To Kill, For The Love of Killing

I thought there would be more of a use for this post, but as Mike points out this is contributing to a conversation that isn’t really happening at the moment.  However, I had an interesting time crunching numbers and someone out there might find it useful, so for the morbidly curious, I’m publishing this anyway.

There are essentially three different kinds of multiple murder.

The first is serial murder, when a perpetrator (usually male, usually operating alone) kills multiple people in a series of discrete attacks. The psychology of the serial murder is itself an area of interesting, albeit morbid, study. Famous examples include Jack the Ripper and likely David Berkowitz (the Son of Sam). Serial killers are highly correlated with sociopathic characteristics. One distinguishing factor is that the individual incidents themselves are usually well planned with the intention of allowing the serial killer to commit his or her act of violence and escape to kill again.

The second is political terrorism, when a perpetrator (again usually male, not always acting alone) kills multiple people either in singular or successive attacks. Unlike serial murders, the psychology of the terrorist may or may not be driven by the specific desire for an individual expression of violence. The 9/11 terrorists obviously qualify. The psychology of the terrorist is different from that of the serial killer, as terrorism acts are usually planned and carried out by a number of actors working in concert, thus the group psychology becomes an important factor. The intention of a terrorist event is usually to cause some sort of political reaction. The ability of any one member of the terrorist cell to survive, or to escape capture, is often but not always a secondary factor to the direct outcome itself.

There are difficulties with generalizations in these categories, as certain perpetrators can possibly qualify as one or the other. For example, Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) and Timothy McVeigh possesses some overlapping characteristics between terrorists and serial murders. Where they rightfully “belong” is a matter of intentions and his psychology.  Personally, I put Ted in the category of the serial killer and Tim in the next category, as I believe they have more in common with those two containers than with terrorists, but that’s open for debate.

Finally, you have spree killers, when a perpetrator – like serial murders, usually male and usually operating alone – commits essentially a single planned attack, although the single attack can have multiple stages. Unlike serial murders or terrorism, in most cases spree killers end with either the killer committing suicide or “suicide by cop”, and the events themselves are usually staged with the intention to maximize causalities. Unlike terrorism, where the body count is a function of “how terrible” the event can be made, the body count in spree killing events is usually a primary motivational factor.

Contrary to popular opinion, these sorts of attacks are not limited to the United States, nor are they limited to firearms as a primary method of execution. Contrary to political opinion, there is no meaningful correlation between the perpetrators of these events and political leanings; essentially the hold only one thing in common: the perpetrators are violently insane.

From a neuroscience standpoint, this may be an important detail. Charles Whitman, the University of Texas bell tower shooter, was found upon autopsy to have a glioblastoma tumor in his hypothalamus, which may have been pressing on his amygdala, the area of the brain that controls aggression.

Unlike their brethren the serial killers, who still undoubtedly have serious neurological problems, I believe the spree killers likely have a different class of specific neurological disorders that specifically trigger mass aggression. Given the relative paucity of spree killing and serial killing in the general population, it is difficult to make any generalizable claims with a reasonable degree of certainty, however.  Note: that last sentence is probably the most important one in this entire post.

Guns are often used in these attacks, of that there is no doubt.  When intersecting with public policy, then, we must ask the question, “Are guns causally linked to this phenomena, or is there merely a correlation?”  There are two related questions.  The first, “If someone is predisposed to kill large numbers of people, is the relative ease-of-access of guns in the United States a contributing factor in the likelihood of one of these events occurring”, and the second, “If firearms were not available as weapons, would the perpetrators carry out these activities with alternative methods that would have worse outcomes?”

On the 22nd of July, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik used a large car bomb to kill eight people and injure another 209, and then followed up this by using a .223 Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic carbine and a Glock pistol to kill 69 people and wound another 100, most of them teenagers. It is the record-holding mass killing event using firearms, worldwide.  No fully automatic weapons were used.

On April 27th, 1980, Woo Bum-kon, a South Korean police officer, used two M2 carbines and seven grenades to kill 56 people and injure 35 others before committing suicide. It is the second deadliest mass murder event involving firearms.  Note that his access to weaponry was a function of his employment, and thus any public policy approach to limit this particular event would require disarming the police.

Firearms are not the only weapons, nor are they strictly speaking the most horrific. The largest numbers of victims both killed and injured come from vehicular actions, arson, and bombings.

On September 15th, 2002, Chen Zhengping poisoned a rival shopkeeper’s stock, killing 42 people and injuring several hundred. Rat poison seems to be an increasingly popular weapon of choice in China.

