#058–In the eyes of the law, what does “insanity” mean? And where does that fit in with “mental issues” and gun violence?

I guess we could call this Part 2 of my question about the value of life. And, not to be an arrogant ass, I feel like I’ve bumped into an invisible elephant in the room regarding our discussions about mass killings.

I’ve had this weighing on my mind for years, and it hit me today what I couldn’t put my finger on before. I caught an old American Justice episode about Mass Killers that somebody’d taped eons ago.

I don’t have the air date (wish I did–but it had to be well before Columbine because that wasn’t even mentioned). But there’s one thing Bill Kurtis and some sociologists brought up that’s made me go and start digging.

In it, he said that the vast majority of mass shooters were not insane (granted, these were not teenagers). They knew right from wrong. They did not have any psychological ailments that usually featured excessive aggression as a symptom, or anything like that. These were men who were middle-aged, felt like they were left out of society, under-employed or about to lose their jobs, and the life they expected to have didn’t come about for them.

They lashed out at the world and blamed society for everything wrong with them. This was true of the McDonalds shooter, the various Post Office shooters in the 80s and 90s, and other white male mass shooters. Only one of the bunch who lived to be taken into custody plead insanity and got sentenced to life in a psychiatric hospital, basically.

So, the fears of all these mass shooters getting caught and released on an insanity plea are a bit overblown. I don’t know of any jury that’d let some guy go after mowing people down… then again we’re conditioned to mistrust lawyers for this very same reason.

But what I want to know is, has the legal definition of insanity changed all that much? Maybe I always got the simplified version when I looked it up before, but I thought insanity essentially meant you couldn’t tell the difference between right and wrong.

I think there’s a bigger question that needs to be asked. If the legal definition of insanity is that a person can’t tell the difference between right and wrong, then what are these killings we’re seeing now?

I mean, you can’t tell me that this Florida high school shooter didn’t know right from wrong.

You can’t tell me the Orlando night club shooter didn’t know right from wrong.

You can’t tell me the Vegas shooter didn’t know right from wrong.

You can’t tell me the church shooter in Texas didn’t know right from wrong.

So, this opens up something that might be more difficult. I do believe gun control is the big issue. However, I think we’re going in a roundabout way with “mental issues.”

I’ll go ahead and say it, because I’m confused: I don’t think the phrases “mental issues” or “mental problems” or “mental health” are accurate for what needs discussing.

I think that’s why things are a little screwed up. The people who don’t want to talk about gun control might be willing to talk about mental issues, needing mental health screening, etc.

What would that entail? What would it look for? What does it even mean?

Even now, in the living room, there’s a documentary on about a teenager that killed two people, and they’re talking about the circumstances of his childhood and whatnot and how that affected his decisions.

We’ve ALL had those feelings when we’ve been angry at the whole world. We’ve ALL wanted to take revenge and give somebody a taste of what we were feeling. We’ve ALL thought of that heeding that little voice in us that tells us how easy it would be to do something and to hell with everyone else.

Does that mean we all have mental disorders and should be locked up for them?


I think it’s almost too simple, for the mass shooters of today and of all those decades past: They knew right from wrong, and they didn’t give a damn!

I’ll say it again. They. Didn’t. Give. A. Damn.

Maybe that’s too hard for society to handle, and that’s why “mental issues” is put as the opposing argument to “gun control.”

Because how can you help people who’ve decided to take the whole world down with them? How can you prevent that?

You can’t legislate that! You can’t make people care about each other, or be sociable, or pay attention to the not-sociable out there.

What is a society to do when plenty of people don’t give a damn about society?

Ooh, I’d love to know THAT one.

We’d have to do some major overhauling to our social constructs to make that plausible. It feels like another one of those simple solutions people want to make themselves feel better, now that I think about it.

I’m sure somebody out there can come up with a dozen different possible psychoses or diagnoses for what these shooters were experiencing, and I’m sure they’d be interesting reading in a court transcript. Unfortunately, psychiatry’s becoming like WebMD–pick your ailment, pick your diagnosis.

And then freak out when you’re experiencing your self-fulfilled prophecy of a diagnosis.

You can call it what you want: Antisocial Personality Disorder’s the most common one, and probably a few dozen others. But when did the word “disorder” come to mean “intent to do harm” in the public mind? Frankly, I think at least half the country would fall under that disorder’s umbrella because of our (increasingly) “anti-social media”.

This is only going to get worse because we’re all turned inward, to our computers, social media, immediate family and workplaces. That American Justice episode also mentioned our increasing isolation (at least 20 years ago), and what a coincidence that incidents of mass shootings began to increase in the years since.

