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JP Grace: Rage takes deadly toll in American life

Feb. 12, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

A 65-year-old Vietnam vet shoots and kills a school bus driver because the driver was using the vet's property to turn his bus around at run's end, then kidnaps a 5-year-old boy and holes up in a bunker stocked with food, holding police and FBI swat teams at bay. All this recently in rural Midland, Ala.

A few days earlier a 15-year-old boy, Nehemiah Griego, shoots and kills his mother and his father, and then his three younger siblings. An Albuquerque, N.M., story.

The CEO of Tactical Response, a Tennessee gun merchant, posts a video exclaiming: "I'm not (expletive) putting up with this (talk of tighter gun control). If it goes one inch further, I'm gonna start killing people." Officers from the Tennessee department of public safety void his concealed carry permit.

What's going on here? Is there a common denominator?

Do these scenarios have any relationship to the terrifying episodes of mass murders that have rocked America since the Columbine high school shootings 14 years ago that left 14 dead,including the two shooters who committed suicide?

Since Columbine we've also had:

The Virginia Tech massacre of 32 faculty and students followed by the suicide of the gunman, himself a student here on a visa from South Korea, Seug-Hui Cho.

The Tucson, Ariz., spray of gunfire by Jared Lee Lochner that wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford and left six others dead, including a judge and a 9-year-old girl.

The massacre of theater patrons in a cineplex in Aurora, Colo. -- 12 killed, 58 wounded -- by a heavily-armed James Holmes, who wore a bullet-proof vest.

The slayings of six and the suicide of the shooter, Wade Michael Page, at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis.

And most recently the terrible tragedy of Newtown, Conn. That's where 20-year-old Adam Lanza seized his mother's AR-15 automatic rifle with a 100-round clip and two Glock semi-automatic pistols, shot her while she slept, then went to Sandy Hook elementary school and gunned down 20 first-grade children and four teaching staff. Then killed himself.

Is your head spinning yet? Mine is just writing this.

So back to the question of common denominator. Make that "denominators," plural. In a nutshell, everything happened in our out-of-whack American culture with a long tradition of violent behavior. Most of the assailants were young males and all acquired their weapons legally. All seemed to be both suicidal and homicidal.

None except the Columbine shooters had a criminal record. So much for the NRA mantra of "just keep guns out of the hands of criminals."

Most important of all, each was burning up with rage, very much including Jimmy Lee Dykes, the Vietnam vet in the Alabama tragedy, and James Yeager, the Tennessee CEO whose outburst cost him his concealed carry permit. (Dykes ended up dead and his five-year-old hostage freed after the FBI stormed his bunker.)

Yes, there may well have been mental illness in the mix. But unbalanced or not, these individuals were very, very angry. And apparently they spent a lot of time with that anger churning inside their psyches before they exploded.

A cable TV medical show surveying the effects of rage reported that "48 minutes of continuous rage will shut down the immune system." Talk about "making yourself sick." Rage will do that, absolutely -- both physically and emotionally.

When we do get universal background checks for people who seek to purchase guns -- and that cannot happen soon enough -- those checks need to account for rage.

It is a quality that is both dangerous and deadly.

John Patrick Grace is a former Chicago bureau reporter, New York foreign desk editor and Rome foreign correspondent for The Associated Press. He is currently a book editor and publisher based in Huntington and teaches The Life Writing Class.

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