On February 18th, 2003, Kim Dae-han attempted to immolate himself on a crowded subway car. In addition to soaking himself in a flammable liquid, he had two milk cartons filled with some flammable agent. It is unknown what sort of a event he would have carried out, given the chance to follow through of his own accord. Bystanders attempted to stop him from setting himself on fire, and during the struggle one of the containers spilled, eventually resulting in a rapidly-spreading fire that ending 198 lives and injured another 147.  For total injuries and deaths this swamps anything attempted with firearms.

On March 16th, 2001, Jin Ruchao detonated four bombs at different apartment buildings, killing 108 people and injuring 38 more, ostensibly to get back at his former mother-in-law, his ex-wife, and his ex-wife’s new lover. The death toll appears to be ancillary to his desire to blow up the buildings, so this may be an outlier, itself.

In the interest of taking a more rigorous approach, I took the data from Wikipedia’s rampage killer article and encoded it. Some interesting results came out of this exercise.

First, a couple of very important disclaimers: there is huge selection bias in using Wikipedia as a source for this sort of data analysis, for a number of reasons. Wikipedia has an English-speaker population bias for contributors, of course, and this is hardly an unbiased sample. Nevertheless, rampage killings are highly reported in the West, and thus as a preliminary data source it is a much better jumping off point than one particular anecdote. I discarded certain data points from this set. First, I ignored any recorded incident before 1950 as potentially unreliable. Second, I excluded any event that had two cooperative killers, as these would of necessity represent a different psychology than a single killer acting alone (this removes Columbine from the data analysis, 13 deaths and 21 injuries). Any event that would be plausibly regarded as an act of ongoing low-grade war (most of the attacks in Israel, Afghanistan and Iraq during the occupations, the unrest in Chechnya, etc.) were marked and noted where appropriate, as they are not necessarily informative to public policy decision-making for peacetime. I noted where the perpetrator was either active-duty military or law enforcement engaging in mass violence against his own civilian population (side note: in countries in Asia and Africa, these represent the majority of events, not so in the West, although former police and military are not uncommon). Finally, if suicide was directly involved, that was also noted, but only if it could be reasonably inferred that the perpetrator intended his own death (for example, Andrew Stack, who flew his plane into the IRS building in Texas, is labeled a suicide, but the drunk Thai policeman who killed himself and several others with a grenade during a quarrel with his partner is not). Whenever there was ambiguity in the number of victims, I chose the most conservative number; in the rare cases where there was no specificity at all (in all cases this was the number injured, not killed), I encoded it as zero, which will skew the results slightly against total injuries.

Some preliminary observations.

By far the deadliest methodology is suicide by plane, wherein a pilot (or in some cases a passenger) deliberately crashes the plane, immolates it, or detonates an explosive. Of the top 15 deadliest incidents, seven are of this variety. The remainders in this top 15 are arson (four), poison (one), explosives (one), and combination attacks involving firearms and explosives (two).

Attackers who use explosives or vehicles (other than airplanes) are usually not suicidal, whereas attackers who rely heavily on firearms are more likely than any other category to end their rampage in suicide (36 cases of suicide, 54 not, one unreported), even discounting “death by cop”. In the firearms incidents, 66 of the total 93 cases result in the death of the attacker either by suicide, law enforcement shooting, or in a couple of cases vigilante justice.

I did not take an accurate count during the analysis, unfortunately, but the three most popular classes of venue tended toward nightclubs (for explosives or arson), weddings (very popular for the non-firearm related attacks, particularly explosives), and domestic residences (an entire class of the attacks is limited to people who murder their family).

Casualty breakdown

  • Firearms-only attacks are responsible for 615 injuries and 767 deaths.
  • Firearms together with some other sort of weapon are responsible for 557 injuries and 574 deaths.
  • Vehicle-only attacks have 707 injuries and 782 fatalities.
  • Poison attacks have 300 injuries and 49 fatalities
  • Melee weapons have 64 injuries and 225 fatalities
  • Explosives-only attacks are responsible for 1,314 injuries and 266 deaths
  • Arson-only attacks are responsible for 470 injuries and 653 deaths

Country comparison
The United States has 33 cases in this data set, the most. China has 18… but with only three exceptions, all of the reported incidents in China take place after 1999, which likely indicates that earlier incidents went unreported in the Western media. Israel has 14, but for obvious reasons their data set is somewhat unique. Germany and the Philippines each have 8 cases, France has 7. Thailand has six (all grenade incidents), as does the United Kingdom. India has five, Indonesia has four. The combined African nations don’t quite meet the U.S.’s total, 21.

If we discount China’s numbers as particularly suspect due to limited reporting, and Israel’s as sufficiently unique to warrant its own analysis, it seems as if the U.S. is a substantial winner over other first world countries, albeit a winner of a dubious honor. However, if we assume that the psychological state that leads to spree killing is distributed randomly throughout a population, we have a more complex picture.

