Breivik and Holmes and guns and massacres

A year ago Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in Norway. He used home made explosives and firearms.

Two days ago James Holmes killed 12 in Aurora, Colorado. He used firearms to kill but also had explosives.

My perception is that the number of lone individuals carrying out these murderous rampages is increasing. And I wonder if suicide bombers are not part of the same social phenomenon.

Banning the sale of firearms or the ingredients for making explosives to individuals would not have influenced their murderous intentions. Controlling the sale of firearms may have hindered them somewhat in the scale of the execution of their intentions. If firearms were not available to them they would probably have used other methods (explosives most likely) to fulfil their intentions.

It is possible that there have always been such individuals who wish to attack the society they live in. I suspect that our societies themselves create the stresses which take some individuals over the edge. And we don’t really know what these are. But I can’t help thinking that the focus on the availability of firearms is a red herring. It is not access to firearms that creates these individuals or which causes them to undertake their murderous rampages.┬áBut while the solution will finally lie in understanding and preventing the development of people with such murderous intentions, controlling the sale of guns may well be a necessary step along the way. Restricting the availability of the tools available to implement a massacre may perhaps restrict the scale of some of these massacres.

But banning the sale of guns – by itself – will not prevent the intention to massacre. All laws banning certain kinds of behaviour are fundamentally coercive and inevitably attack “freedoms of the individual”. They can – at best – be a stop-gap measure to be used while addressing the causes of the “unwanted” behaviour. And if these causes are neither understood or addressed then these coercive laws quickly degenerate to become oppressive laws used by majorities against minorities. Controlling the sale of guns only makes sense if the causes of the lone “berserker” are also addressed.

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