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Don’t Jump to Conclusions About the Killer (nytimes.com)
225 points by maayank on July 22, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 236 comments

"Psychologists describe depression as anger turned inward."

Correction: Freud described depression as anger turned inwards.

Specifically, he described anger at external forces (your mother, etc.) turned inwards. In his view, the only way to get rid of depression would be to allow this anger to express itself against the actual external force. This is very, very far away from the majority view of modern psychology (which has dismissed the vast majority of Freudian thought), but I still hear it repeated all the damn time.

The reason I think it's important to correct it is that therapies based on Freud's notion of depression not only aren't helpful, they in many cases made a person worse. It turns out, getting a person to focus on all the things that should make them angry in their life is, in fact, not helpful for their general mental health.

It is true that depressives tend to think a lot of shitty things about themselves. More successful cognitive behavioral therapy (which has been clinically proven to be as helpful as antidepressants in treating non-severe depression), tries to train people to think of alternatives to those shitty thoughts without necessarily saying which one alternative is right. Turns out, getting in the habit of thinking not just the worse thing possible is actually quite helpful. It gets you out of the rut your in.

"This is very, very far away from the majority view of modern psychology (which has dismissed the vast majority of Freudian thought), but I still hear it repeated all the damn time."

Actually a lot of therapists still use personal mythology construction as a therapy tool, which is very similar to Freud's idea of directing anger outward in the sense that both creating a new identity for the person or strengthening their existing one. It's basically the same idea but expanded a bit and better explained. If you search for personal mythology on Amazon there are all sorts of books about this.

He wasn't talking about what "a lot of therapists" do but rather the modern understanding of depression and its causes and solutions.

What a lot of therapists do is by definition part of the modern understanding of depression and its causes and solutions. Depression is a biopsychosocial disease, so to have any real understanding of it you need to look at it through a variety of lenses and disciplines.

I assumed "view of modern psychology" as used by parent meaning some generally accepted views of academics backed up by current experimental research results. Which as the parent states is in conflict with current practices of therapists.

Exactly. But to be clear, there are, of course, many, many therapists that practice scientifically supported approaches to treating depression.

"What a lot of therapists do is by definition part of the modern understanding of depression and its causes and solutions."

No. What psychologists have determined constitutes the modern understanding. Therapists ought to work in a way that reflects that knowledge. Most do.

Good point, his description of depression doesn't really match with what I was told by a person who was diagnosed with depression.

Actually, this tiny bit of the article makes me skeptical about its whole content. "Complicated"? - highly likely, but I think the author probably underestimate the real complexity.

As someone who is suffering from depression and tried therapy, I think this is too vast a topic to sum it up in one poignant description like that and there are definitely different "complicated minds" and each one of them can experience it differently. So, it is as valid a description as any other because it can have just as many different root causes. The same is true for the "complicated" part - ultimately, both are rather superficial summaries probably for the sake of brevity, so while not appreciative of the actual issues, both do fit in the article since the intentions weren't to really analyze anyone's state of mind.

Wake me up when "the majority view of modern psychology" provides a refutation of Szasz.

Szasz is a psychiatrist, not a psychologist and if I understand it correctly, he said that a "mental illness" is not a real disease because it is not physical - he did not say these "problems" do not exist.

You missed the point. Szasz explained why these modern "treatments" and ways of looking at and dealing with people, which the OP talked about, are bad. Until Szasz's explanation is both understood and refuted -- instead of neither -- then it's both stupid and harmful to just go on talking about these things like they are OK and endorsing them because they are popular.

I am very interested in this and you seem to know more about Freudian therapy and behavior therapy - the usual counter argument from the Freudian side is that behavior therapy might help but ultimately the underlying issues can/will re-surface and manifest themselves in new, different issues. So typically they are calling it very superficial, just scratching the surface whereas Freudian therapy usually takes much, much, MUCH longer and in the end you might be wondering who you really are and how many. What is your take on this?

It's just a complete waste of time to think about these kinds of things. Some humans malfunction and do this kind of thing. It happens quite rarely, and there is nothing that can be done to stop it. One's probability of being harmed by the occasional insane murderer (or terrorism for that matter) is microscopic compared to so many other things that we can actually do something about.

I hate the trite response, "We must do whatever it takes to make sure this kind of thing happens again."

These things are going to happen again, as they have happened throughout history. We can, however, do many things to try to minimize the number of incidents like this.

Unfortunately for the paranoid gun rights lobby, some form of gun control is a necessary but not sufficient part of the answer to this issue.

I don't see how being in favor of the Constitutionally protected right to bear arms automatically makes someone "paranoid."

I hope you're wrong about gun control being a necessary part of the answer to this issue, because as far as I can tell, it's simply not a practical possibility in the USA.

gun control != ban on guns

Did you properly fill out your government-mandated speaking request form 18764(a), and sign it under penalty of perjury, before submitting that comment?

Of course, your speech isn't banned. These forms are just necessary to make sure we know who you are before you speak, and to force you to testify that you haven't committed other unrelated crimes.

The only time we actually would ban your speech is if you fill out the form improperly, because that's a felony, and felons don't get to speak. So read it carefully.

Don't forget to include you check for the registration and recording fees plus the permit issuance fee so that we can make sure that you are sufficiently wealthy to be granted the right to speak.

I think this attitude is just as useless as the opposing view that we must do anything and everything conceivable to prevent an event like this from ever happening again.

This kind of thing cannot be completely eliminated. But its incidence can be reduced. It's useful to put a bit of thought into how and why this happened and what could be done, not to prevent it from ever happening again, but to reduce the odds.

No, this isn't a particularly big problem, but it certainly merits a bit of thought.

While we're at it we should also be doing something to prevent asteroid impacts, tsunamis, and rare genetic diseases.

Yes, indeed.

I assume you're being sarcastic, which is odd, given that there is a fair bit of effort put in place to search for near-Earth asteroids that could potentially collide with the planet, with an eye toward eventually being able to deflect them, there are a lot of systems put in place to mitigate the effects of tsunamis, and quite a bit of research into rare genetic diseases.

asteroids: that's military tech in disguise, not humanity-saving foresight.

tsunamis: detection only, not prevention.

rare diseases: some are rare enough that virtually no substantive research is done.

No it isn't.

If a remediable cause can be found (for example, depression and society's attitude towards it), the problem can go away.

And the problem is far from microscopic; not all murder-suicides are flashy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder%E2%80%93suicide

I don't disagree that society's attitude toward depression and mental illness in general is far from enlightened.

However when you consider how unexpectedly schizophrenia can creep up on people, or how unexpectedly PTSD symptoms can go from mild to severe (just two examples) even with significantly improved treatment we'd still have it happening now and then.

And even if it happened only 10% as often, it would still represent a minuscule risk for most people, perhaps slightly closer to lethal asteroid impact than to lethal food poisoning from Sushi on the risk scale.

I understand what you're saying, but really "there is nothi that can be done to stop it"? What about outlawing firearms for civilian use, or even just not letting the assault weapons ban lapse? And don't tell me every angry/depressed yuppie kid who was going to go on a rampage when guns were easier to get than a drivers license is going to negotiate some black market underworld he knows nothing about to get his guns.

Consider what might have happened if an individual as wealthy and as determined as this could not have gained access to guns. He spent thousands of dollars on the equipment he used for this killing. With that amount of money he would have been able to acquire guns easily on the black market, but even if that wasn't an option he could have instead resorted to bombs. And in that case he would have easily killed just as many if not more people.

As an example, look at the 2009 Chengu bus fire: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_Chengdu_bus_fire. No guns were involved, only gasoline, but 27 people died and 76 more were injured or maimed in this murder suicide. Or, look at this event from 1988 where 31 people were killed using dynamite: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=7EJYAAAAIBAJ&sjid=3...

His goal was obviously to wreak as much havoc as possible and he used guns; I'm not sure how it follows that if he didn't have access to guns he would have done just as much damage.

Also I don't know what the point is of arguing about how easy it would be to buy guns on a hypothetical black market, but I imagine it would be much closer to (I imagine) trying to hire a hitman than buy pot: you have to have connections, and if you don't you'll probably hire an FBI agent.

The problem is that too many guns exist already in the USA. If guns had just been invented and only a few of them existed, or if we were a moon colony that had never imported guns, or if we were some country where, due to social/cultural/political circumstances very few people have guns, then gun control would stand a chance of working.

But we have to work with what we've got. The situation we're actually in is this: Even if we could get the massive political coalition it would take to repeal a Constitutional amendment, there are still millions of guns that exist in the USA.

There was an article on HN very recently about a site that allows buyers and sellers of guns to find each other and go through transactions using Tor and Bitcoin for anonymity. So I think it's fair to say that the advancing state of software and Internet technology will make it increasingly easier for people to obtain firearms illegally.

So if you outlaw guns in the USA, the practical effect is disarming responsible, law-abiding citizens, whereas anyone who's bound and determined to get a weapon and doesn't care about the law, can still get one.

(Presently I believe there is a federally mandated waiting period and check for felony records for those buying firearms, called the Brady bill; the idea is to make sure you have time to think about what you're doing and have a few days to "cool off" if you're angry about something.)

My state recently passed a concealed-carry law, whereby any citizen can become certified to carry a concealed weapon. The controversy surrounding that has made me aware of an interesting argument:

What if we go in the opposite direction?

If we assume most people are responsible enough to handle firearms, and a non-negligible percentage of the population carries concealed firearms wherever they go, then it's harder for mass tragedies to occur. When the crazed maniac begins his massacre, the would-be victims can start shooting back.

Concealed carry can also serve as a deterrent to violent crime like armed robbery. If you're desperate enough to try something like that, and you know you're gonna be the only one with a gun, you also realize that the worst thing that will happen is you get three squares a day and a roof over your head at taxpayer expense. Whereas if you know there's a decent chance somebody else will have a weapon, suddenly the worst-case scenario becomes a hole in the head, which might affect your calculations enough to change your decision.

That's the argument, anyway; I'd be interested if anyone can find holes in it.

The one glaring hole is in the idea that people with concealed carry will be ready and able to effectively "start shooting back".

Are there objective examples of this? I've seen counter-examples, such as how in the Giffords shooting in Arizona the victims actually brought down the perp through physical force, even though some of them were carrying. Are there similar examples of concealed carry folks bringing down a shooter? It should be noted, I'm pro gun ownership, but I'd still like to see you prove your point rather than just regurgitating what all pro-gun people are saying without any data to actually back it up.

Recent event in Ocala FL.


Although apparently the robbers had an unloaded shotgun.

That's a good example of stopping a robbery, however what I'm really looking for here is an example of where armed men came in with the intention of killing people and were stopped by someone carrying, as that's the scenario we are discussing.

After the Port Arthur massacre here in Australia, firearm laws were tightened, and an amnesty program was put in place for people to drop off weapons. Police were surprised at how enthusiastically the public took up the offer. I don't think this would translate as well in the US due to the 'cold-dead-hands' mentality of a few, but I think you'd find more people willing to give up their arms than you might expect.

a non-negligible percentage of the population carries concealed firearms wherever they go, then it's harder for mass tragedies to occur

The problem is that mass killings are a drop in the bucket. This guy killed 12 people (and maimed 50), and in a bad year you might have half a dozen of them. Say 60 dead to this kind of thing. But the US has 17000 homicides per year. Basing your legal response on spree killings is very much the wrong thing to do.

Given that most murders are crimes of passion done in the heat of the moment, you're going to cause more deaths by intentionally arming the population than saving lives by having a mass shooter killed after the first few victims.

Also, 'concealed carry' is not a magic bullet. Washington state went concealed carry in 1961, yet its crime rates rose and fell in step with its colleagues. Concealed carry arguments always relies on anecdotal arguments and never statistics, I find. The one stat that does get mentioned is crime rate, but there's rarely any mention of other factors (like rising incarceration rates)

Anyway, a simple counter to your armed robbery example - the robber almost always has the drop on you. Most people would rather give up the cash rather than risk the robber actually shooting you while you or a bystander start a mexican standoff.

the worst thing that will happen is you get three squares a day and a roof over your head at taxpayer expense

Really, we need to stop painting prison as a kind of holiday resort. No-one at risk of actually going to prison in any way actually thinks this.

negotiate some black market underworld he knows nothing about to get his guns

Why not? Many people do it to obtain illegal drugs.

Guns aren't necessary to wreak havoc. He could have brought in explosives, poison gas, knives, etc.

Explosives are much harder to obtain and use effectively, poison gas is much less lethal than people think (blame movies - even the Nazi purpose-designed gas chambers took 20 minutes to kill people), and knives aren't anywhere near as effective as guns - for example, police don't use them to control suspects, and soldiers don't use bayonets anymore.

