Wednesday, February 01, 2006

"Going Postal" and the American Empire

An unscientific and speculative bit of theorizing, by an admitted non-criminologist.*

There was another post office massacre by a former USPS employee. Police say the suspect, Jennifer Sanmarco, 44, killed six postal employees before committing suicide with a handgun. A possible seventh victim was found dead in a condominium complex in Santa Barbara where Sanmarco once lived. This incident is believed to be the deadliest workplace shooting ever carried out in the United States by a woman.

Sadly, killings by postal employees are not that uncommon. Wikipedia has an entry on Going Postal, which details some of the most infamous recent examples. The details on this latest incident are still unknown. But I would hazard a guess that Jennifer Sanmarcos is a military veteran.

The U.S. is the largest imperial power in the world. The U.S. has the highest rate of violent crime of any industrialized nation. I would suggest that this is not a coincidence. The war abroad becomes the war at home. Imperialism requires lots and lots of trained killers. Trained killers returning to civilian life are a risk to their communities. Remember Timothy McVeigh?

The easy availability of guns in the U.S. is well known. However, where does the average American learn how to use weapons? Sure, some people learn from their parents or grandparents. But according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, only 13 million Americans--less than 5 percent--are active hunters. Gun clubs, shooting ranges, local militias, and the NRA are other possible sources of weapons training. But I would guess the number of such clubs or training programs are relatively few.

No, clearly the largest provider of lethal weapons training to the American people is the U.S. Military. Apart from police operatives, soldiers are the only gun users who are legally allowed (and even encouraged) to use weapons for lethal purposes. Often soldiers suffer severe psychological stress after engaging in killing or combat activity. Resources to treat such stress are notoriously inadequate.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that veterans are incarcerated at less than half the rate of non-veterans. However, digging deeper, we find that veterans have a higher rate of violent crime than non-veterans. From the BJS report:

--Veterans were more likely to be in a state prison for a violent offense (55 percent) than the non-veteran inmate population (46 percent).
--About 35 percent of the veterans in state prisons had been convicted of homicide or sexual assault, compared to 20 percent of the non-veterans.
--Among violent state prisoners, the average sentence of veterans was 50 months longer than the average of non-veterans.

Upon leaving the military, many veterans find a career in postal service attractive, as it allows them to transfer seniority and pension credit earned from the armed services. Only 12.4 percent of the entire U.S. population are veterans. However, the USPS employs more than 212,000 veterans, or approximately 30 percent of their workforce. Might this higher percentage of veterans help explain the higher incidence of workplace violence by postal employees?

This is purely speculative theorizing. However, I'd be interested in any studies on the link between military service and violent crime. The American Empire kills abroad, and it kills at home. It's long past time to end the empire.

* Disclaimer: I greatly respect the USPS and postal workers. I liked the postal service even before they sponsored Lance Armstrong. And I don't even know if postal workers are more prone to homicidal violence than, say, truck drivers or auto mechanics. Purely speculative.


Blogger Scott Barker said...

"Going Postal" at

4:39 PM  
Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Good points. I just blogged about this and "going postal" as well. -PH

5:57 PM  

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