Do School Shooters Snap Because Of A "Crisis Of Masculinity"?

Illustration for article titled Do School Shooters Snap Because Of A "Crisis Of Masculinity"?

Following last week's massacre at Northern Illinois University, which left six people dead and several more wounded, pundits across the nation have been looking for the easy explanation. Why did the sweet-faced 12-year-old pictured here grow up into a mass murderer, mowing down several innocent people and then himself? UCLA professor of education and "cultural critic" Douglas Kellner thinks that former NIU grad student Steven Kazmierczak went berserk because of a crisis of masculinity. In his book, Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre, Kellner argues that American boys are suffering from feelings of alienation, and in a culture that glorifies hyper-masculinity in the form of violent video games and movies, the school shooters "attempt to resolve a crisis of masculinity through violent behavior."


Kellner's argument sounds suspiciously close to the "Boy Crisis" hysteria plastered all over the media about two years ago: Articles upon articles lamenting the lack of academic achievement amongst boys and claiming that classrooms were hostile to the male gender. In an article debunking the "boy crisis" in the Washington Post, Boston University journalism professor Caryl Rivers and Brandeis research scientist Rosalind Chait Barnett said, "Obsessing about a boy crisis or thinking that American teachers are waging a war on boys won't help kids. What will is recognizing that students are individuals."

And Illinois school shooter Steven Kazmierczak was an individual. He didn't fit the school shooter archetype like Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho did — Kazmierczak wasn't really an alienated loner. Yes, he was quiet, but his live-in girlfriend, Jessica Baty, tells a different story of the 27-year-old than you'll hear from N.I.U. officials and various TV news talking heads. In a tearful interview with CNN, Baty explains: "The person I knew...was not the one who did that. He was anything but a monster. He was probably the nicest most caring ever." Baty explains that growing up, Kazmierczak spent time in a group home and at times had cut himself. She also said that he had been on Prozac for anxiety and OCD, but stopped taking it because "it made him feel like a zombie." In the days leading up to the shootings, Baty didn't notice anything alarming. "NIU officials were wrong when they said he was acting erratic," she said.

So what's the takeaway from this heinous occurrence? Sadly, there's no easy explanation for why Kazmierczak did what he did. UCLA professor Kellner suggests stricter gun control laws, and that's a start. What turns a seemingly sweet and quiet guy into a mass murderer, though, isn't something that can be solved through legislation or sweeping, gender-based generalization.

School Shootings The Result Of Crisis Of Masculinity, Gun Culture, Professor Argues [Science Daily]
The Myth Of 'The Boy Crisis' [Washington Post]
University Shooter's Girlfriend: 'I Couldn't Believe It' [CNN]

Earlier: Campus Shooter Was Off His Meds



i understand that his girlfriend is devastated, but i wonder whether she's the best judge of whether or not he was acting *erratic.* i saw on the today show this morning that about 6 months ago he started getting sleeve tatoos of knives and death...which is kinda out of character for a geeky-looking social work grad student who takes his girlfriend to disney world. obviously i'm not saying there's anything she could have done, but from the outside that definitely seems strange.