If you get into a knife-fight with someone, you are going to fuck them up... but you are at high risk of also being fucked up yourself due to poor stopping power and close quarters. Now repeat for each of the 12 deaths and 58 maimings seen in this event.

The Tueller drill says that it is dangerous to have an opponent within 21 feet even when you have a firearm, because they can cover that distance and be on you in 1.5 seconds, a short time even if you're ready and aware of their location and their intention. Now consider that all knife fights happen inside that distance. Seriously, it's not a valid comparison


Those are good points, but if someone is crazy enough to want to harm lots of people in a theater it's unlikely that the difficulty of surviving unscathed will be a deterrent.

And if the attack were not simply someone being insane (if for example it was terrorism intended to strike fear into people) then the success criterion is even lower b/c much fear would still be caused even if the only injuries were 5 people with smoke inhalation, and both "sides" in the issue benefit from amplifying the perceived severity.

My point is that the specific munitions used does not significantly alter the strategic aspect of this (if there is any).

>What about outlawing firearms for civilian use

Amend the US Constitution?

Probably not going to fly.

We could do more to screen for mental health issues, but you are right.

Fundamentally some humanoids just malfunction.

I agree, but people don't want to hear that. Something must be done, think of the children. Political positions must be advanced, panicked news segments must be filmed, panel discussions must be held, Bill Maher has to run his mouth about conservatives, Rush Limbaugh has to run his mouth about liberals, opportunists must seize the moment, narratives must be created. Shit, man, there's too much gold in this tragedy to just throw it away!

Nobody likes hearing that the universe is uncaring and unpredictable. That's just a fucking bummer.

I cringe every time I hear perpetrators of mass shootings described as "evil". Evil implies a presence of something bad. It's an easy label that allows people to hate the perpetrator.

It's much more accurate to describe the perpetrators as cold, empty, detached. That is frightening, because there is no hope of reasoning or bargaining with someone who is truly detached from emotion.

There is no such thing as evil. I appreciate this reporter for offering a more accurate picture of who these perpetrators really are.

> It's much more accurate to describe the perpetrators as cold, empty, detached.

The article states that, according to the Secret Service, 78% of these school shooters are NOT cold, empty, detached (which would describe socio/psychopaths). Instead, they are severely depressed individuals.

If you haven't ever been severely depressed (I have) it's probably quite difficult to understand, but these are people whose minds are completely, utterly, passionately and absolutely wound up inside, anxious and stressed about perceived incurable flaws in their character and the apparently unresolvable frustration, despair, resentment and anger those beliefs generate towards themselves - and in these very sad cases, towards others.

On the outside they can appear completely normal and even happy (I went to great lengths to hide my inner turmoil during my depression); don't mistake that for what is going on on the inside. "Depression", sadly, is a dirty word in society.

Unfortunately this feeds into and reinforces the exact set of dysfunctional beliefs that drive the severely depressed individual towards, and sometimes over, the edge. Imagine feeling like a broken human, only to have society reinforce that depression means you're broken; it creates a secondary, even more powerful disturbance in your mind. This causes the depressed to withdraw even further, which is even worse for a depressed individual (notice how all of these people withdraw from normal activities before the shootings), and pretty much guarantees a horrible end.

If anything, they seem less detached than many "normal" murderers who are for some reason less often seen as "evil". There are many people in the US who have killed multiple people, but in separate individual killings, which requires being able to treat killing as something you're able to do repeatedly, perhaps even over the course of years. Particularly common in organized crime or in drug gangs; just becomes part of the job. That's a bit scarier to me than someone snapping in a single incident. (Scarier both in psychology of the killer, and in a fear-for-personal-safety sense: I am much more likely to be shot by a gang member than in a Columbine-style incident.)

> "There is no such thing as evil."

Surely that depends on your definition of the word, and by most if not all definitions it definitely is possible to be evil.

Maybe nobody can be pure evil, as in nothing but evil, but if you let that rule out calling them evil then you can equally say there's no such thing as nice, mean, clever, stupid, etc. etc.

  Evil (adj)

  a : morally reprehensible : sinful, wicked 
  b : arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct
  a archaic : inferior 
  b : causing discomfort or repulsion : offensive c : disagreeable
  a : causing harm : pernicious
  b : marked by misfortune : unlucky 


Nice, mean, clever, stupid, etc. have no religious connotations. "Evil" and "sin" have heavily religious connotations, even if their etymologies are not entirely rooted in religious traditions. President Obama, who used the word "evil" this week, also said this was a time for "prayer and reflection". It's hard to be elected president without making these kinds of religious references.

Denying the presence of evil, as the term is often used, has nothing to do with words such as stupid, clever, etc.

As an atheist I don't base my use of words around what is believed in religions, I go by dictionaries.

> That is frightening, because there is no hope of reasoning or bargaining with someone who is truly detached from emotion.

This position is strange, you think the only position from which you can reason or bargain with another person is if they are emotionally attached?

I purposely try as hard as I can to live a life completely free of emotional entanglement, I think emotion is largely useless. By this measure I suppose I would be cold, empty, detached. I choose to be this way because appeals to emotion are usually weak and lacking in actual reason as support.

I can't understand why anyone would look at a wrathful, violence laden action like mass murder and think that the problem is that the offender is not emotional enough.

That may not be possible. A good case can be made that emotions are vital to human cognition. E.g.:


What you could instead be doing is not noticing your subtler emotions. Until I took up meditation, I thought I was very rational. But after years of paying attention to the flows of my thought, I've become aware just how much emotion is part of cognition.

That process has left me behaving more rationally, in that before I couldn't control things I wasn't aware of. Or things I refused to be aware of because I didn't like to think I was anything other than logical.

Thanks for sharing that, I'll put it on my to-read list, your description of your personal experience is certainly enough to make me think how it relates to my own.

> I purposely try as hard as I can to live a life completely free of emotional entanglement, I think emotion is largely useless.

Wow, your kids are going to have more issues than Playboy.

On a more serious note, you realize this means that you're purposely trying as hard you can to live a life free from happiness, empathy and contentment?

>Wow, your kids are going to have more issues than Playboy.

My useless comment of the week - hahaha!

Why do you believe emotion is useless? I cannot think of any aspects of our psychology that are useless (they evolved for a reason).

Negative emotions are fundamentally indicators of a cognitive dissonance and are absolutely invaluable in maintaining a healthy system of introspection. Your profile shows you're also a programmer so here's an analogy I use internally: negative emotions are part of a monitoring system built into our brains that inform us when an assumption in our set of operating beliefs (our personality source code) has been violated. (You get angry when your beliefs about 'fairness' are violated, you feel disappointment when your beliefs about e.g. 'relationships' are violated, etc.)

Positive emotions fulfil a similar role, in the opposite direction by reinforcing the value of the beliefs you've created, although negative emotions are more interesting because your response to the emotion can be extrospective ("I feel angry because that guy cut me off on the road and that violates my beliefs about fairness; I'm getting out my tire iron and teaching him the right way to do things") or they can be introspectively rational, controlled and empowering ("Should I revisit my beliefs about fairness to be more in tune with reality, where people make mistakes?"). People with dysfunctional belief systems and rigid attitudes towards their beliefs are prone to depression (i.e. their belief systems do not serve them well given reality, either through distortion or inadapation).

From an evolutionary perspective, I suspect extrospective analysis was more useful ("I'm angry because the other ape has stolen my lunch, and resources are scarce, so I'm going to punch him in the face"), which explains our default, instinctive "emotional" response to emotions, but as civilization develops and the rules change, introspective responses (which encourage co-operation) are more useful (but more fraught with dangers such as depression, which is a kind of reinforcement feedback loop of negative emotional states, beliefs and poor assumptions). Nevertheless, the high value of emotions remains present.

If anybody reading this finds this personal philosophy interesting, I highly recommend reading David Burns' "Feeling Good" for an exhaustive listing/discussion of emotional states and responses, and constructive ways of dealing with these experiences.

I believe emotion is useless because it is largely a distraction. By this I mean that if there are reasons other than emotional to take a course of action, the positive enforcement of emotion to push you in that direction is unnecessary. However, if there are no reasons other than emotional in order to undertake an action, that's a good indicator that the action is not a good path to take.

This doesn't mean that an action which we are compelled to undertake for emotional reasons is necessarily bad, merely that the emotional justification alone is not enough. Same with when we are compelled not to and negative emotions.

Emotion just serves to muddy the waters. I certainly agree with your position that it had an evolutionary advantage at one stage, however I think that has run its course. Frequently human society appears to be little more than an orgy of unthinking, emotionally charged activity. People think less and feel more, and they are guided by these emotions more than by their rational thoughts, to the extent that normal people even think at all.

I think that this is a bad thing. Look at our politics and advertisements, or more generally our levers of compulsion, what largely are the appeals in these arenas designed to target? Our emotions, because this is an extremely effective path for manipulation, the vast majority of humankind is enormously weak to this kind of thing. I believe there is value in making a conscious effort to reject this paradigm.

You may be very different from the typical person, but most people do not exhaustively record their actions, observe consequences, compare with goals, reflect, plan new actions, etc. This is because we already have a good part of this built into our hardware, so to speak.

We build a set of beliefs and act them out. Emotions are the feedback mechanism we use to determine whether the beliefs are serving us well enough to reach our goals. Many people stop there, I agree.

Higher-level individuals capable of greater introspection are aware that their initial belief system, as a child, was largely programmed by parents, relatives, friends, etc. These people monitor their beliefs and adjust them appropriately (e.g. getting angry about somebody not acting the way I'd like them to is pointless, so I'm going to change my belief), or they adjust the world (e.g. scientists researching medicines, engineers building things or software etc.)

EDIT To do so without taking advantage of our emotional processing subsystems would be very exhausting and tiring. I think it's also impossible to escape this characteristic of your humanity; you can learn to suppress your emotions but then you run the risk of not dealing with the cognitive dissonance that caused them in the first place, and this is very dangerous because in effect you are suppressing reality and disconnecting yourself from the world (I'm guessing this is a similar process to how people like the Unabomber create their dangerous belief systems - by ignoring reality they don't like).

I think the problem is not emotions -- the problem is the lack of awareness people have for the role emotions play in our lives, and their options for responding to the emotions (emotions are not facts because beliefs are not facts, yet the vast majority of people act on the basis of their emotions being facts about reality).

Actually no.

Emotions help us by allowing quick shortcuts in decision. Without them a person loses ability to think within normal limits. Remember last time you wrote your signature on a contract. Imagine taking half an hour to write your signature ? Impossible, well without emotion you will completely rationally debate whether or not to use blue, red or black pen, which ink color is better, etc.

Here is a quote:

For 30 minutes the patient enumerated reasons for and against each of the two dates: previous engagements, possible meteorological conditions, virtually anything that one could reasonably think about. "He was now walking us through a tiresome cost-benefit analysis, an endless outlining and fruitless comparison of options and possible consequences. It took enormous discipline to listen to all of this without pounding on the table and telling him to stop," Damasio wrote.


Knowing when to keep your emotions in check is another thing.

I wish that went more in depth. It seems like a metareasoning reminder that taking time to decide is inefficient would turn into a quick choice. Unless someone without emotions is somehow incapable of picking random numbers.

> " Unless someone without emotions is somehow incapable of picking random numbers."

My wife once suffered from a mental illness that nerfed her emotions. I noticed her once, standing immobile in the kitchen. She'd been there for about 5 minutes. She wanted to make a peanut butter sandwich, but couldn't decide whether to get the knife or the bread first.

Someone without emotions is incapable of caring enough to make the decision. They might get stuck on the decision as to which color pen to use, and random numbers wouldn't help -- they wouldn't care enough to decide "I should just use an RNG because this decision is arbitrary". Someone with normal emotions would recognize that pen color doesn't matter while signing the contract matters; it is the emotion of caring that makes you capable of deciding that one decision isn't worth the effort while another is.

As NY Times columnist David Brooks once wrote, "People without emotions cannot make sensible decisions because they don’t know how much anything is worth."

This is legitimately interesting but in the end it's very much away from the original point. Okay, caring/having motivation matters immensely. Even if you practice and learn logical prioritizing you still need to care enough to implement it. You won't get anything done if you see no problem with sitting still for hours on end.

But almost all other emotions can be ignored. When people talk about making decisions without emotion they mean without fear, anger, sadness, joy, disgust, trust, anticipation, surprise. You don't need any of those to arrive at a solid decision. Having a goal is something else. As far as wikipedia is concerned "Motivation is related to, but distinct from, emotion."

