Mass murders: Why us? Why the U.S.?

December 21, 2012 by Karen Pallarito, Healthday Reporter
Mass murders: why us? why the U.S.?
From gun availability to a lack of therapists, experts say many factors contribute to the spate of killings.

(HealthDay)—The recent rash of mass shootings is raising pointed questions about why America is experiencing such carnage. And, while the answers are complex, policymakers are capitalizing on public fervor over last week's massacre in Newtown, Conn., to muster support for new initiatives to prevent future tragedies.

President on Wednesday announced plans to revisit the nation's gun and mental health laws, tapping Vice President Joseph Biden to lead an effort to bring "concrete proposals" to the table for quick action in January. In part, the president supports reinstating the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition cartridges. These prohibitions expired in 2004 with the sunset of the 10-year-old Federal Assault Weapons Ban.

In the past two years alone, killing sprees have claimed dozens of lives and left many injured and disabled:

  • Six perished and 13 were injured in front of a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store in January 2011 when a lone gunman, wielding a legally obtained handgun, sprayed the crowd with bullets and, in an assassination attempt, shot former Congresswoman in the head, nearly taking her life.
  • Five students at Chardon High School in Ohio sustained this February and three of them died at the hands of the accused 17-year-old gunman who allegedly chose his victims at random. The murder weapon was a handgun reportedly stolen from the suspect's uncle.
  • A gunman opened fire in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater in July, killing 12 and injuring dozens more. The alleged 24-year-old shooter had legally obtained four weapons, including a semi-automatic assault rifle used during the attack.
  • A gunman killed six and wounded four in August at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., before a police officer shot and killed the 40-year-old suspect at the scene. The shooter legally purchased the semi-automatic handgun and ammunition used in the attack.
The latest tragedy, the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 young schoolchildren and six educators at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, has stunned the nation, inciting a call to action.

And as policymakers grapple for answers, experts point to personal and societal problems that could be underpinning these deadly events.

"It's not one factor," explained Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C. "I think it's almost impossible to predict who would do a thing like this, in advance," he added.

Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary now ranks as the second deadliest school shooting in the United States, after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, which claimed 32 lives. Sandy Hook's death toll eclipses the carnage that shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold inflicted upon 13 classmates in the infamous 1999 Columbine High School rampage.

School shootings not unique to the United States

Yet school-based shootings are not a uniquely American phenomenon. Even with Europe's tougher gun laws, Finland, France, Germany and Norway have all experienced atrocities in the past decade. Mass school-based shootings at two German schools in 2002 and 2009 claimed a total of 31 victims.

Despite the public outcry spurred by the killings, the United States is not becoming an increasingly homicidal nation. The reality is the U.S. murder rate, at least through last year, has been on a downward slope. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports a steady decline in total homicides, from 14,990 in 2006 to 12,664 in 2011.

"We are still a relatively safe country and certainly by historical standards, even with these mass killings, our homicide rates are lower now than they were in the '80s. So we do need to keep this in perspective," said James Hawdon, professor of sociology and director of the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

Still, guns figure prominently in the nation's murder rate. From 2006 to 2011, the percentage of homicides involving some type of firearm remained almost unchanged over the period, at 68 percent, according to FBI data.

And the firearm death rate in the United States is nearly 6.5 times higher than Canada's rate of just 0.5 per 100,000 people, the United Nations reports.

"Our peer countries regulate the guns . . . and they tend to have far lower homicide rates than we do," said Duke's Swanson.

Australia in 1996 enacted a gun buyback program in response to a massacre in Tasmania that left 35 dead. The result: Gun-related homicides declined from 0.57 per 100,000 people in 1996 to 0.1 per 100,000 people in 2009, according to

In Japan, known for its restrictive gun-control laws, the total number of guns held by civilians is estimated to be 710,000, or 0.6 firearms per 100 people, according to data compiled by In the United States, it's 270 million total guns, or 88.8 firearms per 100 people.

People who study violent behavior point to the widespread availability of guns in America, particularly assault weapons like the ones used in Newtown, Conn., that are designed to discharge multiple rounds of ammunition, as a factor in crimes involving multiple casualties.

"There just happens to be very lethal methods available out there," said Thomas Bowers, associate professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg.

Gun enthusiasts, however, argue that even the best gun control laws can't stop a person from committing a heinous act. Connecticut laws restricting the sale, ownership and use of guns are considered among the most stringent in the nation.

