***Warning: This post is about violence. It’s not graphic, but I want to make sure you know the topic before you read ahead.***

It’s Thursday afternoon and I’m still miles away from having a finished blog post for tomorrow. I asked Sparky to read the draft last night and he came back with a page filled with comments. I haven’t been able to work on it yet today. I read his comments out of order and barely glanced at the text they discussed. I know it’s disjointed. There are three basic sections that should each probably have their own post, but they’re not fleshed out enough for that. Besides, I want them all in this post.

One of Sparky’s comments really hit me. The end of the comment, actually. He said, “I know you’re mad, sorry. ☹” He’s right, of course. I’m beyond mad; I’m fuming. That doesn’t usually come through in my writing. This time, though, it’s all right there on the page and I can’t seem to make myself go back and look at it.

Thinking back on what I had been trying to say in this post, I realize the theme that does such a poor job of holding the pieces together is focus. Which strikes me now as hilariously ironic.

The impetus for the post was the Santa Barbara killing spree last Friday. The three parts are supposed to say:

  1. Autism does not cause people to commit premeditated murder, so stop focusing on the autism in perpetrators who happen to be autistic.
  2. Don’t focus on the perpetrator either. And a small reference to focusing on gun control in the Sandy Hook and Treyvon Martin killings.
  3. In the Santa Barbara case, do focus on misogyny and the prevalence of violence against women.

Now that I’ve told you what they’re supposed to say, let’s see if I can rework them to actually say it. Here goes…

Autism does not cause people to commit premeditated murder

I was casting around for an analogy to help me describe the differences in brain structure between autistic people and neurotypical people and suddenly I was reminded of Harry Potter. You know how Hogwarts has staircases that move every other Tuesday so that the students have to find an alternative route to class? Think of the brain as Hogwarts and neural pathways (the way we think about things) as the routes we take to class. Neurotypical people can take any of the regular routes to class, but autistic people only know how to get to class every other Tuesday; they only know the Tuesday route, so most days they have to figure out some other way to get to class. Some do get to class, it just takes them longer because they have to go out of their way or they walk slower. Some need a map drawn for them so they can see how to get there. Some don’t make it to class because they get spun around by Peeves and can’t determine which direction they were headed in the first place. Some never get started because they don’t know which way to start walking.

What’s that you say? It’s more complicated than that? Of course it is; we’re talking about the human brain here. My point is that none of the alternate pathways to class, none of the differences in an autistic brain, cause autistic people to bring a rifle along with the intent of shooting people. Scream and cry in frustration or meltdown due to sensory overload? Absolutely. But if there’s a plan to take a weapon and kill people, there’s something else going on that is not autism.

It’s not that autistic people can’t commit premeditated murder, just that autism is not the underlying cause. In other words, a perpetrator may be autistic, but the shooting isn’t caused by the autism any more than road rage by a neurotypical person is caused by traffic. Traffic can make people really angry, but the leap to road rage is something else.

The focus of the media on autism (people with Asperger’s are autistic) in shootings like Newtown and Santa Barbara feels similar to the focus on race in the Treyvon Martin shooting. At least race was a factor in that crime, whereas autism was not in the other murders I’ve mentioned. I just don’t think it was the most important one. At the end of the day, the important thing was that an adult shot and killed a child for no reason and got away with no meaningful repercussions. Why can’t we focus on that?

Don’t Focus on the Perpetrator
In the cases of Newtown and Santa Barbara, we should set aside talk of autism and focus on how two mentally unstable men were able to obtain weapons and ammunition to commit these atrocities.

Focusing on the perpetrator does a disservice to the victims, including family and friends of the physically wounded and dead. It makes the perpetrator seem important. It was his decision to ruin lives and, in exchange, he gets to be famous and his words analyzed and re-analyzed and hashed out ad nauseam. He seems like a rock star to those who emulate him and a monster to those who fear him. His acts seem unique and isolated.

But his acts aren’t unique. He is not unique or special. Dissecting his life or his view of the world might offer some insight into the specific reasons he committed this particular crime at this particular time, but that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. It may matter a lot to the victims and their loved ones and they should absolutely get all the answers they need. But society as a whole, and the media in particular, doesn’t need them. Those details may feel soothing to us because they seem to give reason to the madness, but they really only serve as a distraction from the real danger: the pervasiveness of violence in our society. There’s no way to predict when any given individual will reach a breaking point and snap. Sometimes there are indications that went unnoticed, sometimes not.

Since these incidents are not isolated or unique, however, we can look at patterns for clues to prevention. Our society has a propensity toward violence, most often committed by men. For any shooting where the gun(s) was obtained legally, we need to take a look at our gun laws. I discussed my feelings on gun control when I wrote about Sandy Hook and I don’t want to revisit them in this post. I would like to share this article from Mother Jones that debunks 10 of the popular pro-gun myths. I find these statistics particularly compelling:

Myth #7: Guns make women safer.
Fact-check: In 2010, nearly 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers.

  • A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun.
  • One study found that women in states with higher gun ownership rates were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than women in states with lower gun ownership rates.

Dave Gilson (2013)

Plus, it makes a nice segue into the next section.

Violence Against Women
In the Santa Barbara, Isla Vista, killings, there’s been a lot of talk about the perpetrator’s misogynistic manifesto and his father’s occupation. I don’t give a shit who the perpetrator’s father was or what his manifesto said beyond the fact that he was rejected by women and decided to get even via physical violence. And that, my friends, is commonplace and altogether ordinary in our society.

Let’s focus on that. Let’s shine a great big spotlight on misogyny and male on female violence. Many men get their hackles up at the mention of this, shouting back that not all men are like that. They’re missing the point. Go here to read what Chuck Wendig said and then go check out #YesAllWomen on Twitter. Because being harassed by men is just part of existing as a female in America. Other places, too, but I’m focusing on my home country because we’re particularly violent about it. So, if your instinct is to protect men from this onslaught, stop for a minute and listen.

Men are not under attack. That’s not what this is about. This is about validating the female experience and acknowledging that we need to change things to make this a better, safer, place for all of us. That we need to teach our men and boys that women and girls don’t owe them anything simply because they’re male. They’re not entitled to anything and you don’t get to take things from people, whatever their gender, just because you want them or you’ve been denied them. They’re not yours. They belong to another person and you don’t get to take those things no matter how much stronger you are or how many weapons you have.

Edited to add: I love Laci Green and I think this video is spot on. She does mention names and plays a portion of video posted by the perpetrator of the Isla Vista murders. To add my own experiences, I will tell you that I have been stalked by an ex-boyfriend, physically threatened and harassed, and coerced into sex. I’ve also been chastised by mutual friends for refusing to remain friendly and supportive of one of those guys. In fairness, I’ve also had male friends intervene on my behalf. I just don’t think they should have to do that. I think me saying no in the first place should be enough to end the interaction.