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Mass Murderers on Trial Are Sane

While there are some mass murderers who are mentally ill, the vast majority are simply angry, frustrated, violent, young men. They have been with us since the beginning of time, and until we implement stronger nationwide gun-control laws they are likely to commit more atrocities in the future.
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Last week, CNN's Piers Morgan began a segment on de-stigmatizing mental illness by asking Glenn Close, whose sister has bipolar disorder and whose nephew has schizophrenia, why so many recent murderous rampages have supposedly involved people with mental illness.

It would have been nice if Close had contested that proposition because, as I have written numerous times before, studies show that those with severe mental illness but no substance abuse problems commit only 3% to 4% of violent crime.

With court proceedings now taking place for three alleged mass murderers, it might be instructive to review the incorrect assumption, held by many people, including perhaps Piers Morgan, that there is a link between these massacres and mental illness.

If we adhere to chronological order based on the date of the massacre, then Exhibit A would be the case of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. At the time of the mass murder, many so-called experts like Daniel Amen, author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, claimed on Larry King Live that Hasan had a "deranged mind" when he killed 13 people and wounded many others at Fort Hood in 2009.

Far from being psychotic, Hasan showed premeditation in concealing and perpetrating the atrocities by allegedly giving away his furniture to friends, using someone else's computer, destroying documents, taking target practice and buying a gun with a high-capacity magazine so that he could inflict the most damage possible.

A military judge recently ruled that Hasan will have the right to represent himself in court, where Hasan indicated that he will offer the defense that he was trying to protect the Taliban from the U.S. military.

While his position may strike some as delusional, there is evidence that Hasan communicated via e-mail with the late Anwar al-Awlaki, the firebrand cleric, who was killed in a drone strike. Awlaki may not have been a member of the Taliban, but he was an enemy of this country and no doubt helped to radicalize Hasan.

I will leave it to others to quibble as to whether or not Hasan's act was one of terrorism or that of a lone wolf. But there can be no quibbling over his mental state; it is clear that Hasan was not remotely mentally ill when he planned and carried out the Fort Hood massacre. He was just one in a long line of angry, frustrated, violent, young men with access to military-style firearms.

Exhibit B is Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, another angry, frustrated, violent man, who recently pleaded guilty to killing 16 Afghan civilians in March 2012. Like Hasan, who received poor performance evaluations, Bales was reportedly upset that he did not receive a promotion, in his case to sergeant first class, and that he did not get a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq.

While Hasan had no wife or girlfriend, Bales was married, but his marriage may have been strained by his deployments to war zones. Bales also must have been aware that six Americans had been killed by supposed Afghan Army allies not long before Bales massacred the villagers. In addition, Bales admitted in court to taking steroids as well as drinking on the night of the massacre.

All of these facts, including Bales' own guilty plea, demonstrate once again that the killer was not in the least mentally ill, even though Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney last year on CNN's The Situation Room called Bales "deranged" and "crazed."

Exhibit C revolves around James Holmes, who is accused of gunning down 12 people at a Colorado movie theater last summer and who recently pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. At first glance, Holmes might appear to be mentally ill. Last year, Ray Kelly, the New York City Police Commissioner, characterized Holmes as being delusional because the murder suspect had dyed his hair red and dressed up as the Joker.

As I pointed out in a piece last year, many people dress up as comic book, cartoon or sci-fi action heroes. Consider all the wannabe celebrities on Hollywood Boulevard who don the outfits of Star Wars characters, an act that does not make them delusional or psychotic.

The same may be true of Holmes, who, for all of his bizarre smirks and odd behavior patterns in court over the past year, is yet another angry, frustrated, violent, young man with access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Like Hasan and Bales, Holmes did not do well in his performance evaluations; his grades were substandard in his doctoral program in neuroscience.

And like Hasan, he clearly planned his murderous rampage, stockpiling weapons, ammunition and explosives and going so far as to booby-trap his apartment in Colorado.

I don't know how many times I have pointed out that mass murderers like Hasan, Bales and Holmes evidence not mental illness but the dark side of human nature. While there are some mass murderers who are mentally ill, the vast majority are simply those angry, frustrated, violent, young men I have written about time and time again. They have been with us since the beginning of time, and until we implement stronger nationwide gun-control laws they are likely to commit more atrocities in the future.