No, I don’t think “mental health issues” or other euphemisms for whatever that is are accurate for discussion. And if we’re talking “school shooters” who are teens, that’s even worse–they’re constantly shifting and changing, evolving.

Unless they’ve changed the rules, you can’t really profile teens because they’d all come up narcissists or sociopaths or manic-depressives or something. Aw crap, I smell another research project coming on…

Honestly. Value of life. And giving a damn about other people.

I don’t think a nice (or not-nice) psychological-label is going to do anything to address the issue. Even if we found one, what would we do about it that would prevent the next thousand mass killings to come?

As long as people want to kill, and don’t give a damn about other people, and really don’t give a damn that it’s wrong to take someone’s life…then there’s no changing it.

This is just a piece of what’s come out. I have a feeling there’s more to it that I wanted to say, but it’s stuck in my brain.

Any ideas on how to make life valuable again? How to make society valuable again? Any good resources to bring up? Floor’s open to you.


And I couldn’t help it–when I first saw this animation, it had this piano cover of a Yann Tiersen piece from Amelie (not Moby’s song), so I put that version here. It hit me hard because–though this may be an extreme version of our social-less society–I just shake my head because though it may not LOOK like this so much, it sure as hell FEELS like it most days…

Hugs, and peace be with you all.

6 thoughts on “#058–In the eyes of the law, what does “insanity” mean? And where does that fit in with “mental issues” and gun violence?

  1. bobcabkings says:

    Here’s one book on the insanity defense, very critical of how it has been used in courts: https://www.amazon.com/Reign-Error-Psychiatry-Authority-Law/dp/0807004812

    As for involuntary psychiatric intervention, (What the procedure is called and the details of the process vary from state to state.) where I worked in California and Arizona, the legal grounds for the action were Danger To Self, Danger To Others, or Gravely Disabled/Unable To Care For Self (and unable to accept care or help), due to a treatable mental illness. That last bit about treatable mental illness excludes medical conditions such as dementia, intoxication, brain injury, and delirium due to illness, and excludes developmental disorders. Persons who meet the criteria due to one of those excluded causes can be court ordered to some form of care or treatment, but by a different civil statute and process.

    Assessment for DTS/DTO considers 4 elements: Expressed Ideation (having the thought and somehow telling somebody), Plan (a feasible one, not impossible fantasy), Intent, and Means. And the threat must be immanent (time frame in law varies, but not “maybe someday”).

    I hope that helps a bit. I agree that most of the shooters do know right from wrong, or believe they do, and feel they have been wronged badly enough to take revenge. Very few seem to be technically delusional, unless we count certain widely shared political and/or religious opinions as delusions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheChattyIntrovert says:

      Ooh, thanks. I’m going to look that book up and put it on my wish list. It’s hard to find good resources without reading 20 different ones sometimes.

      I just feel like we tend to work things backwards (then again, we tend to try people in the press, too, and you can bet defense attorneys are taking notes–grr). They dig in the past for something to talk about and find a reason there for all the things that happened. Well, maybe we should work from the crime and move backward in time to find what made this crime the result. It feels too much like we’re making excuses for someone, even if they terrify us or others.

      It just scares me how childish we are that everybody must have a reason for doing something horrible (it’s right up there with “bad things don’t happen to good people.”) Some people just hold a bunch of hate

      You gave me some good stuff to work with. I just couldn’t put my finger on what was bugging me–the legal sanity of the shooter is a big deal (at least to me), but I haven’t heard anybody say a thing about it regarding these mass shootings that I can recall.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Xena says:

    Even if a defendant is found mentally ill, they are sentenced to a mental health facility. Some are sentenced for treatment until they are found they can stand trial. If the defendant pleads guilty by reason of insanity, they are sentenced to a mental health facility for the same number of years as the sentence for the crime.

    The other day, a lawyer on one of those talk news shows said that the defense being raised for Cruz by his public defender, is the precursor to hoping to avoid the death penalty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheChattyIntrovert says:

      Yikes– I just hope we learn something intelligent and worthwhile from this Cruz guy, not just see his face and a few soundbites plastered everywhere, making him famous. We need to get something useful and productive out of a trial, not just give him celebrity status.

      That’s my biggest problem with trials now (thanks a lot, OJ).


  3. PiedType says:

    It’s NOT a mental health issue. It’s not an illness, a deprived childhood, an irresponsible parent, a gang membership, a suicidal tendency, spousal abuse, or anything else other than a GUN issue. Take the gun out of the formula and there is no gun death. You can’t be a shooter without a gun.

    Liked by 1 person

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