"None of these bans was efficacious in keeping Adam Lanza [the Newtown school shooter] from killing 20 children," said Michael Hammond, legislative counsel to the Gun Owners of America in Springfield, Va.

Police said Lanza used guns—a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns—that belonged to his mother, who was found dead in their home.

The National Rifle Association broke its silence on the Newtown tragedy on Wednesday with a statement explaining that "we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting." The Washington, D.C.-based gun lobby announced plans for a "major news conference" on Friday.

Professing not to be a gun control fanatic, Christopher Ferguson, associate professor and chair of the department of psychology and communication at Texas A&M University in Laredo, believes gun access is part of the problem. "We may be getting to a point where we need to sit down and talk about what we can do to make things a little safer," he said.

The problem isn't just guns, experts say

Guns are only part of the equation, Ferguson said. There's also a need to improve the nation's mental health system so that individuals at risk get the help they need.

While no firm profile of school shooters has emerged, Ferguson said some common characteristics include a long history of anti-social traits, mental health problems such as depression or psychosis, and the perception that others are to blame for their problems, that "society didn't give me a chance."

A 2007 report commissioned by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found many gaps in the mental health system, "including a critical shortage of all child and adolescent providers," Dr. Howard Liu, medical director of the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, told HealthDay.

In the report, the federal government projected a need for 12,624 child and adolescent psychiatrists by 2020, vastly exceeding the projected supply of 8,312. The shortage of trained mental health providers is particularly acute in rural and low-income areas.

Could the way Americans live and raise children today also play a role in triggering violent behavior?

Many people speculate that violent video games predispose kids to aggressive and dangerous behavior. Ferguson's research indicates that that's not true. In a laboratory setting, short-term exposure to violent videos neither increased nor decreased aggression, while long-term exposure was associated with reduced hostile feelings and depression following a stressful task, one study found.

What's more, Ferguson said, "Video games are not a commonality among school shooters."

Dale Yeager, a criminal behavioral analyst and CEO of SERAPH, a Berwyn, Pa.-based legal, liability and security consulting firm, believes that dysfunction in families—from broken marriages to a "pop psychology" culture that coddles kids instead of teaching right from wrong—is at the root of the problem.

"What happens is mommy or daddy or both are not taking care of their issues and that filters down to the children," he said.

As people try to make sense of the latest tragic events, Virginia Tech's Hawdon offers this advice: "Really the way that we can best control crime and best reduce violence is by looking out for each other, by having a community where people know each other, people are involved in each other's lives to the point where they can say, 'You seem to be having difficulties right now' and 'Can I help?'"

Explore further: Restricting high-risk individuals from owning guns saves lives

More information: There's more on mental health at the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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1.7 / 5 (9) Dec 21, 2012
Boiled down. Non traditional families, Progressive families, Broken families, is a major cause of mass shootings.

To make things safer, we need policies that promote traditional families and promote responsible behavior. We need people to care more about their children than their progressive agenda.
4.7 / 5 (7) Dec 21, 2012
I have to commend your incredibly wilful distortion of the content of that article freethinking. Nowhere does is the word "progressive" used. Nowhere is the phrase "non-traditional" used. In fact, the section on family dysfunction comprises a massive 74 words of this 1500 word article.

Perhaps you could step away from *your* agenda regarding the "progressive agenda" (whatever that means) and we can move the dicussion back to the real thrust of this article: gun control laws.
4.2 / 5 (5) Dec 21, 2012
it may sound incredibly stupid or incomprehensible to Americans, but, easy access to modern guns means easy way to make wholesale killing. Where else in the world, that has no wholesale gun proliferation, that has such easy mass murder with guns? None. Americans, stop wringing your hands and accept this truth: "When the means of killing is made to be easy to get, some will go ahead and use it."
(Come one Lite, please bestow your unsurpassed wisdom to this wretched corner of the Web, by saying nothing but giving thy holy judgment.)
4.2 / 5 (5) Dec 21, 2012
"I think it's almost impossible to predict who would do a thing like this, in advance," he added.

Exactly why preventing them from having the guns in the first place is the best defense.

As I discussed previously, the nature of a sneak attack is such that the first security guard is no better than no security guard at all, which means the "add security guards" and "add concealed weapons" arguments are greatly weakened by simple analysis of offensive balance theory.

On television shows the shooter always misses when the good guys are fighting him. There's too much of that crap on crime dramas.

