The Isla Vista tragedy

The facts are now beginning to emerge about the actions of Elliot Rodger in Isla Vista yesterday in murdering 6 people. There is much to break the heart in this story.

The immediate circumstances are disturbing enough. The day before the carnage, in which Elliot stabbed his three flatmates to death before driving around shooting several others, the young man uploaded a video, Elliot Rodger’s Retribution, to Youtube in which he detailed his plans for the next day and the reason he was doing them. It has now been removed from his channel (by Youtube?) but is easily found by Google search. Watching it one sees a young man filled with resentment and bitterness at his rejection by women, lamenting his still being a virgin at 22. The fact that he was not unattractive and from a well-to-do background would make one wonder why he was apparently rejected by women. The video itself gives the answer: the boy is horribly egocentric to the point of narcissism. So we might conclude he was the ultimate spoilt brat.

A screenshot from Elliot Rodger's video announcing his murderous plans.
A screenshot from Elliot Rodger’s video announcing his murderous plans.

Well, before we all condemn him to hell, a few more facts are worth considering. Elliot had Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s is a form of autism and affects the way a person experiences the world. While it can manifest itself in anti-social outbursts, it is generally hidden from casual view in most sufferers. The condition affects particularly sufferers’ social interaction, social communication, and social imagination. To put it crudely, it makes them social misfits to a greater or lesser degree, despite their desire to be socially integrated. There is no known cure and no specific treatment for Asperger’s. It is an insidious disability.

It seems his parents did everything right. Elliot had been treated by several therapists, and his social worker had been worried enough to contact police a few days before the shootings. It is hard to determine at this point what action the police took, but probably there was not much they could have done, given certain aspects of American law.

One aspect of concern is the cherished American right to bear arms. Even otherwise good Catholics can reveal an almost pathological devotion to guns, and any mention of gun control to some Americans is tantamount to treason. The National Rifle Association is well-funded and exerts immense influence, enough to stifle most legislation seeking gun control. They even object to background checks for gun licences. In American you can own assault rifles, and in some places wear your weapon openly. Many (most?) will tell you that it is essential to prevent oppression by their government – a government they freely and regularly elect. It is no wonder that there are sections of American society that are effectively in a state of war with government and law enforcement. Another argument is that armed citizens can protect other citizens from criminals. It didn’t work yesterday. Moreover, it carries the danger of making citizens into self-appointed vigilantes with often tragic consequences (eg George Zimmerman). It also leads to a civil arms race, with people owning more and more powerful weapons.

While self-defence can be defended on biblical and magisterial lines, the active promotion of unrestricted ownership of firearms cannot. Even self-defence has its limitations in light of our Lord’s command to turn the other cheek, and to lay down one’s life for one’s friends as the highest form of love. The Christian right to self-defence is not unlimited.

So one is left asking how a young man, mentally ill and in ongoing treatment and who had manifested enough signs of impending disaster for the police to be alerted in advance – how could he own not just one but several guns, and have them at hand when he reached crisis point, a crisis point that was recognized in advance? This is a question not just for American society but for us all: how do we deal with the mentally ill who show the signs of becoming dangerous? In the UK they can be sectioned by a doctor under the Mental Health Act, usually a temporary measure that allows the troubled to be assessed and treated over a period of time. This would prevent them having access to weapons, although access to firearms is much more difficult in Britain anyway. There is no right to bear arms, and every right to expect not to have to face them. Even most police are unarmed, and armed police work under strict rules, which work well. It means that there is a lower incidence, and a much lower tolerance, of gun crime here than in the US. Australia enacted tough gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 which saw 35 shot dead at a popular tourist spot. There have been no mass shootings since then in Australia. No one can argue that Australia is not only immensely free, but politically stable and with strong legal checks and balances that keep governments under control. Australians do not need guns to protect themselves against their own elected government.

So we can now but pray for the 6 victims of the shooting who died, the 7 who were wounded, and their families as they face the trauma of lives changed so brutally. Let us also pray for Elliot and his family. He was a mentally ill young man whom society failed to help. Indeed, society allowed him to have the guns that made his outburst so deadly. That, at least, society could have reasonably prevented.

