to Other Violent Crimes. They Also Often Get to Have Guns. Retrieved September 16, 2016, from https://www.thetrace.org/2015/12/domestic-abuse-gun-ownership-planned-parenthood-shooting/.

Schildkraut, J., & Elsass, H. J. (2016). Mass Shootings: Media, Myths, and Realities. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publishers.

Singular, S. (2015). Personal Communication, May 28, 2015.

Singular, S., & Singular, J. (2015a). The Spiral Notebook: The Aurora Theater Shooter and the Epidemic of Mass Violence Committed by American Youth. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint.

Singular, S., & Singular, J. (2015b). Personal Communication, August 5, 2015.

Small Arms Survey. (2011). Small Arms Survey 2011: States of Security. Retrieved October 26, 2015, from http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/publications/by-type/yearbook/small-arms-survey-2011.html.

Stanford University Libraries. (2015) Mass Shootings in America. Retrieved January 3, 2016, from https://library.stanford.edu/projects/mass-shootings-america.

Starr, T. J. (2015). The under-reported truth behind most mass shootings. Retrieved January 10, 2016, from http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/under-reported-truth-behind-most-mass-shootings.

Taub, Amanda. (June 15, 2016). Control and Fear: What Mass Killings and Domestic Violence Have in Common. Retrieved September 16, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/16/world/americas/control-and-fear-what-mass-killings-and-domestic-violence-have-in-common.html.

Weeks, L. (September 24, 2013). Why Are Most Rampage Shooters Men? Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://www.npr.org/sections/theprotojournalist/2013/09/24/225689775/why-are-mostrampage-shooters-men.

What is Domestic Violence? (n.d.). National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved September 16, 2016, from http://www.ncadv.org/learn-more/statistics.