THE HEAVY cost of uncontrolled anger.
The two worst mass murders in the U.S. so far this year were not committed by terrorists. They weren’t linked to gangs or drugs. And they were anything but “random.”
Both mass shootings were carried out by men enraged at wives who were divorcing them; both claimed multiple collateral victims.
In May, a man in speck-sized Bogue Chitto, Miss., went gunning for his wife, who was staying with family members. The woman managed to flee, but the gunman murdered seven of her relatives, including an 11-year-old boy, and a deputy sheriff who responded to their frantic summons for help.
The killer later told reporters he was “sorry” about the deputy. He blamed his in-laws for “intervening” by calling 911 when he started shooting people, as if.
The other case, as we know, took place last weekend in Plano, when a self-pitying alcoholic named Spencer Hight slaughtered his wife and seven of her cookout guests before he was shot by police.
But for the body counts, these are hardly unusual cases. I wrote earlier this week about the poisonous mix of uncontrolled anger and ready access to guns, but a significant portion of that problem can be focused even more narrowly: men who go murderously berserk after a breakup.
A major analysis released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July found that 54 percent of the women murdered in this country are killed by “intimate partner or intimate partner-related violence” — meaning, overwhelmingly, current or former husbands or boyfriends.
Yes, men are murdered by partners, too. But, as
points out, similar studies indicate that “intimate partner” violence accounts for 5 percent to 7 percent of men who are murder victims.
This is worth talking about. I hope it gives pause to some of the overheated anti-immigrant rhetoric about “how ‘they’ treat their women.” “We” don’t exactly have a sterling track record ourselves.
By all accounts, Meredith Lane — the former wife against whom Hight directed his obsessive rage — was by no means the helpless, clinging victim of popular imagination.
She was smart, successful and popular. Relatives say she tried to help her husband with his drinking and joblessness before giving up and seeking a divorce.
Even the most delusional blame-the-victim critics can’t say that she did anything “wrong,” unless it was her failure to call the cops when — according to her family — he roughed her up on at least two occasions.
Sadly, that almost certainly would not have saved her life. Our options for women dealing with violent partners are miserably inadequate. There are restraining orders, which don’t have much effect on somebody berserk enough to commit murder.
And there are shelters — which, while a literal lifesaver for women every day, are a measure of the desperation experienced by someone being harassed by a madman.
In the most extreme cases, we put the burden on victims of terrifying violence to leave their homes, pull their kids out of school, quit their jobs and go into hiding.
If that’s the best we can do, we’re not being particularly resourceful — or particularly just.
Yes, there’s more we could be doing. Of course there’s more.
In broad terms, we could (forgive me for repeating what I have written earlier) put a much greater cultural premium on controlling our anger. An explosive temper should be regarded as a major problem that needs intervention.
We could improve the piecemeal, haphazard manner with which the justice system handles domestic abusers. Here’s just one of, I don’t know, say, a bazillion cases-in-point: A Muskogee, Okla., woman was appalled after her former husband, an ex-police officer, recently completed his punishment for kidnapping her and holding her at gunpoint. (She reports he also sexually assaulted her, a charge apparently dropped in exchange for his “no contest” plea.)
His sentence? Twelve weekends in jail.
“I think that is unjust,” the woman said. So do I, and so should you.
We could view family violence with the same stern intolerance we reserve for sex offenders and drug dealers. We could do a better job of using “lethality assessments” to identify men who may pose the greatest danger to former wives or girlfriends.
And we could, once and for all, open up our eyeballs and look at what the evidence has shown us over and over again: A woman trying to leave or who has recently left a man with a track record of violence and who owns a gun is at risk.
The late Spencer Hight said it himself, more than once, according to a friend.
“How can the one person you’re supposed to love more than life itself end up being the one person you hate more than life itself?” That hate ate him up. It consumed him.
Well, he showed her. And he showed seven other people and their families, and their friends, and he showed another victim who was badly injured and faces a long road to recovery: that his rage, his hurt feelings, meant more than anything else.
It meant more than their lives.
Teddy bears, flowers and notes were left near the crime scene on West Spring Creek Parkway in Plano after Spencer Hight killed his estranged wife and seven other people at her home last Sunday night.
Plano police and the Texas Rangers were at the scene of the mass shooting in Plano on Monday. Police shot and killed Spencer Hight at the home Sunday night after he fatally shot eight people.