This not intended as an American-bash. The Church in the States is a vibrant one, full of exciting prospects. No one can deny the American contribution to the world, but there is also a negative contribution, as with most countries. Its guns mania is a social sickness that the rest of the world does well to immunize itself against. John Oliver has an interesting take on the American mania for guns. Being English but living in the States, he has a distance informed by familiarity that makes his commentary worth noting. There are three short videos, listed in order.

[I realize this will upset many American Catholics, but I ask them to think carefully about the subject, and to pray about it. Comments that make a reasoned contribution to the debate will be welcomed; those that are abusive, insulting or mere banner waving will not.]

17 thoughts on “The Isla Vista tragedy

  1. 6 deaths. Three by stabbing and one was probably by a self-inflicted gunshot. Hardly a gun story. This is a story about a disturbed young man who was a menace to society and should have been confined for treatment. But you and the rest of the leftists ignore the facts to push your agenda.

    Australia: Reduction in “gun” crimes does not mean a reduction in the murder rate. People switch to other weapons. Not a word about overall crime rates in Australia. The incidence of violent home invasion, muggings, assaults, rape, and burglary is much higher in communities with strict gun control because the criminals are much safer.

    In the US, every year, guns are used over 80 times more often to protect a life than to take one!. Most often without a shot being fired. You wouldn’t know it from the media coverage. The only stories publicized are the ones that promote the agenda.


  2. “…the active promotion of unrestricted ownership of firearms cannot.”

    Apparently he passed the FBI background check, several times. The police interviewed him and thought he was a wonderful and polite human being. Finally he killed half of his victims with a knife, not a gun.

    The NRA and the vast majority of gun owners do _not_ support “unrestricted ownership of firearms.” They fully support trying to keep handguns out of the hands of criminals and the violently mentally ill” with reasonable means that do not deny the God-given right to self defense to those not in those categories.

    Finally getting a concealed carry license in Californica is apparently not to easy. Have to show “good cause” and unless you are a powerful politician like Nancy Pelosi then your “cause” is unlikely to be considered very good. So there weren’t any legally armed citizens around who might have had some chance to stop him somewhere in his murderous trajectory.




    1. Yes, it’s virtually impossible for the authorities to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill because of privacy laws. Those same laws also make it hard for the police to do anything if the person has not acted yet. We also don’t have enough care for the mentally ill (and no, I don’t think an NHS-style system would help: it would just make it more bureaucratic and make the problem more complex).


      1. “Yes, it’s virtually impossible for the authorities to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill because of privacy laws.”

        Decades ago a guy like this would have been committed to an institution for observation. I know that system had flaws and abuse, but it also stopped some things like this.

        From what I have read so far, and admittedly this is info moderated by a media and less than 100% reliable, this guy gave lots of signs to professionals that he was dangerous.

        We seem to be more concerned with the “rights” of guys like this than potential victims. By all accounts he was a pampered, rich kid from Hollywood who felt he should be a “god” to his lesser humans, particularly pretty young coeds whom he felt compelled to deserve as his natural right



  3. Dear Father, you lose me here. Some of the warmest memories of my childhood are working with my dad in his gun shop….loading shotgun shells for a little extra money. Learning how to make bullets for the muzzle loader….going out on the range and shooting clay birds. And, I did this all the while not only being a pacifist, but a vegetarian as well! If you are around guns, you do not see them as “weapons of destruction” any more than you, I suppose, see petrol or knives, or a scythe as weapons. My dad did hunt, but when the family didn’t eat the meat, it was donated to an organization that fed the homeless.

    Autistic folks, as you say, give social cues that leave others terribly uncomfortable and confused. Kind people tend to want to hide from them, avoid them, the less kind get in their face to see what happens. These people often embarrass us. Even when we try to be friendly and kind, they may react in a way that seems dismissive or in some other way disturbing. We understand when someone can’t understand math, but not when someone can’t understand how to interact appropriately with us.

    I have read that in cases of “bullying” – the most common victims are on “the spectrum” as people have begun to say.

