Thursday, May 03, 2007

Spree Killers

The recent spree killing at Virginia Tech has sparked a wave of speculation as to what causes the “recent phenomena” of spree killings, sometimes with reference to school spree killings.

Any such attempt is doomed to failure. The only difference between recent occurrences of spree killings and much earlier occurrences is possibly the ability and willingness of the media to detect and transmit information about them. Ever since humanity has been in the presence of multiple firing small firearms and effective police enforcement, men (and it seems exclusively men, providing strong supporting evidence to a Larry Summers view of sex differences) have resorted to killing sprees due to a combination of frustration, stupidity and insanity.

However, before the invention of effective law enforcement (by which I mean the application of radio technology to the coordination of law enforcement) a potential spree killer could possibly vent his frustration in a violent line of "work". In the late eighteen hundreds a person who may have been a spree killer today could potentially have gotten frustrated, killed a bunch of people, picked up some cash after, then runaway to a potentially long and successful career as a stage coach/ ferry boat/ small town bank robber.

Consider the case of John Filip Nordlund, possibly the earliest case of a modern spree killing. Apparently he was the second to last person to be executed in Sweden. He fits what could be called a “profile” of spree killers (though from my exposition, it should be clear that the idea of a “profile” is ridiculous) in that he was professionally unsuccessful as well as ostracized since childhood. In addition, because he had a reasonable chance at escape he was captured alive, at which point he made statements similar to other spree killers with regard to their motivation: a generalized dislike of society (supposedly he uttered “This was my revenge on humanity!” upon arrest). Also because he had a reasonable chance at escape, his mass murder was structured as a ferry robbery. Because he was a “robber” some may not consider him a true spree killer of the recent type, however this is the mistake made by everyone who considers spree killing the result of modern cultural influences. As the prospect of escape and survival decreased with the increasing effectiveness of law enforcement, some of these criminals were dissuaded because robbery could no longer form the basis of a somewhat stable living, however others who were in robbery simply to indulge a desire to kill may have simply dropped the robbery pretense.

To summarize: spree killers are not a result of any aspect of modern culture. Before the advent of multiple fire firearms, a person could not go on a shooting rampage (obviously). Before the advent of police radio, a spree killer was practically indistinguishable from a robber.

A clear implication of this reasoning is that prohibiting firearms will reduce the occurrence of spree killings. Even so, a more complete weighing of the costs and benefits of such a policy would be necessary, the occurrence of spree killings being an insignificant and negligible factor in all likelihood.