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Marijuana factor in U.S. shootings

by John Morrissey

Miranda Devine, daughter of legendary Australian journalist Frank Devine, is standing up for truth and making a name for herself in the U.S. media world. Her article on the link between users of marijuana and senseless shootings blunts the politicised case for gun control as the solution: "The pattern of mass killers: alienated young male stoners" (New York Post, July 6, 2022).

Devine revisits an argument which she raised in the Post in 2019 — that is, the role of marijuana in the actions of these crazed killers. A parents' group had compiled a list of mass killers who, it claimed, were heavy users of marijuana from a young age, citing case studies of James Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, and Jared Loughner of Tucson, Arizona.

Yet when President Trump highlighted marijuana as a factor in the July 2019 El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, shootings, his critics mounted a knee-jerk response and even rejected as discrimination the proposal that people with mental illness should be denied access to firearms.

The Democrats continue to view these shootings as opportunities to berate the Republican states on gun control, but are far more partisan in their view of marijuana, a drug proven to trigger mental illness in some users.

An FBI report in 2018 stated that 40 per cent of these shooters in the U.S. between 2008 and 2013 had been diagnosed with a mental illness before the attack. A Swedish study found that heavy users of marijuana were 6.7 times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than non-users, while British and New Zealand studies showed similar results, and even the medical journal The Lancet reversed its earlier benign view.

Devine reminds parents and other older people that marijuana today is often 20 times more potent than the pot of the 1960s and '70s. The U.S., states which have legalised this drug — i.e., Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — have seen sharp increases in violent crime since 2014. Mental illness and youth suicide are on the rise, especially among young people 18 to 25, the most likely to use marijuana.

She returned to this subject after the 2022 Fourth of July massacre in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois. She explains that weed scrambles the brains of young men such as the accused Highland Park shooter, Robert Crimo III, and removes all empathy for others.

The higher potency in today's marijuana of the psychoactive ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is especially dangerous for the developing adolescent brain; yet this scientifically-established trigger for psychosis is strenuously denied by those pushing for wholesale drug legalisation.

The background of the Highland Park shooter had been airbrushed by his lawyer, claiming that his family are being scapegoated for gun-control failures. Robert Crimo's actual family situation does not fit the lawyer's description as "wonderful", the son having suffered neglect.

One peer remembers a quiet and timid boy, who changed at 18, depressed over a girl, but instead of therapy he turned to drugs. He had lost his job and believed in "stuff that goes along with the psychedelic rap and drugs".

Another former friend who knew Crimo from 14 to 17 described him as "an isolated stoner who completely lost touch with reality". It is significant that his father later faced a felony charge of reckless conduct for signing the firearm application of his 19-year-old son. As the State Attorney for Lake County, Illinois, Eric Rinehart, put it, "He knew what he knew", a reference to the youth's mental instability.

Miranda Devine rejects the claim that gun-control is the silver bullet to prevent these shootings. Rather, she argues, something has gone wrong with America's youth, especially the many isolated young men who have resorted to drugs as an answer to their existential problems.

As it happens, the state of Illinois has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, yet Chicago is the murder capital of the U.S.! Another factor, of course, is the virtual reality in which these young men exist, especially the online gaming culture, which further alienates them from others and the consequences of their actions.

Nevertheless, drug liberalisation in the U.S. and here in Australia can only make the tragedy of rampage killings more common.

John Morrissey is a retired secondary school teacher who has taught in government, independent and Catholic schools. He lives in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn with his blue heeler, Missie.

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