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Wednesday, June 02, 2010 

Spree-killings and few consolations.

It's one of those days where there doesn't seem to be anything to take in consolation. Frankly though, we were overdue something along the lines of what's happened today in Cumbria; whether down to our gun laws, or just pure luck, to go 14 years between major spree killings when other countries, America most notably and even Germany, which has experienced two major school massacres in that time, have seen numerous such incidents is almost something to be seen as an achievement. That we have never had a mass school shooting involving either a present or former pupil is also something which is sadly increasingly rare, and again, I'm more than inclined to believe that has something to do with our gun laws, which considering I'm a social libertarian on almost everything else is also something I don't admit lightly.

From what we currently know, Derrick Bird's apparently senseless (as we shall probably learn in the coming days and weeks, it's very rare that anyone's actions in such cases are genuinely senseless) shooting rampage is also one of the rarer examples which isn't just confined to either a place of work or education, and even rarer in that it covered such a large radius. In that, it is chillingly resemblant of the Hungerford massacre, although even Michael Ryan only covered around 7 miles during his spree, while Bird appears to have travelled anywhere up to 20 miles, shooting seemingly randomly, although a pattern might yet emerge. The real reasons, if there were any behind Ryan's massacre, have never been properly explained; Bird it seems at least started out by killing at least one person he knew and may well have had an argument with, and fresh reports are suggesting that he also killed his twin brother and his solicitor, almost bringing some kind of possible order to proceedings.

Unlike with school shootings, I find it doubtful that media coverage in this case is likely to influence anyone into a copycat action, although I'm more than sympathetic towards the view that all such massacres are essentially copycat crimes. While you can point to the fact that murder has been around as long as humans themselves have, it's only been relatively recently that spree killings involving either one or two individuals have become so sadly familiar, separate as they are from serial murderers who commit their crimes over time rather than all in one go, and almost always ending in either suicide or suicide by cop. Alienated teenagers are far more impressionable than the middle-aged likes of Bird, and often reach out to anti-heroes who they seem to imagine either reflect themselves or would understand what they're going through, never more aptly illustrated than by how the Virginia Tech mass-murderer Cho Seung-hui paid "tribute" to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine school shooters, in the media pack he sent to NBC. They know that their actions will be recorded for prosperity by a compliant media, further encouraging their belief that even if they die, they'll be remembered for a long time to come.

Whatever it was that pushed Bird over the edge, and that he's been described by almost everyone as a friendly, approachable man and hardly the archetypal lonely, mentally unbalanced grudge pursuer we often associate with such crimes, the hope has to be that something can be learned from today's terrible events. No one's being openly critical as yet, but that Bird was able to essentially completely control events without any seeming intervention by the police over three hours has to be something to be investigated to see whether he could have been stopped sooner. What shouldn't be on the agenda is any further tightening of our already draconian gun laws, although undoubtedly that will be something that will be revisited. Sometimes such events truly are unpredictable and unavoidable - it's when they happen that we need to be able to stop them in their tracks.

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