> "When people talk about making decisions without emotion they mean [list]"

This is exactly the kind of point-missing people engage in when they talk about decisions or rational thought without emotion. They recognize how some emotions can be distracting, without recognizing how some emotions (even the same ones) can be extremely useful. They say things like "almost all other emotions can be ignored" because they don't have a good grasp of what "almost all other emotions" are or the role they take in cognition.

Emotions like surprise, curiosity, and frustration are incredibly useful for rational thought -- they help you realize that some particular line of inquiry is worth pursuing. Emotions make you care about getting something right, or finding a hidden answer, or solving a mystery. Emotions can positively or negatively affect your level of attentiveness, as well as memory formation. Even supposedly bad emotions like anger can serve to focus your attention on "high value" problems (problems often get solved because people are angry or annoyed enough to direct their energy to solving them.)

You actually do need emotions to arrive at a solid decision -- some in making value judgments at the point of decision, others during the analytical processes leading up to the decision. The key is to have a healthy level of emotion contributing to your rational process.

> "I believe emotion is useless"

Some time ago, my wife suffered from an illness that nerfed her emotions. It was surprising just how much her ability to reason degraded.

Reasoning depends heavily upon emotional responses like feeling uncomfortable, surprised, curious, or frustrated by the data / facts / information. One with reduced emotions becomes disinterested; they simply stop caring about understanding. They stop caring enough to work through difficult problems. They don't care enough to search for better data or better ideas.

I would agree that it's unhealthy to be guided by emotion in the sense of "I feel this is true" or "I believe this because I want to". This sort of emotion is mostly a distraction from rationality. But it's entirely healthy to be guided by emotion in the sense of "I care about getting this right" or "I'm bothered by these details not fitting". Without that sort of emotion to push you into rationality, you end up settling for weak, halfhearted, and ultimately irrational explanations.

> there are reasons other than emotional to take a course of action

Which reasons? Why would you choose one action over another if no emotions are associated with any outcome?

As another commenter pointed out it may not be possible, but it certainly is "more useful" in most everyday situations. System 1 type thinking vs System 2 type thinking(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_process_theory) is relevant here.

You cannot appeal rationally to that which has no utility function.

You think you can't have a utility function without emotional justification, I assume?

A big part of your utility function is what you care about. Caring is an emotion. There are no separate "rational" and "emotional" parts in brain; parts of your utility function manifest through what you feel.

All justification/utility is ultimately either emotional, instinctual, or cultured.

Cold, emptiness, and detachment is also characteristic of snowmen. Snowmen usually don't commit mass murders. There has to be some other factor, and usually that other factor is aggression of a type where you stick pins into a voodoo doll and derive pleasure from doing that. That is what Christians call evil (deriving pleasure/release from inflicting pain), and it is a pretty specific concept actually. You don't have to be Christian or even believe in supernatural to understand it.

I noticed that people who claim that evil doesn't exist simply have a completely messed up (I suppose, by schooling) moral compass, and they have no idea how common that aspect of human personality is (and that it nearly always has negative consequences both for the bearer and for society at large).

You are reading far too much into the mindset of someone whose history we don't know. In fact, this whole thread has devolved well below the minimum standards for rational discussion, relying instead upon knee-jerk reactions and cargo cult assumptions.

I wasn't reading into someone's mindset so much as trying to show that there exists a concept of evil on which most people can agree on. I like your support for standards and rational discussion, however, so peace be with you.

"There is no such thing as evil."

It's worth pointing out that one of the standard definitions of evil in the Christian tradition (since at least St. Augustine) is as a sort of privation, or lack. That is, evil isn't considered to be a thing that exists, but the lack of some good which should exist . It's somewhat analogous to a hole in a shirt. The hole is the absence of something that should be there.

I find that this actually dovetails nicely with your description of the perpetrators as cold, empty and detached. (Whether this was actually the psychological state of the killers is an open question.)

My issue with the word "evil" is that its popular use serves to distance the perpetrator from everyone else, as if he's been infected by the Devil. No doubt he's infected with something, perhaps even something that could be cured or mitigated with therapy, but it's not supernatural or part of God's mysterious plan.

Similarly, I don't like the use of the word "miracle," which was used a lot during that Hudson River plane crash a few years ago. God did not intervene, as many suggested. Rather, a well-trained pilot did his job to perfection, and all thanks should go to him and the institutions that provided him with that training.

Perpetrators of mass killings seem to be very much emotional, filled with anger, resentment and bitterness. I don't think you would go through the trouble of killing other people if you are detached from emotion. Why would you?

To clarify a bit, I appreciate most that this reporter is not over-simplifying these cases. In his own words, "Perpetrators of mass murder...are complicated." I don't speak in absolutes about emotion. I know most of these perpetrators have led very emotional lives. The pain they have felt is probably greater than almost everyone else's pain. But it seems to me that once they have begun to carry out their plans, they are well beyond making an emotional connection with anyone else. They have nothing left to lose, and you can't bargain with someone who has nothing left to lose.

Nonsense. Don't be fooled. Evil is the intentional causation of calamity and this incident is exactly that. No serious person is claiming "evil" has extension in and of itself. I don't see why under your view "evil" is any less a phenomenon than "cold" or "detached." I suspect it is just more in vogue to have that view.

Can we use the term 'defect', then?

As in "the computer was defect, so I put in the junk heap"?

Think outside the box.

I've lived in the US for 10 years, and I follow plenty of world news. It is clear that Columbine-like shootings are (mostly) an American phenomenon. [1]

So what is it so special about the US that makes this a recurring problem?

Is it poor parenting, without much communication? Is it societal pressure, i.e. Mr Popular vs Mr Loser? Is it easy access to guns? Is it the disproportionate amount of media attention that these cases give to depressed folks with low self-esteem? Is it all of the above? None?

I imagine severe depression happens everywhere, but there's got to be something in the US that turns depression into mass murder. I wish someone would analyze the problem from outside the box, not inside.

[1] Before someone jumps the gun about international news, note that terror and drug/gang crimes are very different. They have clear, consistent motives. Columbine-like stuff is puzzling- their motives seem to be all over the place, hence why to this date experts are still trying to figure them out.

Right, except for Utoya, Liege, Florence, Alphen aan den Rijn, Bratislava, Cumbria, Sello mall, Winnendon school, Kauhajoki school, Akihabara, Jokela school, Linchang school, Kauhajoki school, Shiguan kindergarten, Rio, Azerbaijan State Oil Academy, Siakago, the Chengdu bus fire, and others.

Yup, entirely an "American phenomenon".

These aren't terror attacks predominantly. These aren't drug crimes predominantly. These are by and large very comparable to the Columbine or Aurora incidents.

The fact is that this is not in any way remotely an "American phenomenon", and the fact that so many people believe that to be the case is an indication of gross ignorance of the existence of these events around the world. I only listed examples of non-US spree or massacre events within the last 5 years, and this isn't even a complete list.

Look at the lists on wikipedia:



Read through the incidents. Even just the ones within the last 10 years. And then tell me with a straight face that this is some sort of especially American event.

Edit: If there's one thing I've realized more than anything from reading up about these types of events it's that following the media is a poor substitute for research. I think most people would assume that if you were an avid consumer of news over the last 5 years you would have heard about, say, every worldwide rampage killing that involved more than 5 fatalities, right? But that is far from the truth. A lot of these events received almost no news coverage. I don't think people realize how incredibly selective and incomplete the view of the world through the lens of the global news media is.

It's not uniquely American, sure. But Europe has 2.5 times the population of the USA, yet has only 12 listings in the last 10 years in your first link, against the USA's 10.

In the second link, the page points to individual pages for rampage killers, which give 19 for the USA in the last 10 years against 13 for Europe.

But really, arguing about spree killers isn't really the way to do it, even though they are symptomatic. Much scarier is the US's overall homicide rate - currently at 4.8/100k. Compared to other anglo countries (1.1-1.8k) or western European countries (0.8-0.9), the US is far in excess of these.

I think a large part of the problem is that in the US, there's much more focus on resolving problems through the use of firearms - it's manly, it's patriotic, it's in all the movies.

Check it out - the highest rate in a western first-world country (= similar culture base) that isn't the US is Israel at 2.1, less than half the US.


One more data source to support your point (the US accounts for 10 of the 20 worst rampages in Western democratic countries):


“the highest rate in a western first-world country (= similar culture base) that isn't the US is Israel at 2.1, less than half the US.”

And since Israel is in the middle of a civil war, those numbers can be easily explained. More curious is Finland, a western first-world country, which has the same homicide rate as Israel (per your link.)

Finland has a lot of problems with Seasonal Affective Disorder due to their latitude - they also rate highly when it comes to suicide rates.

“The fact is that this is not in any way remotely an "American phenomenon"”

The list of spree killings you linked to contains 54 incidents. 24 of those happened in the US. Your other link has a section on school massacres. 5 out of those 15 listed happened in the US. Another section, workplace killings: 6 out of 15. ‘Other notable incidents’: 10 out of 34.

Hamburgers may be served all over the world, but they remain a very American foodstuff.

I don't think it is clear at all that "Columbine-like shooting are an American phenomenon". The UK has had several massacres where in each case over a dozen were killed with no apparent motive (Dunblane in 1996, Cumbira in 2010), and there have been several smaller scale incidents along similar lines. The same is true in other countries around the world - I'm just citing those I'm most familiar with.

The US certainly has a higher frequency of apparently motiveless mass murders, but I think it is fairly certain that this is due to easy access to weapons. Someone who is mentally unbalanced is probably going to kill fewer people with a knife before being stopped than with a gun.

> The UK has had several massacres where in each case over a dozen were killed with no apparent motive (Dunblane in 1996, Cumbira in 2010), and there have been several smaller scale incidents along similar lines.

This is disingenuous. There have not been 'several cases where over a dozen were killed, and several smaller scale incidents'. There have been exactly three in recent UK history: Dunblane (16 schoolchildren killed, and has to be the worst criminal act in modern UK history), Cumbria (12 adults in a lone gunman killing spree), and the Hungerford Massacre in 1987 (16 murdered by lone gunman).

Going further back, there is the Shepherd's Bush murders in 1966 (3 policemen and 2 members of the public shot dead) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shepherd%27s_Bush_murders as a possible example of 'several smaller scale incidents along similar lines.' But this is hardly how you phrased it.

Now look at the United States list as a comparison: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_massacres_in_the_United...

> Now look at the United States list as a comparison: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_massacres_in_the_United....

You realize this list contains everything from wars, to 9/11, to drug gang battles, etc, etc. It is not even remotely comparable to a list of actions with "no apparent motive".

Yes of course I realize this. There is no list of 'no apparent motive recent shootings' on wikipedia i'm afraid, so you will have to do a little leg-work yourself.

Feel free to scan through the US list and pick out the many dozens that fit. Just reading down the top of the list, in the last decade or two I see Tuscon 2011, Geneva County massacre 2009, Cupertino quarry shooting 2009, Oikos University shooting 2012, Seal Beach shooting 2011, Aurora shooting 2012, Columbine 1999, Brown's Chicken massacre 1993, Northern Illinois University shooting 2008. That's from the first 4 or 5 states in that list.

There has been exactly three massacres of this type in recent UK history (~last 50 years). There are dozens in the US just in the last couple of decades. So implying that UK has a similar incidence of random killing spree gun crime as the grandparent did is disingenuous.

> There has been exactly three massacres of this type in recent UK history (~last 50 years). There are dozens in the US just in the last couple of decades. So implying that UK has a similar incidence of random killing spree gun crime as the grandparent did is disingenuous.

I am no expert in this field, but the US has approximately five times the population of the UK [1], so wouldn't it be expected the number of random killing sprees be at least five times higher?

[1] US population: 311,591,917

UK population: 62,641,000

(taken from www.google.co.uk/publicdata)

Yes the US population is 5x the size. I posit that there are significantly more than 15 "random" shooting massacres in the last 50 years in the United States. No I haven't counted them, but really i'm surprised this is being disputed. I listed 9 here in just the top 5 states on the list. Eyeballing it there looks like at least 30 that fit the criteria.

I realise this isn't a rigorous study but my original post was not to set out a formal proof here. I was just correcting the original poster implying that there had been "several massacres" where "more than a dozen had been killed" (there have been two in recent UK history, and 1 at 12) and "several on a smaller scale" (there is one, maybe two, given your criteria).

I then just offhandedly linked to a list that shows "dozens", i would guess 30 or more, that have taken place in the United States in recent history. I guess i'm regretting posting a link as it seemed to many it implied i thought the complete 125 or so in that list fit the bill. I was just leaving it as an exercise to glance through and see the many more (certainly more than 15) that have recently occurred in the United States.