In real real life, it takes at least two armed guards per station, (or a hell of a lot of luck,) to reliably stop a sneak attack from one shooter. Typically, one of the armed guards will die or get injured anyway, and if you're very lucky, the second guard will be able to kill the shooter before he is himself killed.
2.4 / 5 (5) Dec 21, 2012
Lurker2358, preventing them from having guns may be the best "defense" against murders by gun, but where does that logic stop?
It's impossible to predict who will commit serial murders by knife, so possession of knives should be outlawed.
It's impossible to predict who will bludgeon someone with a rock, so possession of rocks should be outlawed.

To put some numbers out there,
2011 census: 313,000,000 people in the U.S. (not counting illegal aliens)
2011 murders by firearm: 8,583 (according to http://www.guardi...s-state)

Even if we say it's 10k murders and 300M people, we're still left with only 1 out of every 30k people or 0.00003% of the population. At the heart of the issue is whether this is an acceptable number of losses for the tradeoff of the value of having an armed citizenry, or whether no amount of lives can be considered to be acceptable losses to guns.
5 / 5 (1) Dec 22, 2012
many years ago when the gang problem in Chicago was just starting to really take hold and the police there were still wearing over coats and hats Sixty Minutes,i think,covered a gang shooting.
in the hallway of a apartment complex the police were interviewing the mother of a boy who was on the fringe but moving to gang membership.
now here it is,asked about the increasing violence she said over her tears "whats wrong with people when they think why should i argue with you when i can just shoot you"
in that statement i think you will find the answer to Why Us.
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 22, 2012
People have been murdered left and right in black, Asian, and Latino communities! Why does this suddenly become an issue when this happens to white people?
1 / 5 (5) Dec 22, 2012
People have been murdered left and right in black, Asian, and Latino communities! Why does this suddenly become an issue when this happens to white people?

Because Liberals and Progressives,
Socialists and Communists,
are pusillanimous narcissists?
It is the Law of the Left.
3 / 5 (4) Dec 22, 2012

Did you honestly just declare it "ok" to have 10,000 murders in the nation just as long as everyone has a "defense"?

Do you realize small arms fire is nearly useless in a real war scenario in modern times? Anyone capable of defeating the U.S. Navy and Air Force will just slaughter everyone with air power, idjit. Your machine guns will not help you defeat the Russians or the Chinese or even Europeans if they decide to attack us, and somehow manage to defeat our military.

So first of all, your claim that it's ok is a lie.
Second, your basis for that claim is in ignorance of modern warfare.

The U.S. murder rate is one of hte highest in the world, and it's connected to guns. It's that simple.

The difference between knives and rocks vs guns is that a gun can kill dozens of people in a few seconds. Knives and rocks cannot. A room full of kindergarteners could overpower a guy with a knife.

Why people like you are such idiots, or else dishonest debaters, I just don't know.
3 / 5 (4) Dec 22, 2012
People have been murdered left and right in black, Asian, and Latino communities! Why does this suddenly become an issue when this happens to white people?

Because you're a liar?

Gang violence is in the news all the time.

Gang violence is also one at a time, with many dozens, hundreds, even thousands of participants over time, typically fighting over "turf" for either drug trafficking or some other criminal activity. Police deal with gang violence all the time.

School massacres and these other massacres are one individual makes a sneak attack against people who they don't even know in many cases, such as this one, and kill dozens of people at once.

It highlights what's wrong with the entire civilization.

Both are evil, and both are aided by the easy access to firearms.

The real problem is almost everyone is evil.

Nobody "really" gives a damn until their family is the one that gets gunned down, so they figure, "it doesn't matter, keep the guns."
1 / 5 (3) Dec 23, 2012
Lurker, your reading comprehension skills can use some serious work. I understand that you are passionate about the issue, but nowhere in my post did I claim support for one side or the other. The numbers are facts presented to help round out the picture and do not represent an opinion - because they are factual data.

You do seem content to ignore that the intent of enabling citizens to arm themselves is to provide an avenue for them to defend their own lives and property from those who would use guns to take same lives and property. Gun ownership in the U.S. isn't about providing bodies for a war, and nowhere did I claim any such foolishness.

