Oregon Shooter's Neurological History Inspires Familiar Narrative

A reminder that there's no evidence autism or Aspergers causes people to become murderers.


Oregon gunman Chris Mercer is being cast in a familiar narrative: Emotionally remote young man with autism or Asperger’s turns violent. No one will explicitly say that the murders were symptomatic of a neurological condition, but the structure of the narrative — and news stories — will imply as much.

[Reuters](( is already reporting that Mercer had been a student at the Switzer Center, a nonprofit school specializing in students dealing with learning disabilities, health problems, autism, and Aspergers Syndrome. Speculation over what role, if any, Mercer’s condition played in Thursday’s murders would echo similar debate in the wake of the revelation Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza dealt with his own neurological condition. “To imply or suggest that some linkage exists is wrong and is harmful to more than 1.5 million law-abiding, nonviolent, and wonderful individuals who live with autism every day,” the Autism Society said in a statement to CNN after Lanza’s 2012 rampage.

What Time noted and bears repeating, though public perception of autism may be of violent and erratic behavior, there’s almost no evidence to support that one causes the other. The closet proof so far is a 2014 study in Aggression and Violent Behavior that found mass murderers and serial killers had common backgrounds of head injury and autism, but that study’s lead authors called the pool of published accounts they had to draw from “clearly limited” and largely “anecdotal and speculative.”

What we do know about mass shootings is this: They’re increasingly common, increasingly deadly, and they don’t change anyone’s views for or against gun control. All that’s scary enough without scapegoating people with a specific suite of traits.

Related Tags