> There is no list of 'no apparent motive recent shootings' on wikipedia i'm afraid, so you will have to do a little leg-work yourself.

There is a pretty decent and much more relevant list mentioned in another comment in this thread: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rampage_killers

It's worth noting that this list has notable omissions like Columbine. I'm not sure about the accuracy of the rest of it, but omitting such recent notables makes me question the utility of the list.

"highschool shootings" and other categories have for some reason been separated out of the regional list and put in to their own categories. So as I say, there doesn't seem to be a decent list already compiled.

Columbine is on there. They break it out into the sections, its under the school massacre section. It's listed by city as Littleton, CO as I don't believe Columbine is actually an incorporated entity, just an area of land.

Some of those American massacres go back to the 14th century. It's quite possible that more have occurred in the USA than the UK, but that's hardly a fair comparison.

I didn't say (or mean to imply) "compare my list of three with this list on wikipedia." I stated the three cases of massacre in recent UK history, which is well below that grandparent was implying.

I then provided a link to a list where you could pick out the dozens of cases of recent massacre in the United States (among a list of around ~125 across history). I haven't compiled an exhaustive list myself, but just from glancing at it you will be left in no doubt as to the scale of the problem in the US and that the UK is not comparable.

Honestly I'm sure you could name off the top of your head over a dozen during your lifetime that occurred in the United States.

> Some of those American massacres go back to the 14th century.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crow_Creek_massacre is included in the list. It's dated to about 1325.

The population of the USA is about 10x te population of the UK. You'd expect far more killings. The important number is per capita.

Of course, going by what happened to get into a Wikipedia list and what you happen to recall is pretty slim as evidence.

10x... I don't think so. US population is 311m, uk is 63m.

The US certainly has a higher frequency of apparently motiveless mass murders, but I think it is fairly certain that this is due to easy access to weapons. Someone who is mentally unbalanced is probably going to kill fewer people with a knife before being stopped than with a gun.

In Japan, one mass murderer kills 8 Japanese schoolchildren with a knife. In another incident, a mass murderer kills 3 people with a truck and then killed 4 individuals on foot. They were eventually arrested and sentenced to death.

If somebody was there with a gun, they could have engage the murderer in a firefight instead of defenseless people getting knifed or getting shot.

The amount of determination required to do that much killing with a knife would have had its effects amplified by the ready availability of a gun.

You think some person with a handgun would stand much of a chance against someone in body armor with an assault rifle?

Am I the only one who thinks it's humorous how many people think that body armor means bullets just ricochet to the ground harmlessly?

Vests are simply for preventing shots from penetrating vital organs, not turning the wearer into Iron Man. Best case scenario, it'll feel like you just got hit with a golf drive. If your ribs aren't broken, they'll be badly bruised. The weapon is negligible since it's not a firefight, if anything, armed people in the theater would have the upper hand because these killers are never expecting people to shoot back at them. Really, anybody who's ever shot a gun could have likely killed him, if not debilitated him enough such that people could escape.

There are strong arguments to both sides of gun control but alluding that handguns are insufficient protection is not one of them, that's just ignorance.

You think some person with a handgun would stand much of a chance against someone in body armor with an assault rifle?

It would not be certainty a fair fight. Even so, a murderer is forced to engage civilians who are shooting at them rather than civilians who are simply defenseless. The only thing a person with handgun can do is buy time for a SWAT team to arrive and the slower the SWAT are, the more likely for death. (See the North Hollywood shootout as an example of this)

Nonetheless, I consider the defenders having guns to be an equalizer. In the Virginia Tech massacre incident, the murderer have only two handguns, but he was able to kill 32 individuals.

Unless those civilians have been trained under live-fire circumstances, there is a far greater probability that they would add to the toll of bystander injuries than that they would quickly stop the original threat. It's not life on the target range; flinching, adrenalin tremors and tunnel vision are real, and a miss (or a through-and-through) doesn't always go safely into a sand berm. And what about the other armed individuals whose situational awareness is formed when they see two or three shooters rather than the original one?

> You think some person with a handgun would stand much of a chance against someone in body armor with an assault rifle?

Considering he was stopped simply by 2 people tackling him I would say: quite possibly.

If a psychopath wants an assault rifle, they will go to any means to obtain one, regardless of it is legal to own one wherever they live. Meanwhile, if you have unarmed police and no armed civilians, you are likely to have killers go on even more unstoppable rampages.

Additionally, killers who can't get guns will just resort to other methods of mass destruction, like our little theater shooter who had bombs and gas grenades as well. You can build a pipe bomb in your own basement with commodity supplies. Tools of destruction are cheap and always readily available.

Real policy is a numbers game.

Anyone who is sufficiently determined to do anything doable will probably end up approximately doing it.

The issue is: how much, how often, how many people will be affected, etc.

I know American's do not like to hear this but I am of the opinion that it's easy access to guns which is the cause of these mass murders. Now that Australia has gun control, the crazy's just stab a few people. It's very hard to kill so many people with a knife.

If you take away easy access to guns then sure the hard criminals will still have guns but the wannabe criminals and the lunatics will do less damage.

If you take away easy access to guns then sure the hard criminals will still have guns but the wannabe criminals and the lunatics will do less damage.

Taking away legal access != eliminating easy access to guns. It still may well be the case that it is easy to buy guns on the black market.

On the other hand, you also disarm the population, making them easier target for mass murderer.

On the other hand, you also disarm the population, making them easier target for mass murderer.

Has a massacre in the US ever been stopped by someone with a gun, who wasn't a cop?

Possibly the Appalachian School of Law shooting, http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachian_School_of_Law_sho...

It works so well with drugs. I mean they are illegal and you can't buy them on the street--oh wait.

A blanket ban will (a) have a miserable compliance rate, (b) dramatically increase the value of firearms, and (c) help ensure that law-abiding citizens are defenseless against criminals (who generally don't care if they're already breaking the law).

In the 1990s, California attempted mandatory registration of "assault rifles." Compliance was about 10 percent, and was officially acknowledged a failure.

I can't imagine what a total ban would look like. House to house patrols? With whom, the army? I'm guessing that nobody would want that job. I conjecture it'd be unconstitutional, or appear that way to enough soldiers and policemen that they wouldn't enforce it.

There are 300+ million guns in private hands in the US, in 50M+ households. This is a "wicked problem" if you're looking at a gun ban as the solution. Estimates I've read put the time to effectively zero guns in private hands in the 200-250 year range. A ban just isn't going to be pleasant; it might result in /worse/ violence, both immediately (in reactions and protest) and over time (through creation of victims) -- of course this is not testable, so it'll have to remain rhetoric.

I'm going to guess that arming lots of citizens isn't the answer, either. States with concealed carry permits /appear/ to be safer than those without, but a rational deterrent is not going to stop someone who's irrational.

In an ideal world we don't need guns, and everybody has a pony. We don't live in an ideal world.

tl;dl; Firearms bans in the US are really really hard.

> It's very hard to kill so many people with a knife.

The Rwandan genocide was largely carried out with machetes.


Maybe... but two big differences.

First: I live in the UK. I've never wanted to kill someone. If I could legally buy a handgun and use it on a shooting range I would. Let's say someday I, for some reason, become a psycho and want to kill people. Right now I don't have anything like a gun to use, best I could come up with is a kitchen knife. Under US gun law, I'd have a glock, even though when I purchased it I had no intention of using it illegally.

Second: Imagine a psycho in a country where you can't own guns. He could buy a gun on the black market - hell, you can even do that online with bitcoins now - but a.) this creates a waiting time between when he wants to do it and when he can do it, during which he might change my mind and b.) there's a chance he might get caught while buying it - if it's legal to own and carry a gun, then he a killer isn't breaking a law until he starts killing, so a smaller chance of preventing him.

Each time I'm amazed by the lack of imagination of imaginary killers. "I don't have a gun... well better take my kitchen knife then!" Really? REALLY?

Take your car and ram into people. You will probably be able to kill the same amount (or even more).

And while you're in your car, contrary to simply using a gun, you can't be stopped by someone else having a gun. Anyone wanting to stop you in a timely manner would have to sacrifice himself by driving into you.

It's easy to point the gun, because its sole purpose is to cause harm (be it in defence or offence), but if someone wants to kill, he can do with or without a firearm.

There's also explosives, home-made or otherwise, and more mundane "domestic terrorism" that goes after food (I mean, grocery stores just put out all the food on easy-access display..), city water supplies, electricity, gas lines... It's fortunate that there are very few real psychotics who want to cause a lot of damage, and also that of those few only a few again are intelligent or imaginative. People have a good reason to suspect a lack of imagination of imaginary killers: real ones don't seem to have much of one.

What intrigues me currently about Holmes is that his residence was booby trapped sufficiently that federal experts had to get involved, so he's more capable than the average spree killer. Yet he alerted the authorities about them, he didn't let them "figure it out" with the death of some cops. I don't see any sort of twisted logic in that. But I initially approach this topic with a gamer's "high score" mentality such that even Brevik's count seems small, the behaviors of killers are thus constantly perplexing from that angle.

I often think exactly the same thing about terrorists. What kind of half arsed nutbag thinks "I know, I'll strap some explosives to my underpants and get on a plane. That ought to do it!" ?? If you wanted to do serious damage in a reasonably guaranteed way (i.e. not having to get past strict security checks), why not just walk in to a crowded arrivals hall and detonate yourself there? Same goes for large railway stations, shopping smalls etc. I mean, it doesn't take much imagination.

Either we're very lucky that most terrorists are completely incompetent or the terrorist threat itself is hugely overblown. I think it's the latter.

The ones that get me are the ones where we're strictly not allowed to do something yet it seems that if it was actually dangerous terrorists would be doing it. The most oft-talked about example being using a phone on a flight, another being a flame in a petrol station - if that was dangerous, surely terrorists could target 10s of them with no preparation other than recruitment?

Thing is, few seem to choose anything else if they have ready access to firearms. We commemorate Utøya massacre here today, and it is apparent that Breivik focused on explosives and firearms (both are not trivially obtainable in Norway).

The reason for that is obvious, guns, just as you say, are devices specifically designed to kill efficiently. Yes one could kill with a car, a knife, a golf club, a sharply pointed stick etc but there must be something about firearms that makes military, law enforcement, criminals and libertarians stick to them.

>Take your car and ram into people. You will probably be able to kill the same amount (or even more).

Priscilla Joyce Ford


“It looked as though someone had gone through the streets with a lawnmower, mowing people down,” a woman from Canada who’d witnessed the massacre from the Onslow Hotel-Casino tells the Gazette. “It looked like a battlefield—there were bodies all over the place.”

Give person A a gun and person B a car and I suspect I know which one would manage to kill more people.

edit: Assuming they were both trying to kill as many people as possible.

Maybe a handgun, but I find it pretty hard to imagine a PhD grad student managing to buy a semi automatic assault rifle or 100 round drum magazines off the street.

It is not entirely coincidental that Aurora and Columbine happened 20 miles from each other.

I agree with your first point. The "black market" isn't a place you just go to if you want to buy illegal shit. The fact is, if the shooter didn't have legal, easy access to an assault rifle, he wouldn't have been able to do the damage he did. Period.

"It is not entirely coincidental that Aurora and Columbine happened 20 miles from each other."

Well, yeah, it is. Assault rifles are legal in most states. What does being in Colorado have to do with anything?

No, not "Period."

There are any number of other ways he could do the same damage. We all know that. So don't force in an absolute where it doesn't belong.

He rigged his apartment with, supposedly, 30 or so IED/IIDs, and had full body armor during the assault. As far as I can tell, he pulled out all the stops. If he could have done more, I'm pretty sure he would have.

Yeah to a great degree it is coincidental I believe. My point being that it happened in a state with lax gun laws as opposed to a state like NY. But yeah I would like to know more about what else is amiss with that area.

Probably because US events get a lot more media attention. But no, this is happening all around the world. Just look at this list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rampage_killers

I've lived in the US for 10 years, and I follow plenty of world news. It is clear that Columbine-like shootings are (with few exceptions) an American phenomenon. [1]

Um, what? I can cite two mass murder incident in Japan off the top of my head. There is the Osaka school massacre and the Akihabara massacre.

I can think of several in Europe as well. Germany alone has suffered two double-digit-victim school shootings in the past decade, despite having a population 1/4 that of the US: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winnenden_school_shooting , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erfurt_massacre. It's interesting that the German media, at the time of Winnenden, often asked an analogous question to the one being asked here: whether it was becoming a particularly German phenomenon. Population-adjusted, it would be as if the US had had eight mass school shootings since Columbine, which it hadn't had.