Why people like you choose to belittle or demonize anyone presenting information contrary to your opinions, I just don't know. But as you said, the real problem is that "almost everyone is evil," we don't live in an idyllic world, so save your strawmen and insults.
3 / 5 (4) Dec 23, 2012
Rationally calculate the odds of your/a child in the USA getting killed by a nut-job gunman; compare the odds with other [far more] probable ways your/a child may die in the USA; proportionally balance your outrage and prevention efforts; then, if neutering/nixing the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution is truly a most pressing and reasonable course of action, then will I cease rolling my eyes at the current hysteria and join the cause.
1 / 5 (3) Dec 23, 2012
For humans it is normal to kill. All other life don't know what normal is.
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 23, 2012
On average 10 kids between the age of 1 and 14 drown in the U.S. every day. This has to stopped.
2 / 5 (4) Dec 23, 2012
This is what we can do to prevent massacres of innocent children
A) Prohibit the sale of weapons.
B) The government should initiate a program of recovery of weapons, firearms by changing food supplies and electronics.
C) The government should strengthen psychological care programs for young people with special attention to the following points:
1) Constant control of the problem of bullying in schools.
2) special psychological support to young people with problems
Social adaptation. We can improve the self-esteem of these young people, we can increase the feeling of love and empathy for these young people.
We create activities in which these young people get the joy of achieving goals.
We create activities that feel triumphant and successful.
We create activities in which young people learn to help yourself and others is the most important goal of every human being.
If we find ways to fill the minds of young love for themselves and for others and if we teach them to reason to self-man
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 23, 2012
If we find ways to fill the minds of young love for themselves and for others and if we teach them to reason to self-manage their actions then the crime rate will drop.

D) We must create laws to reduce violence in movies and video games. Many films are literally manuals for serial murderers and terrorists.
Video games record the cold-blooded murder in the minds of children. It's almost hypnotic.
Of course, many will defend the rights of film producers and rights of producers of video games. But I tell you that not all of these people millions in profits worth the life of one child.
They can not put more value on money than the life of a child.
A depraved mind by these vices is easy to recognize because those who are depraved defend those who trade in death and perversion rather than advocate for children.
2 / 5 (4) Dec 23, 2012
E) Place electronic bookmarks in various weapons and warning systems in parking lots and public places to alert guards near a weapon.
F) Provide schools bulletproof vests and nonlethal weapons very efficient. Each school would have at least three teachers with bulletproof vest and nonlethal weapons.
G) Create systems technology and automatic defenses nonlethal schools would cost infinitely less than the American space program. It's a matter of priorities. What is worth more to you, find out if there are microbes on Mars, or prevent a child from being crushed to death?
The army can handle remote warehouses to fight, in the same way the army can be remotely controlled robots with lethal weapons to fight murderers. The army robots are now clever enough to get from one place to another quickly.
H) must track smarter psychological state and history of violence of gun owners.
2 / 5 (4) Dec 23, 2012
I) Those who wish to marry and have children should be educated by the government on a special course that teaches basic notions of morality and proper education of the children (including the avoidance pamper the children) and could only marry those who pass the exam . Raising a family is a big responsibility and many couples who marry believe that raising children is like having pets.
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 24, 2012
This has to stopped.-coda

This has to stop. (see above quote)

Read what you write.
Hear what you say.

Remember what you last wrote or said?
If the measure of importance of what you said or wrote is remembering what you said or wrote, then you fail.

So you are condemned to repeat the history this commentary thread handles.

2 / 5 (4) Dec 25, 2012
Chinese man drives car into students, injuring 13

Read more: http://www.sfgate...4574.php

man angered by a court ruling in the murder of his daughter rammed a car loaded with a gas tank and firecrackers into a group of middle schoolers, injuring 13 in the country's latest attack on students.

The man ran down 23 students at Fengning No. 1 Middle School in northern China's Hebei province on Monday, the official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday, citing local police.

by the way, the number of children aborted since RvW is many many many times greater than all the number of people killed by guns for any reason (other than war), combining all reasons into one number.

its a fact, if you think its a point, why so... its only a fact...

50,000,000 vs what number of people killed by guns in suicide, accidents, and all crimes?
5 / 5 (1) Dec 26, 2012
Why US?
One may as well ask "Why China?"
or "Why Europe?"
1 / 5 (2) Dec 29, 2012
If guns cause murder, then forks cause people to overeat. Since peole being overweight cause more deaths than guns, the government should ban and forks over a certain size, or even outright ban them in favor of chopsticks.

Progressives need to be consistent don't they.

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