Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech Massacre

The details of the tragic events from yesterday’s mass murder on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg continue to trickle out. We’ll learn more in days to come about the specifics (although there is already a Wikipedia page devoted to the incident).

What we do know at this time is that mass murders while rare are nothing particularly new and that, according to James Alan Fox in today’s L.A. Times, seven of the eight worse mass shootings in the United States in modern times have occurred in the last twenty-five years. So what has changed? The pace of modern life creates social pressures that push people to the edge who already lack a strong connection to family and community is certainly a factor. Another, of course, is the easy access to increasingly potent weapons.

Fox outlines five factors that seem to be common to all the incidents of mass murder in recent years:
First, perpetrators have a long history of frustration and failure and a diminished ability to cope with life's disappointments.

Second, they externalize blame, frequently complaining that others didn't give them a chance. Sometimes they argue that their ethnic or racial group or gender isn't getting the breaks that others are. (An example of this is Marc Lepine, who killed 14 female engineering students at the Ecole Polytechnique of the University of Montreal, apparently because he felt that women were taking too many seats at the university.)

Third, these killers generally lack emotional support from friends or family. You've read the "he always seemed to be something of a loner" quote? It has a grounding in reality.

Fourth, they generally suffer a precipitating event they view as catastrophic. This is most often some sort of major disappointment: the loss of a job or the breakup of a relationship. In massacres at colleges and universities, it's often about getting a grade the shooter feels he didn't deserve. In 1991, a graduate student at the University of Iowa killed five people because he thought his physics dissertation should have won a prestigious $1,000 award.

Fifth, they need access to a weapon powerful enough to satisfy their need for revenge.
These incidents are rare but catastrophic as yesterday’s shootings show. The need to want to know why this happened is understandable but the more important question we need to start asking is what are we going to do to either prevent another mass shooting or at least reduce the bloodshed.


Joel Monka said...

"Another, of course, is the easy access to increasingly potent weapons." Surely you must realize that no part of this sentence is true. The detachable-magazine fed semi-automatic pistol was invented over a century ago, and there has been little or no progress in the basic design for some 75 years- the Colt .45 has been unchanged since 1911. There has been no meaningful change in the 9mm round since they changed from gunpowder to smokeless powder in the 1920's; the same is true of the .22 rimfire. Neither gun carried by the shooter was more powerful, nor any faster firing than guns his grandfather could have purchased. In not one of the 50 states, nor any one of our possessions is it easier to buy a handgun today than it was when I was a child. In fact, when I was a kid I could have bought mail order the very same war-surplus military rifle that Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy with; there was no age-check procedure in place.

We will never learn to deal with this unless we deal with the truth, not knee-jerk assumptions.

Anonymous said...

I am a university instructor at Fresno Pacific University (Bakersfield Site) and College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California. I am also a singer/songwriter. Your profound loss and grief weighs heavily on all of our hearts and today, we cry:

Virginia's Tears
words and music by Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT (c) 2007