"with few exceptions"

I can't back it up with facts but I do have the impression this sort of thing is significantly more common in the US than in any European, Asian, African or South American country.

I guess you would have to compile statistics for "Mass murderers with no clear motive per capita" and compile all the incidents going back at least 20 years and you might have evidence for or against.

For example, I can imagine this happening in any African countries I am familiar with, so to me it is clear that there is an element of culture involved.

The thing is, a mass murder incident is significantly rare enough to warrant media coverage. The American may simply be unlucky.

The US has a large population and media that tries to scare people. I don't think it's any more common in the US than elsewhere, we just hear about it more from the US since it has a larger population.

Worse, we hear about it 24/7 until the next thing comes along to peak the interest of the media. We don't hear a lot about the 14 things higher on the list of things killing people in the USA (which affects their funding in Congress).

Hell, the rush in the media is so obscene that major news networks make stuff up. ABC seems to be the most guilty party this time, but we have had other incidents.

We have a no attention span media and it does hurt because we cannot get a good idea of what actually went on, and will never no if there is some warning sign that could of tipped people off (like the whole AZ shooting seems to be a collection of not my problems).

I have no idea how we get past this. Concentrating on the object (gun in this case) will not work (check out IED or actual crime rate statistics). Looking at the stats, your safer today then 10 years ago and much safer than the 1970s.

> I have no idea how we get past this.

We won't, as long as "journalism" is a profit driven business, where revenue is based on ad viewership.

The result is more entertainment and editorial than education, where the need to be first, even with inaccurate stories, overrides any sense of integrity.

I personally don't have an opinion on gun control but it is pretty clear to me that easy access to guns is what stands out.

I am not an American and it is clear to me that without essentially unrestricted to guns that crimes like this would be less frequent (and probably just not happen).

Guns kill things, it is their purpose and easy access to guns makes the killing of people more likely.


I'm not sure the "middle class individuals who turn out to be lunatics calling them self the Joker or trench coat mafia" in Brazil and Columbia have the necessary street smarts and contacts to buy assault rifles from the black market so easily. Furthermore, as access to guns is a factor amongst many others, it would be more useful to compare the US with countries more culturally and economically closer like the UK, Australia, Germany, Canada etc.


I guess we would have to first settle the debate of whether shootings are a more strongly American phenomenon. I tried to do a bit of Googling and couldn't find a satisfying answer.

Meta, but this is a great example of the availability bias.

"Of course they’re sad; they’ve probably gone their entire day getting berated relentlessly, by the single person in the world whose opinion they hold most dear — themselves."

This is the most important part of the article.

All of us to some degree have wrestled with negative self-talk in our lives; a feeling of not liking yourself or just not being “good enough.” For some, it can be a steady, continuous feedback loop that’s difficult to break. I’ve wrestled with it myself. For me, it takes the form of the “imposter phenomenon” and it becomes more pronounced when I’m in groups of smarter people or when I perceive there to be particularly more at stake than normal situations. “What are you doing here, you’re not smart enough, how did you get this job, you’re not good enough to run a successful startup etc.” In the past, it’s caused me to freeze up, have trouble articulating what I want to get across or (worst of all) escape the situation entirely. As I’ve gotten closer & closer to where I want to be as it relates to the startup ecosystem and my place in it, that inner voice has gotten louder. So I can certainly relate to that aspect of it. It’s a battle that’s fought anew every day.

And sometimes it does manifest itself in a more social context, e.g. “nobody cares about me, etc.” which can also be difficult to quell, particularly for someone who’s more of an introvert at heart. Left unchecked, I can clearly see how that can get the better of someone and send them down a destructive path, although I still think to take that anger and push it back out to society in such a violent way requires a synapse somewhere else misfiring.

It's a good reminder that external stimuli alone aren't usually to blame for negative, depressing feelings.

"Resist the temptation to extrapolate details prematurely into a whole."

The author of this article spent a decade researching the Columbine tragedy[1]. Here, he's describing how readily mass tragedies and shooting sprees lend themselves to misinformation by the media and mythologizing by the public. We can think of the perpetrators as always being loner outcasts, but the effort to make sense of their motives isn't that simple. They might be clinical psychopaths or suicidal depressives or paranoid narcissists or something else.

[1] - http://www.columbine-online.com/

I think of the murderers as having some kind of hardware bug. We have evolved special safeguard that prevents us form killing the people we live with and people we meet daily. It's crazy that we do live in proximity of other people and meet them if you think how dangerous single person can be when this safeguard fails.

All the search for reasons why the person killed is little bit like creating fake narratives to kind of natural bizarre event. If person is able to intentionally kill then there's something wrong with that person and we have to deal with it. You may investigate how it came to be that this safeguard was damaged. Maybe the person underwent military training or just had a childhood equivalent to that. Most likely there is something wrong with the brain of that person that was there from the beginning or manifested during puberty or manifested as a result of shock of some sort. "What was the murderers reasons?" is the most irrelevant question of all.

I think this is too dismissive, and is the equivalent of sweeping it underneath the rug and hoping it doesn't happen again. To me, this is a symptom that there is something broken with society. The way I see it, energy builds up in the system, and needs to be released somehow. If there's no way for that energy to be released, it builds up and reaches a phase-transition state, like how water will slowly boil but then explosively turn into steam. But something about the structure of society creates a kind of feedback loop, something like this happens, people dismiss it as a "natural bizarre event" and dismiss the person as "having some kind of hardware bug." People then carry on with their lives, forget about it, and then a few years later it happens again. People don't change. People haven't changed one bit since the beginning of time. People have the same exact emotions that they had 2000 years ago, and they react in the same exact way. This is why history repeats, because the way people react to emotions never changes.

> People haven't changed one bit since the beginning of time. People have the same exact emotions that they had 2000 years ago, and they react in the same exact way. This is why history repeats, because the way people react to emotions never changes.

Not true. We are becoming less and less violent. You can see it by observing numbers of wars fought, war casualties, crime punishment, crime rates, entertainment over the last hundreds of years. Some artile about this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/22/world-less-violent-... There was also TED talk about this. You can find more.

Do you mean murders in general, or only these spectacle-type spree murders? It seems like much of the discussion is trying to generalize about murder based on these very rare spree killings, but imo it'd be more productive to look at where we have a lot more data, even if it's less spectacular. It's very unusual for someone to shoot up a school or a movie theatre, but it is not, alas, particularly unusual to "[kill] the people we live with and people we meet daily": there are about 12,000 murders annually in the US. If that's due to a hardware bug, there are a lot of bugs!

There are 12,000 annual murder in a population of 300,000 million. The hardware bug is pretty rare in the first place.

Or that particular side effect of the bug is rare. Maybe the cook who spits in your food is suffering from the same hardware bug.

Maybe it's counterproductive to focus only on the cases involving murder. It's a horrible act, and a problem that society wants to solve, but what problem was the perpetrator attempting to solve by killing innocent strangers? I can't think of any. It makes me wonder what the rest of the people suffering from the same condition are doing, if they're not all out stockpiling ammunition for a homicidal rampage.

I think the bug itself is rare. A lot of people have at least few times in their lives reasons and desire to kill someone but they don't do it. Of course I agree that there are people who can kill and manage to live the whole life without doing it or just doing it without braking the law.

Whilst it might be accurate to describe depression's root cause as a 'hardware bug' it is a much more common bug than you seem to assume.

It seems more appropriate to me to view it as a case of hardware specialized for one purpose systematically failing for another. The former is some evolutionary root, and the latter is modern society.

One of the most interesting parts of the linked article is the implication that people going postal are not so different from you and me. You seem to disregard it.

> You seem to disregard it.

In a way. I think that those people are not so different from you and me. With exception to the one thing. They have the antikill safeguard damaged. Looking for the cause of murder in the things you and me may have experienced as well and not go postal is in IMHO misguided. People should not look for what caused the murder but what caused the damage to the safeguard and think up ways to detect it and maybe even correct it in advance.

I don't think it's depression. Depression is whole other kind of hardware bug. And the antikill safeguard damage is also more common than you might expect. Many times a year there is a news about some guy killing his wife and children and often himself after that. It's so common that it's not even a big news. They call it extended suicide but I think in many cases that's not the right description.

>> I think of the murderers as having some kind of hardware bug.

Must you geeks relate everything to computers?

I've read about killings before, I lived through 9/11, but for some reason these killings struck me really hard. Even more than school shootings. Perhaps because I think of the cinema as sanctuary - a place of make believe where we go to escape (move over places of worship!) but mostly because I wanted to really know motivations - why did he do it? Especially when it turns out he's not a person who tortured animals as a kid etc etc. I want to know why a seemingly normal person can meticulously plan such a senseless act of destruction.

Why is there a need to find out why? Killing spree is a lot like thunderbolt. It has no prediction why it struck, in the path it stuck.

If you only want to minimize risks of future murders, then don't read/watch the news. Each time a murderer has his/her face shown, she/he is glorified in even tiniest of ways (i.e. comic book villain), with a number of murders he/she committed put in front line, number of violent copycat acts will spike.

It's completely incorrect to say there is no explanation why it struck. Maybe it's true that it was impossible to predict, maybe it's true that we will never find out the cause, but can be 100% sure there is a cause.

True. There is some semantic mismatch.

I don't think there was a rational motive behind this, or we would have heard about it by now. What the scary truth seems to be is, that these individuals are in a severely distorted state of perception, in which the killing of people becomes justifiable for them. He has most likely a extreme case of depression, psychosis or something else along those lines, of which the causes need to be investigated. But there will never be a reasonable "why", other then a sad story of a human being, who's life went wrong at one turn or another and in the end his mind malfunctioned. To prevent this from happening, I'd argue, given the amount of people, the complex society we live in and the unfortunate circumstances some people experience in their live, we need to accept that disturbed personalities like these sometimes "happen", and I'm not sure how to avoid that. In my opinion, the most effective prevention would probably be to restrict easy access to lethal weapons. When we realize that (sadly) our society can produce minds like this, we have to make sure you can't buy smoke grenades at a pawn shop.

I'm getting convinced about an interesting new theory on free will. Our free will isn't exactly "free", and is not certainly a conscious act. What we will is determined by the genetic predispositions and a historical interaction of the self with environment. This creates a feedback loop and the self takes one of the trajectories for which it is NOT responsible. Yet, the consequences of the actions are faced by the self in an immediate sense (imprisonment, sadness, happiness). This creates an unfair situation.

So, in a way, _I_ am not responsible for my actions, yet the blame is put on _me_.

EDIT: grammar

Although interesting, it's not a particularly new theory. I advise you to read some philosophy. Modern philosophers will agree with you that the concept of free will poses many issues and contradictions. Among those alive, you could consult Kane, and for classical philosophers, you could read Steiner. Although, your own judgement should ultimately be drawn from neuroscience as well (using your free will ;)

Yes, I meant a new theory for me. I was undecided about free will (I still am to a large extent) but this idea is quite appealing. But it has interesting consequences on crime and morality.

If science would agree to this version of the theory, why isn't punishment or imprisonment getting banned? Isn't training and coaching (exposure to different ideas) a better way to "cure" people than executing them?

Indeed, what you say makes sense. _If_ we know how to "cure" those people. That's one big if, but I agree that (in general) society should do all what is possible to understand the human behavior and brain.

This is certainly true of animals, but we as human beings do have the power to control the direction of the feedback loop.In other words we have the ability to decide how we respond to external stimuli, a truly unique ability in the animal kingdom.

"Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. Therefore, we can predict his future only within the large framework of a statistical survey referring to a whole group; the individual personality, however, remains essentially unpredictable"

- Viktor Frankl, Man's search for Meaning

We respond to external stimuli in a unique way, true. I'm not saying free will does not exist, but YOU as an agent do not have that will. It's actually a combination of genes + historical feedback loop between environment and you. When you are asked to pick between a color (red or green), on what basis do you pick that color?

The recent book on Free Will by Sam Harris: http://www.amazon.com/Free-Will-Sam-Harris/dp/1451683405 is relevant here.

Actually scientist are of strong belief that mind is deterministic (it's a hypothesis so far, but all signs to point to it). However if people believe they are slaves to determinism then they act worse, since their actions are not their fault. Overall society on large must believe that they posses the freedom in order to make life bearable.

Other way to look on that is this. If _you_ are not responsible for your actions than _me_ will punish you since neither of us is responsible for their actions.

It's odd to say society must believe that they possess a freedom which isn't really there. Of course, in punishing me, you are not responsible, but by exposing this idea, I do hope your mindset will change. But if you punish me, I can't blame you.