    While I know I should probably do more, I have tried to make one inroad. I developed a lesson in our Religious Education program that invites students to take a test that shows them their areas of “intelligence”. This allows them to see their areas of weakness, as well, and realize that “social intelligence” is just one more area where a person might be weak. The lesson goes on to give some practical methods of reaching out to a person with low or skewed social intelligence.

    But, if a person is angry for whatever reason and wants to strike out – they don’t need guns. Look at the middle east – they don’t even bother to report on shootings there though almost everyone (so I’ve heard) carries a gun. What we hear about are the bombings and the explosions because they do so much more harm. I live just a few miles from the worst school tragedy in the history of the US – a man who was “angry” back in the 1930’s blew up the school building killing hundreds of children. I think guns are a red herring.


    1. I think guns are a problem just as explosives and other things. Now you might say, what about knives, bats, etc. The reason I exclude these items is because that are normally conditioned in our mind as being for other things. Even seeing a gun or explosives on the other hand always remind us of war or taking a life.

      So the mistake I think many make is that they forget that guns are merely part of the equation but they are there nevertheless. The reason why gun control alone maybe insufficient is because there are other variables in the equation as well. But the solution is not to just have guns freely available. The real solution is to identify the other variables as well and do everything to eliminate them from the equation as well.

      The reason why tragedies from gun or explosive violence are very tragic is that it reminds us that if that gun or bomb was not easily attainable, then things might have been avoided. We know we could have made it hard to obtain such weapons and tools without making life difficult for anyone since such weapons and tools are not part of our daily needs in general.


  4. Great article father. I certainly agree with you that more regulation is needed on guns and there should not be a need for guns (unless one is living close to the wilderness or some war torn area) to be present in a loving family home.

    However, I would like to say that this is only part of the solution. Your analysis perhaps misses some other problems that need addressing.

    For one, we cannot forget that this kid was driven to see sexual pleasure and companionship with the opposite sex as an ultimate goal in life. So it is understandable that when he got rejected, he felt like life was not worth living. If he hadn’t gone out and done what he did, I will bet he still would have committed suicide at some point if he didn’t get through that. I think Vatican II Lumen Gentium stated it best

    “But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”, the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.” (LG 16)

    The other point I like to make is regarding instant gratification and being self-centered. Children grow up to be “spoiled brats” when the parents don’t do their job properly. Parents who try to meet every desire of the child as fast as possible and do not expose them to any form of self control (Catholic families should be doing it through things like penance and alms giving) can expect to see children growing up to be spoiled brats. So the parents have not done everything right here. They failed sometime ago.

    Also, children should have a close bond with ones parents. That bond is clearly missing here or we wouldn’t have parents calling the police on their child. Parents should have known something was going the wrong way with the kid long before it even reached that stage.

    So I think those factors must be considered as well. Otherwise if we had gun regulation alone, this kid would have gone on a rampage with a knife or something else anyway or committed suicide.


  5. As an American who is married to a man who is a recreational hunter and owns a hunting rifle, and as a mother and former educator, I can only speak to a small portion of this huge issue and debate.
    I whole heartedly agree that there must be something done about this gun madness—
    We live in a rural area and my husband grew up hunting (he’s 64).
    My husband is a responsible gun owner and hunter–locking his rifle in a safe until he may actually go on a hunting trip. Our son grew up with full respect of the danger of guns– having taken safety courses—knowing that even when using them when hunting, safety must be paramount. So we perhaps we are more atypical–about this gun business.
    But this business of owning assault rifles, is ludicrous!
    I understand guns for hunting, but guns for the sake of owning a gun, particularly those guns that are military grade, have no business in the hands of those other than the military or police.
    I don’t “get” this obsession in this country. I can shoot, but have no desire of owning a gun. As a woman, I don’t think carrying a gun is going to make any more safe.
    After the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut, I had hoped that we as a Nation would and could come about some sort of plan of action.
    People argue that the gangs have guns, the drug dealers have guns, shouldn’t the law abiding citizens be able to have guns for protection? But the trouble is not in the defense from the bad guys as that is a part of the vicious cycle— can we not do something about the bad guys with the guns? Have we simply spiraled into a war zone society?
    Yes Father there is a profound problem. And once again, in this country, there is overwhelming grief and sorrow.
    The music industry with the Rappers who glorify violence and guns with this “gangsta” mentality make me sick—our youth are obsessed with this music—our video games, our movies are inundated with guns and violence—it is violence and sex that sells—we have serious serious troubles—no industry wants to take responsibility—God forbid as that would eat away profits—
    We have trouble
    Prayers for all the grieving families and prayers for this country


