6 from 5: What can we learn from gun massacres?

Columbine massacre perps. Chilling photo, but this one didn't make the top five.

Columbine massacre perps. Chilling photo, but these creeps didn’t make the top five.

Here are six surprising lessons from the top five (in number of innocents murdered) gun massacres. We personally won’t mention their names (that’s part of what these sphincter muscles want), but they’re at the link if you must know. If you’re American, you have heard of some of these, but not others.

  • US gun laws might not be to blame. Four of the five happened in other countries: in alphabetical order, Australia, Columbia, Norway, and South Korea. None of them had gun laws much like America’s at the time.
  • Even the strictest legal regimes can’t help, when the perp is one of the Only Ones authorized to be armed. We can tell you stories all day of guys who shouldn’t have been SF, and every cop can tell you a story of someone who shouldn’t have been a cop.  A lot of people regret making a particular Korean a cop. Using his police uniform to get people to open up to him, he used a police arsenal to kill, mostly shooting with an M1 carbine, a shocking 53 of them. That still only makes the creep #2 in the world Evil Shooter standings. He finally blew himself up with grenades — and took three more victims with him for a total of 56 (the number at the link is wrong — it counts the murderer). Another 35 survived their wounds.
  • They don’t always commit suicide. Of the big five, one was killed by police, and two were taken alive and remain in custody. (One, in Australia, in recklessly loose custody, and has repeatedly attempted suicide since his incarceration). But all ceased killing when they encountered armed opposition.
  • They don’t all use high-powered modern weapons. One used a relative popgun, a .32 revolver. But in a captive, disarmed population he executed 30 innocent people and wounded 15 more.
  • They don’t kill everyone they shoot. There are always wounded survivors, ranging from half the number of the killed to double the number of the killed. The percentage of dead versus survivors seems to be independent of the lethality of the weapons used.
  • The size of the massacre seems to hinge upon the degree of isolation of the site and the time it takes armed opposition to arrive. The bloodiest killers had captive, disarmed victim populations at their mercy, on an island and in a series of rural, remote hamlets, for considerable time.

You will not be likely to see these lessons in the news. You are more likely to see calls for gun bans (which will not disarm policemen like one of these butchers), calls for restricting press freedom (keeping these names out of the news might demotivate some of these sickos, but seems to be speculative and even if it works, bad public policy) and calls for re-institutionalizing the mentally ill. That might be good policy for many reasons, not least of which it’s more humane for the seriously ill to be confined than adrift as homeless,  but it may not prevent these crimes. None of these killers were on the brink of institutionalization before their crimes, not even the two clearly insane survivors who are institutionalized now. In other words, first sign that someone is crazy might be a crazy, violent mass murder. So who do you lock up?

The only policy prescriptions that offer some realistic hope of respite from these crimes are the policies that would accelerate the killer’s confrontation with armed opposition.


In 2013 we discovered that the link was bad. We had a hard time finding our initial link, but we did find a link that did list the top five gun massacres. In November 2013, the five “record holders” (if that’s the word) are the same ones they were when this was written in December 2012. The link has been corrected.