I see ideas as agents that change trajectories of free will.

The world is almost certainly deterministic. Either that, or the cosmos is rolling dice in quantum mechanics wave collapse. It's hard to see how any sort of mystical "free will" can come out of a random number generator. We are all just very complex computer programs running on meat machines.

These revelations make the common mystical use of the term "free will" rather meaningless. What could it possibly amount to? That you have a different mind living in your "soul" that makes your real decisions for you, while your physical brain is just some sort of fancy transceiver?

That's rather doubtful, if you ask me. On the other hand, the notion of "free will" that no one is holding a gun to your head still stands.

On the philosophical issue of whom to hold responsible for intelligent computer programs gone terribly wrong, I'm not sure that there is any real answer to that question. What should be clear, however, is that society has a right to defend itself against such rogue entities and to disincentivize such entities from doing bad things.

What should also be clear, however, is that there is no moral good to increasing the suffering of people (i.e., intelligent programs) just because they happened to get saddled with a bum program.

don't quantum mechanics stand contrary to determinism? As far as I know there's a certain amount of unpredictably with particles in superposition.

There are both deterministic and non-deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics. The "Many Worlds" interpretation is deterministic, as all possible outcomes end up happening, albeit in different parallels worlds. Bohm's interpretation is also deterministic, and is experimentally indistinguishable from the Many Worlds interpretation, but only one of the worlds is real. Which one is real is deterministically determined from initial conditions that are impossible to inspect. And even if you could inspect them, the result is chaotic.

Other interpretations rely on probabilistic collapse of a "probability wave", but this amounts to nothing more than the cosmos rolling dice. It's hard to fathom how one is supposed to arrive at a mystical "free will" via the rolling of dice.

you might enjoy dennett's elbow room - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elbow_Room_(book)

From the submitted article: "At this very moment, the police have probably gathered a great deal of evidence from James Holmes. They may well have a clear read on his motives right now. It is vital that they share this information fully with the public, but just as vital that they conceal much or all of it while they conduct their investigation. Testimony from friends, family and survivors of the massacre is also crucial, and witnesses are highly suggestible. Information must be withheld in the short run to safeguard corrupting their stories."

This should be ROUTINE practice in police investigations, to guard against corruption of witness testimony, but, alas, we all know counterexamples. Moreover, it is a professional ethics violation for prosecutors to make excessively detailed statements to the press (who are always willing to ask for as many details as they can get) about the course of an investigation in progress and about possible motives for a crime when the accused has not yet been put on trial. The principle of "innocent until proven guilty" is STILL important, despite many cases we can observe where it appears to be violated.

The human mind leaps to supposing explanations and forming a narrative around new, disturbing events. The mind is a "belief engine"


and all of us would like to get an answer, even a quick and dirty answer that may be flat wrong, rather than have unanswered questions about a shocking news story. I remember well the speculation that swirled around the Columbine High School shootings some years ago. I was active in a different online community then, and a bunch of programmers were unembarrassed about going beyond the limits of their occupational knowledge to endorse various hypotheses about why the shooters killed their classmates. Right now we don't know why James Eagan Holmes shot movie-goers, evidently planning well in advance to kill many strangers. I'm not going to speculate about it.

The public-health perspective on violence reduction is interesting, because it doesn't depend on knowing much about the motives of individuals. The theory is that certain risk-reduction measures work in general, minimizing the chance that some individual will engage in any kind of incident like the one in Aurora, Colorado. Gun control is such a sensitive issue in the United States that it is barely being discussed yet by politicians in connection with the incident this weekend, but differing national patterns of gun control have been mentioned by commentators who point to the example of Australia's response to the 1996 Port Arthur, Tasmania shooting



as the right way to reduce risk of further mass shooting incidents. That's food for thought. So far I am not aware of any reason for young people in residential neighborhoods in the United States to have what are called "assault rifles" for legitimate purposes, and I certainly would be glad to know that none are in my (crime-free) neighborhood.

First edit: I see other Hacker News commenters are picking up on the submitted article's author's remarks on depression. This may be overgeneralizing too much from one example, even though the author also refers to a Secret Service study of the small number of examples of school shooters studied to that time. I think the author's most accurate point on that issue is "A vast majority of depressives are a danger only to themselves."

So far I am not aware of any reason for young people in residential neighborhoods in the United States to have what are called "assault rifles" for legitimate purposes, and I certainly would be glad to know that none are in my (crime-free) neighborhood.

By "assault rifles" do you mean the colloquial definition of black semi-automatic firearms with pistol grips and detachable magazines? Or the technically accurate definition of select-fire automatic weapons, which this alleged killer's ar-15 was allegedly not?

There is very little functional difference between the ar-15 rifle used in this crime and rifles commonly used to hunt, other than hunting rifles for medium and large game are usually larger caliber and therefore usually more lethal.

Hunting laws prohibit use of higher capacity magazines in some situations. However, proper accuracy usually makes reloading time a minor factor in how quickly one can go through 100 or 200 rounds. If you make lunatics like this focus on accuracy rather than letting them think they're all set because they can show up with a drum magazine, more people would probably die or have life-threatening injuries, even if fewer people are hit.

The drum magazine used probably contributed to the shooter's S&W AR-15 jamming, possibly saving lives. They are not the most reliable magazines.

There are owners of assault rifles (in the colloquial sense, and possibly in the true sense) in my relatively safe neighborhood, and it does not concern me in the least.

As far as your reference to "young people", I take it that you want to create yet another age restriction, beyond the 16 years necessary to get a license, 18 necessary to vote and serve in the military, and 21 necessary to drink and buy a handgun from a FFL? 24 year olds are now not trustworthy? What age limit would you propose? 30? 35? Can someone be old enough to serve in the Senate or as President and still not be trusted with a rifle? Anders Breivik was 32.

For concreteness, is there any credible argument that the restrictions on gun availability that were put in place after the shooting incident in Australia in 1996 (which has not been repeated) have in any way reduced the freedom of citizens and residents of Australia? I know a lot of Australians, and they are very freedom-loving people, and I think if gun laws in Australia are different from how they are in the United States, one reason is that Australians like to be free of being shot to death by crazy people in public places.

Originally Australian here; our gun laws are stupid and largely ineffective, there is currently a war between various outlaw biker gangs going on, they mostly use guns. The Port Arthur massacre actually used weapons that were already illegal at the time and not but a month ago an m4 with underslung grenade launcher was confiscated in a Sydney suburb by police.

No other reasonable interpretation of available data exists other than gun laws have only effectively disarmed the law abiding. Some may claim this alone as all the victory required, but the pretense that gun laws stop criminals from using or acquiring guns in Australia is completely false.

"If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns." A typical remark from gun-loving Americans. They seem to miss a couple of things: if guns are outlawed, and you catch someone with a gun, that indicates they posess the gun with criminal intentions (i.e., their objection can actually be an advantage); if lots of people have guns and normal people can buy them, it makes it that much easier for criminals to obtain them; and a gun in a home is more likely to be use to accidentally kill children than to kill a criminal intruder, which means there is a good reason to try to discourage regular citizens from owning guns.

I think there are compelling reasons to keep guns legal, and I could imagine circumstances in which I would buy a gun. If I have children, I will teach them to safely handle a firearm, as I was taught. But this NRA cliche about banning guns doesn't hold water as an argument.

The key word there is if. If you catch a criminal with a gun, he'd usually be holding it illegally within pretty much any current US law. The problem is that catching those criminals before they do harm is problematic - because until they do, you don't know who they are. And doing random searches on law abiding citizens just in case they are hiding something would probably be too much even for Brady campaign.

Evidence shows that in countries where private possession of guns were banned - like USSR - the criminals did have guns and did use them to kill people. Government restrictions rarely make something wanted inaccessible - prohibition failed miserably, war on drugs did the same. War on guns would inevitably fail too, but would bring enormous amount of victims among regular citizens - just like the ones mentioned above did.

It does to the extent that criminals are demonstrably perfectly able to acquire firearms despite firearms regulations. You could of course claim it would be even worse in the absence of strong firearms laws, but there are plenty of cases which contradict this position, also. Switzerland jumps to mind.

These bad actors are so rare that pointing to lack of an event in 16 years in Australia (population less than 1/10 that of the U.S.) does not mean very much. There was a lesser event in 2002 in Australia: the Monash University shooting. [1]

The freedom to use firearms for sport or self defense is lost. Some people value that freedom more than you do. Aren't there still exceptions in Australia for members of gun clubs and for people who can demonstrate need for weapons (specifically, let's say in the outback)? What will your response be if one of them loses touch with reality and shoots people?

Gun ownership and availability may or may not actually lead to more deaths in mass killing events. China has strict gun control. What happens when people go crazy in China? Mass killing via tractor (17 dead, 20 injured). [2] Crazy people intent on mass murder find ways to kill people. I don't know how to prevent that without taking away their sentience.

There are plenty of other incidents [3] with higher death and injury tolls than this latest one. Arson, bombings, poison plots...

People are under increased social stress due to economics, perceived lack of bona fide political representation, among other things. Most people just complain to their friends or on reddit when they're frustrated. Very few people suffer a break from reality and go on a rampage, but unfortunately some do. It is not obvious that banning guns, if such a thing could even be done in the U.S. (it cannot be, without many more of these events) will substantially reduce death tolls, serious injuries, or numbers of mass-killing events.

Taking a page from Schneier's terrorist plot survey years ago, how many people would die do you think if some lunatic set about methodically trying to disrupt the power grid, in the middle of summer?

There are ways to kill lots of people without using guns, some more direct and gruesome than others, but all quite lethal. Most of the people moaning about how these things wouldn't happen if not for guns seem to forget that.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monash_University_shooting

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebei_tractor_rampage

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rampage_killers#Other_n...

>China has strict gun control. What happens when people go crazy in China? Mass killing via tractor (17 dead, 20 injured). [2] Crazy people intent on mass murder find ways to kill people.

And how many more could that guy have killed with a gun? In any field of endeavour people are more effective when using better tools, and a gun is a tool designed and optimized for killing. Just because we can't make killing impossible doesn't mean we shouldn't try and make it harder.

Who knows? Maybe there were a few people he'd really like to kill that he couldn't kill with his tractor but could have killed with a gun, and killing them would have appeased his insanity (briefly, at least) so that there would have been fewer people dead.

Maybe if tractors were banned he would have built a fertilizer bomb and killed hundreds.

We can't know, and setting policy based on speculation is pointless.

Disingenous. We can't possibly be certain of the impact of any particular policy change, but that doesn't mean we should never change policy; we have to use our best judgement based on the available evidence.

Guns are weapons (duh) and killing is their raison d'etre; if they weren't more effective at killing than the alternatives, there would be no reason to ever produce them.

There are times when killing (or threatening to kill) is legally acceptable, and morally acceptable unless you're a pacifist.

By trying to restrict or ban firearms to prevent crazy people from carrying out attacks, you prevent everyone else from using, in self defense, what you just stipulated are very effective killing tools.

Maybe the population would be statistically better off (less likely to die or be injured in crimes or by accident) without a gun, but that global statistic does not apply to smaller groups or individuals. The relative risk to certain demographics it seems to me would go up.

Even discounting self defense, the problem remains. If someone values hunting or target shooting enough, they won't be willing to give those up to prevent (maybe) some criminals and insane people from getting guns.

>Maybe the population would be statistically better off (less likely to die or be injured in crimes or by accident) without a gun, but that global statistic does not apply to smaller groups or individuals. The relative risk to certain demographics it seems to me would go up.

Seems unlikely to my mind. People talk about equalizing the odds for more vulnerable victims, but if you don't keep a gun constantly on you and loaded then the attacker will have the advantage (even if you're talking young woman home alone vs. large male intruder, I suspect she's safer if neither has a gun than if he's carrying one and she has one in the safe); if you do there's a not insignificant risk of injuring yourself or your own family with it. And I cringe when I hear people talking about "home defense", as if property is worth getting into a shootout over. The overwhelming majority of intruders are burglars who will usually flee if a home turns out to be occupied. Where I live (with gun control laws) burglars don't generally carry guns, the regular police don't either, and everyone's safer for it.

>Even discounting self defense, the problem remains. If someone values hunting or target shooting enough, they won't be willing to give those up to prevent (maybe) some criminals and insane people from getting guns.

Yes, that's a legitimate argument to have.

Gun is also a tool designed and optimized for self-defense. You may be willing to accept being defenseless in order to reduce risk of very rare events but not everybody wants that. I, for one, would prefer to accept this microscopic risk and be able to defend myself if more frequent situation - such as home invasion, encounter with a violent criminal intent on harming me, etc. - arises.