  6. Father, your post really suprises me in that you do not talk about the spiritual aspect of this matter at all. If Elliott had been brought up in a truly Christian home and taught about the great loving God who created him, don’t you think this would have made almost all the difference? Getting him secular help and most likely relying on drugs to control his problems only turned him into the narcissistic psychotic young man he became. I am truly surprised that you fall into the trap of so many who blame this tragedy on guns.

    There have always been guns and there have always been mentally disturbed people. Yet, we have only seen these mass murders in recent years. What is different in our time is the rejection of God. That is the true cause.

    I found your post very disappointing.


  7. I would beg you all not to consider people with Asperger’s as being largely similar to Elliott Rodger. I myself have been diagnosed with it since the age of sixteen. Never would I even dream of committing mass murder. In most cases, we simple have a little trouble reading body language, although knowing that there is an issue and practicing interaction can mitigate the difficulties somewhat. We are not ‘mentally disturbed people’, although Rodger undoubtedly was – whether it was related to autism is another question.


    1. Hi Julian,


      I am way behind on answering some comments here but I saw yours now just before hitting bed and I thought I should say something quickly.

      Never would I want to stigmatize anyone suffering any sort of mental disturbance, illness or breakdown of any sort. Surely only fools or the ignorant would make the mistake of lumping all those with one mental disorder into one basket. There are, of course, as you imply, varying degrees of severity of Asperger’s, and more importantly sufferers do not necessarily manifest the symptoms which make up the common caricature of the syndrome. It is the same with bi-polar disorder: varying degrees of severity with varying degrees of behavioural impact. Elliot obviously had a very severe case indeed, and it seems very clear that he was in fact mentally disturbed. From a moral point of view this is important as it mitigates to some degree his moral culpability before God, since he was not fully responsible.

      The reference to autism was because Asperger’s is defined as being a condition on the autistic spectrum. The name autism itself also covers a wide variation of severity and life impact.

      What should go without stating is that we certainly do not need any sort of hysteria, mild or otherwise, that sees in everyone who has whatever degree of Asperger’s a potential murderer. The real questions concern the treatment those with a severe condition (of any mental illness or syndrome) receive, the possibility of timely intervention by health-care authorities regarding those showing signs of deterioration in their condition, and the degree to which these people can be prevented from obtaining weapons that allow them to cause maximal destruction to others and to themselves in a minimal amount of time.



  8. The argument about defense against government is, in my view, not grounded, because in my view private ownership of weapons has zero effect on the likelihood and success of a revolution. (They’ll equip themselves somehow.) And somehow, stipulating that there must be resistance against an unjust government, I instinctively do think of a revolution. Hedgehogging oneself into one’s manor for some weeks in a symbolic resistance before being conquered and going to prison anyway, and injuring people alongside, does not seem so sympathetic to me.

    The real NRA argument that a ban on gun is quite simply a restriction of freedom, and such must always have particular grounds for justification. [I’m not entering into positive law here. That the 2nd amendment allows some weaponing is beyond any doubt.]

    That said, there does not seem a need to *really* “get political” as the phrase goes, here. All that is in question is application. It is not a restriction of freedom if you take the guns away from a homicidal madman or an intended killer. Good grief, I don’t know about the U. S. or Californian laws here but a policeman read the signs correctly, he ought to take his weapons with himself and not care about any law that forbids him do so! If there is such a law at all. From what has been reported, it seems the problem was rather that the police thought him harmless. May God grant them to forgive themselves and forget their mistake!

    Good grief, they ought not to have left it at that but institutionalize him in secure unit! If it was psychic that is. Otherwise he should have got a prison sentence for disturbing public peace by threatening to commit crimes.

