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Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Mind of a Killer?

In recent days both the Postulant and Josephus have forwarded to me articles concerning the shootings in Aurora, Colorado. The main thrust of the articles forwarded by Josephus focused on the availability of all types of fire arms in the US. I happen to believe that the citizens of any country, and that includes the UK, should, with appropriate controls, be allowed to bear arms. However, I have to qualify that. I would, most emphatically draw the line at the private ownership of military 'small arms' such as M-16 carbines and the UKs SA-80 which are capable of automatic fire.

Yes, a 'semi-automatic' can also be fired rapidly in skilled hands, but it requires the user to squeeze the trigger each time. With a Kalishnikov (AK-47) and with other 'military' carbines and rifles I have the option of using single round fire or releasing a 'burst' - meaning multiple rounds on a single depression of the trigger. In unskilled hands that generally means emptying the full magazine. I do not believe that a totally disarmed populace is a safer populace, but I do believe that anyone who wishes to own a firearm should be subject to some extremely thorough checks. I know there will be those who will wish to argue that this didn't stop the Dunblane tragedy or one of the others, to which I would reply that since the outright ban on owning 'hand guns' in the UK, gun related crime has gone up 400%, so have knifings, gang beatings and several other violent crime statistics.

You cannot say that owning guns would reverse this or prevent it, but patently denying the citizenry of any country the right to do so, doesn't mean there won't be any violent crime either. Yes, someone weilding a knife could do a lot of damage in a crowded space, possibly kill a few, and it wouldn't approach the levels someone with an automatic or semi-automatic weapon could achieve, but would banning knives (we already have a ban on pocket knives with a blade of more than two inches) be practical? Any ban introduces a whole range of different problems.

Which leads me to the second item sent me by the Postulant. This is an article entitled "What does a killer think," which addresses the mental state of killers like the man in Aurora. The first, and perhaps most telling, point it makes is that there is no such thing as a 'uniform' profile for such killers. Not all are psychopaths, not all are technically insane, but they do all suffer from what are, esentially, mental conditions. And there lies the major problem in any debate about preventing tragedies such as that in Aurora. In almost every case such multiple killers have lived for years in communities without raising suspicion, yet almost all of them have, for at least a large part of that time, left numerous clues to a rising potential.

As the article points out, the true psychopath appears perfectly normal on the outside, but lacks the ability to empathise with anyone. They simply are unable to feel anything for anyone other than themselves. Occasionally there is a combination of that with an enjoyment of inflicting pain or suffering in a psychopath and that is a truly dangerous one, but doesn't, necessarily, lead to the person becoming a mass murderer. Forensic psychologists and psychiatrists agree there are three mental conditions into which the majority of multiple killers fall. Psycopaths form one, dillusional ailments another, and suicidal depressive form the third.

Research has shown that in almost every case like the Aurora shooting there was no 'final trigger' to tip the murderer over the edge into violence. The act is a well planned, carefully prepared event, not something undertaken on the spur of the moment. As the author of the piece I have linked above says, a psychopath isn't 'mad' - they are hyperrational - but crucially, they don't care about how much they hurt their victims. Those with dillusional disorders are convinced that its a 'them or me' situation, and set about preparing to 'defend themselves' by killing as many 'enemies' as possible. The suicidal depressive hates the world, hates anyone they see as being happier, luckier or healthier - and sets out to destroy themselves and the supposedly more fortunate.

Can our societies ever be protected from such people? Can disarming everyone prevent such killers finding some other means of carrying out their ghastly actions? I doubt it, though I would add that stricter gun laws in the US might reduce the number of casualties.

As the writer of What does a killer think says, the psychopath is the most difficult to spot, the delusional is often either paranoid or schizophrenic and often both and the suicidally depressive may already be receiving some treatment. The latter pair often leave a trail of evidence of the direction they plan to take. One of the more recent US killers, left videos on YouTube and other websites. Another filled Chatrooms and some forums with threats and declarations of his intentions. Psychopaths are far more difficult since they are also usually very manipulative and extremely good at hiding their intentions. But, the signs are always there. If anyone is looking.

As I said earlier, bans give an illusion of safety, but often it is just that, an illusion. It would be far better to look far more closely at the conditions that give rise to the risk of someone going this way - and finding ways to treat it before it becomes a tragedy.

In the meantime, we mourn the dead, the injured and the bereaved.

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