  > Gun is also a tool designed and optimized for
  > self-defense.
So, how many shot back at the attacker in that movie theater?

None, because movie theaters are gun-free zones, so, naturally, the only person that had the gun was the criminal attacker. See also: http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=4465 Now compare to this case: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sKQl-Qp5W0&feature=youtu... where somebody on the scene did have a gun.

Australia is a very urbanised, and gun ownership rates were very low anyway. Recreational shooters feel the laws are unnecessarily restrictive. Most of the population doesn't care. A certain segment of organised crime still has guns, but I think most of the populations desire to be involved in shoot outs with them is pretty low.

I'd say most people who choose not to have guns in first place feel more free when others are similarly disarmed.

I'm not sure how you can even ask this question - obviously, restrictions reduced the freedom, by definition, that's why they are restrictions! You may mean Australians don't care about their freedom being reduced - or even gladly accept reduced freedom as the price of greater safety - but asking for some special argument for reduction of freedom doesn't make any sense - it's there by definition, you don't need any special argument.

>> one reason is that Australians like to be free of being shot to death by crazy people in public places.

Any statistics to back it up? Note that Australia has about 1/14 of US population, so if US had mass shooting every year - then same level of violence in Australia would have one incident every 14 years. Of course, since these incidents are random, that could mean with high probability there can be 20 or 30 year period where the same level of risk would produce no incident at all. That's of course not counting differences in population densities, etc. which also influence the data.

Where in the USA can you hunt rhinos?

You don't use 5.56mm nato for deer either.

The point was suitability (for hunting) and relative "power" or "lethality" (as much as I hate those terms because they incite caliber wars) of the rifle Holmes used compared to what is typically used for hunting. Typical hunting calibers for medium and large game (regardless of whether the hunt is in the U.S. or Africa) are .308 or .30-06 on up. Some specialized .2xx calibers might work, but run higher risk of causing more cruelty to the animal (by not being sufficiently lethal). That's why hunting laws tend to dictate calibers, not because banned calibers are too lethal but because they're not lethal enough. Even .308 (7.62mm nato) is commonly eschewed for large game.

Anyone talking about a .223 rifle as high-powered or particularly dangerous relative to common hunting rifle calibers really has no idea what they are talking about.

I used a .270 for years hunting deer and elk. I can assure you they are effective for distances up to 400 yards. Also, read about Jack O'Conner who was a proponent of the .270 for hunting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_OConnor_(American_writer)

I don't doubt the .270 is very capable.

Here in the Yukon, it illegal to use anything less than 300 caliber for Bison.

My girlfriend's younger brother was in the marines. He had to get his older sister to buy ammunition because he couldn't despite handling far more deadly firearms in the military.

"So far I am not aware of any reason for young people in residential neighborhoods in the United States to have what are called "assault rifles" for legitimate purposes, and I certainly would be glad to know that none are in my (crime-free) neighborhood."

What about suspending the Fourth Amendment? Surely enough random house checks, possibly automated with cameras, could also detect possible criminal activity and save lives.

Traditionally, Americans are willing to pay something for their freedoms. Freedom always comes with both costs and benefits, and so long as the costs don't far outweigh the benefits, then (in my opinion) freedom should prevail.

If, in your judgement, the cost of allowing individual gun ownership outweighs the benefits so much that you think the freedom should be removed, so be it. But keep in mind that there are plenty of other freedoms that can be removed in the name of safety (e.g. 4th, 5th, and 8th Amendment).

I'd also like to point out that violence is low and decreasing[1]. So, the case to restrict freedoms is weakening. The newsworthiness of a particular event doesn't change that fact. Also, removing a freedom is no guarantee that you'll actually get the safety you seek; it's only a guarantee that the freedom is gone.

[1] See Steven Pinker's new book, "The Better Angels of our Nature"

The thing is that the second amendment appears to be fundamentally different, in terms of human rights, from the rest. There are a lot of good arguments as to why allowing free speech, prohibiting unreasonable search and seizures, and other such things is a good thing in general, and are fundamental issues of human rights and freedoms. There are substantially fewer arguments as to why gun ownership is important to freedom in general.

If one were drawing up a list of fundamental human rights today, and were somehow completely ignorant of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, what would it include? Would someone ignorant of the Constitution, but otherwise familiar with government, law, and freedom tend to include gun rights on that list?

The second amendment really seems like the odd man out. (Well, the third amendment is pretty odd too, but nobody cares about it these days.) Freedom of speech is important because the only reason to deny it is to oppress people. Due process and requirements for warrants are important because it keeps the government honest, and suspending them would cause more government abuse than it would stop crime.

But what makes a right to gun ownership important? What does it protect against, and what makes it better than not having that right?

I understand that reasonable people can disagree on this matter, and I hope we can have a reasonable disagreement here. What I'm trying to say is that the fundamental divide here is, as far as I can tell, precisely whether the second amendment enshrines a fundamental human right, the way we feel much of the rest of the Bill of Rights does, or whether the second amendment is out of place and does not describe a fundamental human right. To argue by saying that the other side's attitude would not play well when applied to other amendments in the Bill of Rights is to miss their motivations entirely.

The important thing to realize is that there are people who would ask the same questions and harbor the same doubts about those other amendments that you have about the second.

The second may seem like the odd man out to you, but that's to you, not to everyone. Others may well (and in fact do) believe that others are the odd man out.

I understand that, although the quantity and level of argument with the others doesn't appear to be anywhere near the same. My point here is that, if you think it is indeed a fundamental human right, you have to actually demonstrate that, not just say that any attempt to take away the second amendment is no better than taking away the fourth.

Well, no, actually, I don't. Since it's part of the Bill Of Rights, it's not on its supporters to show why it's a fundamental right, it's on its opponents to show why it isn't.

The whole point of those rights being in the Constitution is so that you don't have to endlessly justify those rights later.

And, again, it doesn't appear to be anywhere near the same to you. That really is an important part to grasp.

There are people who can make quite a strong case for restricting the First Amendment for reasons that have nothing to do with oppressing the people, but for reasons of protecting the fabric of society. I don't agree with them, but that doesn't mean their points are of lesser quality. It means that the damage to society is a price I'm willing to pay to enjoy the freedom that comes with it.

I think I've sufficiently argued for why I think the second amendment doesn't belong with the rest. I've also repeatedly stated that I realize this is not a universal view. I don't know what more you want me to do, here, since I seem to already be doing everything you're criticizing me for failing to do.

I'm sorry, but I really don't see that you have.

All you've done is say it's the odd man out and then ask what it protects. I just can't see that as anywhere near a sufficient argument. Or even an argument at all. It's more of a statement of your thesis without support.

It's a rhetorical question. I don't see that there is anything which makes gun ownership important, I don't see that it protects against anything significant, and I don't see it as being better than not having that right.

It's kind of hard to support a negative claim like that. It would be nice if you could kick in a bit of your side instead of just complaining about how I say things. And no, "it's in the Constitution so it's automatically true until disproven" does not work.

You're the one who is making the case that the second amendment is distinct from the others. Give him something to respond to.

I'm not sure what else I can give. The second amendment doesn't work against government abuses of power, nor does it provide for anything that humans need to live a fulfilling life. That's about it. What else are you looking for?

Maybe respond to the obvious objections to those two assertions? For starters, what would be your response to: "Yes, it does."

Which part? If it's that gun rights are fundamental to living a fulfilling life, well, lots of people live good lives without them, so that seems unlikely.

If it's about gun rights preventing government abuses, which seems like the more likely objection, well, how? I don't see government abuses being stopped or even slowed down by gun rights. When faced with a gun owner, police seem to simply shoot first and ask questions later. If they have even a hint of being outgunned, they call in a SWAT team or similar.

Ok, now we're cooking.

Is not being compelled to testify against one's self fundamental to "living a fulfilling life?" Since when has that been a qualification for a right? This is a True Scotsman minefield - beware.

Can you imagine a case in which gun rights could protect one from government abuses? Why would you think that the abuses that the right to bear arms are meant to prevent are confined to government ones?

These are obvious questions to ask simply based on the structure of the assertions. They are the type of questions that you should ask yourself before beginning a discussion in order not to waste everyone's (including your) time. Without that type of preprocessing, you're not going to convince anyone of anything; if you haven't done that preprocessing you don't really even firmly believe what you're saying yourself.

Really sorry if that sounds condescending. I'm just trying to explain myself clearly.

Sorry I'm unable to read your mind. I thought that maybe we could both state our positions and then discuss them, rather than me stating my position in more and more detail until at some point you are finally satisfied and find me worthy of being graced with your learned opinions.

Please consider the possibility that questions are not nearly as obvious when outside your head. I really don't know how I'm supposed to pick your own personal objections out of the roughly ten billion potential objections to what I've said. Your questions may be "obvious" in some sense of the word, but I don't know that they're any more obvious than the innumerable others that are out there.

To respond to your supposedly obvious questions: no, I really can't imagine gun rights protecting against government abuses, not today. At any sign of armed resistance, the government will bring increasing force to bear until they subdue you. If you survive the event, you may be vindicated later, but at no point does being armed help you. As for non-government abuses, there may be some utility there, but if you're having to carry firearms to protect yourself from your fellow citizens, I believe that's a more fundamental breakdown in society and government, and being able to carry guns is just a minor patch on the symptoms. Better to address the root cause through better policing.

If gun-owning citizens get aggravated enough at a tyrannical government, they can start an asymmetric war. How did that go for the British? How is it going for the U.S. military in the middle east?

Keep in mind that both of those scenarios were or are environments where the rebel forces and the citizenry they belong to do have the same level of constitutional protections that U.S. citizens do.

The only way to win against rebels armed with firearms is if they are not motivated enough to take up arms, or if the government takes off the kid gloves and engages in war with little or no regard for collateral damage. Neutral citizens rapidly turn against the government in that scenario.

As a aside, I think the American founding fathers' views of human rights was more that anything and everything is a fundamental right whether it is free speech or, on the other extreme, murder. However, since people have banded to form "society", to join society, a person would have to give up certain rights, e.g. the right to murder. So, depending on where you stand with respect to human rights, who should defend the right to bear arms, a person or a government?

What's a right? Isn't it something that no one can murder you from doing (or in general, use force to stop you from doing)? If murder is a right, isn't nothing a right, since anyone can murder you in response to anything?

If murder is a right, isn't nothing a right, since anyone can murder you in response to anything?

That's kind of the idea. What actions are you physically capable of? Once again, in the context of absolute freedom, what are you allowed to do (i.e. a right)? The thing is absolute freedom is a bit complicated especially given individual differences. Order/laws develop to facilitate interactions with other people.

I'm not sure how well I can explain this, so here's a link. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_contract

You have the right to find it interesting, a right to find it horribly stupid, or a right to find it _________________.

2nd amendment is important because it makes it harder for people to ignore the other 9.

This is why Iraq/Afghanistan have bothered me so much, the US military has greatly enhanced their ability to fight a war of attrition against a civillian population with rifles and IEDs, which is exactly the sort of resistance they would have in the event of a popular revolt.

Probably more disturbing is the modern law enforcement emphasis on militarization and crowd control. Witness the response to OWS. Imagine if they were actually attempting to overthrow the government.

"Due process and requirements for warrants are important because it keeps the government honest, and suspending them would cause more government abuse than it would stop crime."

That's fairly vague. I'm not sure what clear distinction you are trying to draw between the 2nd and 4th Amendments.

"But what makes a right to gun ownership important? What does it protect against, and what makes it better than not having that right?"

It can be seen as a right to self defense.

First, consider that your life, or at least your quality of life, depends on the police doing their jobs. To destroy you, the police merely need to make it known that you won't be protected.

There are many examples of this for many different reasons. It could be some political reason why the police chief doesn't want to enforce order in a minority neighborhood. Or, it could be more personal.

Even if the police do make a reasonable effort to protect you, it might not be enough to deter a stalker or someone that you're afraid of. Police generally react after the fact to punish a perpetrator rather than actually protect you, anyway.

You seem to be turning the burden of proof around, to ask why I think we should be allowed a freedom. The social contract says otherwise: we must agree together that a freedom is so dangerous that it should be outlawed.

Honestly, I think you should carefully evaluate whether you think that we are really better off with severe restrictions on guns[1], or whether you are just reacting emotionally to the thought that someone on your block owns a killing machine (which is what guns are, really).

But there are 200M+ guns in the US (numbers aren't precise, but it's about 2 guns per 3 people -- men, women, and children), and we aren't dropping like flies, so you have to look past the emotion. Most gun deaths in the US are suicide, by the way[2] -- and some people argue that is a human right.