    As for what the dear Mary Griffin calls the “spiritual aspect”, that’s of course rather interesting too here. I’m not, by the way, sure that the important point is a psychic illness here. He rather seems a sane man of seriously wrong moral attitude, to me (I read something from his “manifesto” but have not seen the video nor intend to do so). May God have mercy upon his soul.


    1. ” [if a ] policeman read the signs correctly, he ought to take his weapons with himself and not care about any law that forbids him do so!”

      In fact I think in most states police can seize firearms from a person whom they think is an imminent danger to themselves and/or others.

      “May God grant them [the police who interviewed the killer] to forgive themselves and forget their mistake!”

      These police officers most likely were not trained psychiatrists and sociopaths are well known to often have excellent skills for deception.

      Perhaps the real mistake is a society where parents – people who may know their child pretty good – come to the authorities with concerns that their child is experiencing extreme violent ideation to the point they are getting scared of him and that young man is not taken to professional psychiatrists far more capable of evaluating him, and perhaps detaining him for a period of time for observation.

      “The argument about defense against government is, in my view, not grounded, because in my view private ownership of weapons has zero effect on the likelihood and success of a revolution.”

      “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say goodbye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling in terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand. The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst; the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!”
      — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

      Imagine instead of bare hands and clubs they had had handguns and AK-47s?




  9. One thing that has bothered me for some time is the potential effect of violent video games on young minds. I don’t know that this applies in this case – and certainly there is the disability aspect here – but in so many cases of wanton attacks, deaths and injuries I have the feeling that people are acting out what they experience with these games. I think they change the mindset of those addicted to them and it can carry over into everyday life.

    Granted, we have had violence in films for a long time and as children we played “Cowboys and Indians” with toy guns and homemade bows and arrows or swordfights a la ”The Three Musketeers” – based on what we saw in films. But we never considered it anything more than a game, with little thought of actually injuring, much less killing, anyone.

    But with modern technology the ‘games’ have become so realistic that young minds may become conditioned to believing that this is how issues get resolved and grievances settled in the real world. And it can carry over into adult life.


  10. I don’t come here often so I’m just catching up on some of my blogs and ran across this post. I can understand the tone but I think you’re coming from a bit of an uninformed angle as the media really ran in an odd direction with this incident. The truth is that there was no assault rifle used in this crime (of course to be completely truthful, there is no such thing as an “assault rifle.”) The criminal in this case used a knife, a handgun, and his car to kill and injure his victims. When people hear the word “semi-automatic” they think of a Rambo style machine gun when it usually means a small hand gun. The truth is that violent crime has been on the decrease here for quite some time. In the UK, gun crime has been on the rise for quite some time now. Here are a couple of quick links that a cursory search turned up:

    Some say that if you could ban all weapons then you could solve these problems but even that would solve very little. Humans have been committing violence since Cain slew Abel. Our fallen nature is dark indeed. I’ll throw this out there too. I usually carry a knife on me when I’m out and about. I do own a firearm that I keep locked up too. I’m 5’4″ and have never been a big guy in terms of my build but I do have a family to protect. I stand almost no chance in winning a physical confrontation so I carry a tool that I hope to God I never have to even think of using. But I carry that tool just in case. If it were between me and some junkie, I doubt that I could ever pull the knife or gun but my family is a different story. It is my duty to protect them in body and soul and I intend to carry out that charge.

    As for resisting our government? History is rife with examples of people who basically elected their own doom. Being armed isn’t the perfect deterrent to a dictatorial government taking over but it is still a deterrent. Our government says that it’s ok to murder children in the womb and the views toward Christians here grows more aggressive by the day by the very voters who put our representatives in charge. To me it truly feels that the next victim will be the elderly. The youth here have no use for them and euthanasia is all but universally assured in our future. This total lack of respect for human life is what drives crimes like this one in Isla Vista but it also drives governments to enact terrible laws that allow the mass extermination of children in the womb. I don’t expect that I will see anything significant happen in my lifetime but I fear for my children. Either they will have to fight to keep their faith or they will abandon it in order to avoid societal persecution. If it should ever come to it (and don’t think “it can’t happen here”) I’d rather the government think twice about enacting that persecution through force if I can help it.


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