[1] The research is mixed on the subject, and I imagine it depends on a lot of factors. To really have an opinion that the right should be removed, you would need to put in a lot of serious effort to research the numbers and convince yourself that people actually would be saved. I have the advantage that I win by default -- I don't need to prove that gun ownership increases safety to hold my opinion, I just need to convince myself that it doesn't increase danger enough to justify restricting it (which is pretty easy considering the low number of gun homicides overall).

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_violence_in_the_United_Stat...

> That's fairly vague. I'm not sure what clear distinction you are trying to draw between the 2nd and 4th Amendments.

The distinction is that the 4th amendment limits government power to intrude on our lives by forcing them to clear a certain burden of proof before seizing our property and information. Without that freedom, they could basically take what they pleased when they pleased.

There is no equivalent situation for the 2nd amendment. Without gun rights, we lose nothing that isn't related to guns. Government's power remains the same with our without the 2nd amendment, other than the ability to regulate guns.

I believe I have carefully evaluated whether my reaction is emotional. Frankly, I'm a bit offended that you just assume I'm probably taking an emotional position here, and don't think that will make for a productive discussion.

I think I'm turning the burden of proof around simply because the reasons against gun rights seem fairly obvious to me. Guns are tools built to kill, with no other use. They have very little in the way of useful legitimate uses. (Sport etc. are not useful, although neither are they bad.) Self defense is the one exception, but it's not clear that guns are particularly useful for self defense, let alone that their utility for self defense outweighs the potential benefits of stricter controls on them.

If you disagree, that's fine. I welcome the discussion. But please refrain from any insinuation that you're the only one thinking rationally here.

You are missing the point of the second amendment. The second amendment isn't about making sure we get to keep firearms for the sake of having them.

The purpose of the second amendment is to protect the right of a free people to protect themselves. This includes self-defense, but is not limited to it. Understand the context in which the Bill of Rights was written. We had just fought a long war to overthrow British rule. This meant ordinary people, farmers and craftsmen, took up and used their personal firearms.

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

In the language of the day, a well regulated Militia means a well prepared body of men 18-55.

What the founders were saying was that for this country to remain free, all able-bodied persons must have access to a means for the personal defense of their freedoms: firearms.

The second amendment is critical to freedom because it enables free people to defend individual or collective freedom from tyranny. It enshrines a method of last resort when all else fails (as it did in the American colonies on April 19, 1775).

I believe I understand fairly well the original point and intent of the second amendment. I just don't think that original point and intent are useful anymore. In the 18th century, organized private citizens could defeat world powers in open battle, properly organized (and with the world power properly distracted elsewhere). That's no longer the case today, by a wide margin. There will be no repeat of the American Revolution. The success of any attempt to resist the US government by force will basically come down to whether they can get enough of the US military on their side, or at least prevent the military from acting. A population carrying handguns and hunting rifles won't, as far as I can see, make any difference one way or another to this.

If an armed revolt does break out, it's going to need a lot of illegal weapons and support from a lot of military units who have switched sides, regardless of whether the second amendment is in place or not.

Take a look at the war in Iraq and the Russian war in Afghanistan. I think people nowadays really underestimate the power of a group of armed people that don't want somebody present. The US population is much more heavily armed than any other country in the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_of_guns_per_capita_by_co...

Over 250% more guns per capita than Iraq, and it took us over 8 years of fighting in that country to get anywhere.

"The distinction is that the 4th amendment limits government power to intrude on our lives by forcing them to clear a certain burden of proof before seizing our property and information."

I think you're interpreting the 4th Amendment kind of like the 5th Amendment prohibition of depriving someone of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

The part of the 4th Amendment that's interesting to this discussion is the prohibition on unreasonable searches. You haven't really offered any reason that should exist (information can't be seized, by the way, because the original owner still has it).

"I believe I have carefully evaluated whether my reaction is emotional. Frankly, I'm a bit offended..."

I got you confused with the person to whom I originally replied, who said: "I certainly would be glad to know that none are in my (crime-free) neighborhood." That's clearly an emotional reaction, but I apologize for attributing it to you.

The only rationale I can imagine for restricting gun rights is to preserve some proportion of lives (or maybe an absolute quantity). I would still like to see your argument framed that way. It's unreasonable for me to ask for a specific number, but it seems like you should have some order-of-magnitude percentage in mind -- e.g. A% of the population were violently killed last year; restricting gun rights will reduce that to B% in Y years, thereby saving (A-B)% of the population per year.

The problem that this line of argument faces, of course, is that the percentage of people killed by guns is already quite low. And more than half of those are suicides, which probably wouldn't be prevented by gun restrictions. Some other fraction would still be killed by other means. And, unless Y is a very large number, then you still may have many gun deaths simply because there are still so many guns around.

When you actually work out the numbers will all of these things accounted for in a realistic way, I suspect that (A-B)% will be a small number (or negative), and Y will be a large number. In other words, a small (or negative) benefit after a lot of waiting (and possibly bad consequences during that transition).

But it would still be perfectly rational for you to say that you believe it will save a single life, and that's enough of a benefit for you. You'd probably want to take some risk into account though, in case you're wrong and the life isn't actually saved.

"I think I'm turning the burden of proof around simply because the reasons against gun rights seem fairly obvious to me. Guns are tools built to kill, with no other use. They have very little in the way of useful legitimate uses."

You assume that the guns must be used to be useful, which is false. In fact, the presence of guns may reduce the frequency with which they are used[1]. Even police in a lot of areas have probably never fired their weapons at another human.

[1] I have no numbers to back this up, but again, my argument does not depend on numbers.

I'm curious as to why you think that suicides would not be affected by gun restrictions. Most suicides are not people who are bound and determined to kill themselves by any means possible. Rather, most suicidal people are extremely troubled in general and may change their mind quickly. Making it more difficult for them to get ahold of the tools with which to end their lives could make a substantial difference.

As for the rest, you're absolutely right that it comes down to a potential net gain in lives saved versus lives lost. I think that it would be a net gain, simply because guns in private hands aren't saving a whole lot of lives. The potential downside is relatively low. The impact may not be large, but it does seem to me to be almost certain to be positive, so why not?

I think there is merit to the idea that a heavily armed society would deter crime. But you'd need gun ownership to be far more pervasive than it is now for it to work, I think. The chances of a criminal running into a private citizen with a loaded gun are pretty low. If nearly everyone had one, that would be different, but I don't think we're anywhere close. From where we are right now, reducing gun ownership seems to be a more productive and realistic direction.

"I'm curious as to why you think that suicides would not be affected by gun restrictions."

Conjecture. I have no numbers to back it up.

"The impact may not be large, but it does seem to me to be almost certain to be positive, so why not?"

Your stance seems perfectly rational, and based on two things:

(1) The belief that stricter gun laws will save lives; and (2) The right to own firearms has a negligible value.

I am ambivalent about the first one -- I simply don't have detailed numbers to back it up either way. I am skeptical that any savings would be worth the risk that it gets worse (being fairly low already, the potential downside is greater than the potential upside).

The second one I simply disagree with. It's a personal value and there is no real way for one of us to convince the other. I would be interested to know what fraction of Americans share your opinion here.

"But you'd need gun ownership to be far more pervasive than it is now for it to work"

An interesting point. It would be hard to imagine gun ownership being much more pervasive than it is now, but I agree that so few people carry guns that criminals have little to fear from public places.

I don't personally know anyone who owns a gun. Gun ownership could be far more pervasive than it is right now. According to random Wikipedia statistics, only about 40% of US households have a gun, and I imagine they're really unevenly distributed. In any case, as you imply, it's really the pervasiveness of carrying that matters, not simple ownership.

Look up "straw man argument" or maybe "slippery slope." Then, make a better argument.

Actually, people often underestimate the power of a "slippery slope" argument.

To me, it looks more like reductio ad absurdum. If we accept curtailing the 4th, 5th, or 8th amendment as an absurd outcome, and a parallel argument to token's supports that absurd outcome, then there must be a flaw in token's argument.

The slippery slope is a logical fallacy. That means it's only a fallacy in the context of dealing with logical entities. Can humans, and their governments, be assumed to act as logical entities?

The theory is that certain risk-reduction measures work in general, minimizing the chance that some individual will engage in any kind of incident like the one in Aurora, Colorado. Gun control is such a sensitive issue in the United States that it is barely being discussed yet by politicians in connection with the incident this weekend, but differing national patterns of gun control have been mentioned by commentators who point to the example of Australia's response to the 1996 Port Arthur, Tasmania shooting

The thing is, gun control is a feel-good measure that does nothing. It's no different from "video game control" or "Internet filtering."

What do all of the following events have in common?

* The Virginia Tech massacre

* The Dunblane massacre

* James Holmes's movie-theatre attack

* The Columbine massacre

The answer, besides the fact that they were all committed with guns, is that the total body count in all of these incidents still falls short of what one guy with a can of gasoline was able to do at the Happyland night club. How many more gasoline-fueled deaths are we going to tolerate as a society before we require licensing and registration of gas cans?

If you want to solve the underlying problem, which is nothing more or less than catching undiagnosed mental illness early, you are going to have to do it some other way besides banning inanimate objects and tools.

Finally, your opinion as to what I "need" or "don't need" is not of any particular interest. History suggests that if you really want to maximize your odds of a violent death, you should let the police and military have a monopoly on violence.

I guess the thing is that gasoline has many non-killing uses, whereas guns don't. I live in a country where access to guns is much more tightly controlled than in the US, and I'm glad of it. Sure, under some circumstances a can of gasoline can be more lethal than a gun, but the prospect someone chasing me down the street at 3AM with a can of gasoline doesn't scare me nearly as much as someone chasing me with a gun. Think of all the lethal scenarios that a gun can be used, replace with "can of gasoline" and see your straw man go up in flames.

It would only be a straw man if arson weren't a good way to kill a lot of people at once. Events have proven otherwise.

This particular assclown had the smarts to do a lot more damage than he did. If he couldn't have put his hands on firearms, who's to say what he might have done instead? Turn himself in peacefully? I'm guessing not. He might have gone full Aum Shinrikyo on the theater full of people.

Under a certain set of circumstances almost anything is capable of killing a lot of people (ice build-up on some piece of hydraulic equipment, corrosion, a screw-driver, some inconclusive scientific data). However for killing in a broad number of scenarios the thing that is going to be most effective is a device that is designed for killing.

If, as you claim gasoline is, in general, more lethal than guns (and thus in need of regulation) why don't we start issuing police and soldiers with cans of gasoline?

Because guns are better for self defense. That is why police need guns. Their task is to investigate crimes and apprehend suspects. It's not to shoot people.

What does it matter how many fewer ways there are to kill a lot of people with a can of gasoline? A mass murderer only needs one way.

I'd argue that prosecutors pandering for votes are worse than the cops in terms of information leakage.

And while laws limiting access to firearms may be part of a longer term solution, we should be exploring limiting the celebration of sadism that modern Hollywood has become.

Slightly offtopic, I read a comment somewhere that asked what would have happened if the killer had been an Arab. It is interesting. When the killer is one of our own, we are able to quickly switch off group-think and acknowledge that the killer was insane. In contrast, when the killer is of an outgroup, we instantly assign group blame and then exact group retribution.

"... The Secret Service’s landmark study of school shooters in 2002 determined that 78 percent of those shooters had experienced suicidal thoughts or attempts before mass murder. ..."

With respect to Columbine, the same study noted this observation about targeted violence in schools.

'... Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack ...' [0]

The relationship between bullying and targeted violence appeared to be a serious enough problem for the Secret Service to consider and investigate.

[0] Fein, R.A. Ph.D., Vossekuil, B., Pollack, W.S. Ph.D., Borum, R. Psy.D., Modzeleski W., Reddy M., Ph.D., "Threat Assessment in Schools: A guide to managing threatening situations and to create safe school climates", Chapter III, P17, United States Secret Service & United States Department of Education, Washington, D.C., 2002. (pdf, 754Kb) ~ http://www.secretservice.gov/ntac/ssi_guide.pdf

Only tangentially related, but I'd like to know:

The Wikipedia article on the incident says "The first phone calls to emergency services via 9-1-1 were made at 12:39 a.m. The police arrived within 90 seconds and apprehended the suspect."

I'm wondering, can this be true? Are they really that fast? If so, impressive.

According to the police chief, they had a lot of extra officers out on the streets as part of a summer initiative. Aurora is a typical strip mall suburb so it is feasible that a unit even a mile or two away could get there in 90 seconds, especially at that time of night with no traffic.

There were policemen on patrol near the theater at the time. Otherwise that response time would have been more like 5-10 min (at the least).

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