Germany’s 2010 population was about 80 million. The U.S., on the other hand, was 300 million. France was about 60 million, as was the U.K. and Thailand. The Philippines is right about 90 million. Indonesia has a whopping 220 million, India of course tips the scales at over a billion.

Now, the best analysis would be to snapshot each country’s population at the time of the given incidents, but I don’t have that amount of time. Still, as a back-of-the-envelope measure, what we see here is the U.S. having 33 attacks at its population of 300 million, or about 1 incident per 9 million. Germany has one per 10 million, France one per 8.5 million, the U.K. one per ten million… Indonesia, on the other hand, has one per 55 million, and India one per 220 million… compared to the Asian nations, the civilized Western world is significantly more likely to yield a spree killer per capita.  In fact, the difference here is so astonishingly large my immediate impulse is that there is a reporting issue with Indonesia and India, as well as China, and thus the events in those countries that are documented are useful for comparing attack methodologies but likely of little use in establishing comparative frequency of these sorts of events.

Viewing it from this angle, the U.S. isn’t significantly more likely to have one of these events than Germany or France or the U.K. (less than France, actually).

If culture or genetics is a major contributing factor – and they may be – it seems less likely that this is a question of “American culture” vs. “Everybody else” as it is “Western European culture” vs. “Asia and Oceania”.

I should cover Africa in depth, but this post is already getting exceedingly long, and I’m not close to the end yet.

The next relevant question is, how pertinent is the legal status of private gun ownership? Does gun control deter spree killings?

Using the “Gun Rights Index”, found here, we can see the following:

  • The United States is 8.0, national (states vary)
  • The Philippines is 6.8
  • South Africa is 6.0
  • Switzerland is 6.0
  • Thailand is 4.2
  • France is 4.0
  • Mexico is 3.9
  • India is 3.7
  • Germany is 3.2
  • Norway is 3.0
  • Indonesia is 2.1
  • Canada is 2.0
  • The United Kingdom at 1.5
  • Japan is 1.5
  • China is 0.5

Now, an important factor involved here is when various pieces of gun control legislation pass. The United Kingdom, for example, has had several major gun control initiatives pass since the early 1980s, most of them in response to a spree killing event. The efficacy of these is up for debate; a timeline of the U.K.’s six incidents with major pieces of gun legislation is worthy of a post itself, but in a nutshell: 1980 (arson), 1987 (mass killing with two semi-automatic rifles, a pistol, plus arson), 1988 (firearms + explosive), 1988 (1988 Firearms Act, restricting longarms), 1996 (mass killing with pistols), 1997 (Firearms Act of 1997 banned handguns) 1999 (mass killing with explosives), and 2010 (mass killing with firearms).

At a glance, however, I don’t see gun control as a limiting factor on spree killings, in general.

I don’t even see a strong correlation between gun control law severity and method of spree killing. Thailand and the Philippines both have less gun control than most countries, but the preferred method of spree killing in the Philippines is split between melee weapons and explosives, and in Thailand every event is with grenades… in only one incident in either country did the perpetrator use a firearm.

Note, of course, that enforcement is an important issue. The laws on the books in any country may forbid private firearms ownership, but that doesn’t necessarily correlate to ease of acquisition.  This is only a preliminary look at this issue.

I will return to the aforementioned most important line in this post: given the relative paucity of spree killing and serial killing in the general population, it is difficult to make any generalizable claims with a reasonable degree of certainty.  What spree killing means for public policy is thus largely going to be a matter of gut feel and interpretation by those people who argue sides.  The only way to test any claim in this public policy space would be to pass some sort of legislation, and see what happens… but in my own personal opinion, the only thing that will happen is that these events will occur with about the same frequency that they occur now, and the body counts will vary only by the weapons available to the perpetrators.  By the numbers, the average spree killing event using weapons other than firearms is either slightly less (melee weapons being astonishingly good at killing large numbers of people) or much greater.

Now, you may ask what I specifically think, myself.

I think that this sort of violent insanity is probably best dealt with via the mental health system, which is much less robust than I wish it could be.  I suspect that any political capital that is spent to reduce mass murder is best spent increasing access to mental health facilities, which have a number of other awesome public payoffs, rather than attempting to ban or limit gun ownership.  I don’t think there’s much of a case to be made that any real gun control measure other than repealing the 2nd Amendment is legislatively a good use of our representatives’ time as most will run headlong into legal challenges and be overturned, and I don’t think repealing the 2nd Amendment is politically feasible.

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74 thoughts on “To Kill, For The Love of Killing

  1. Awsome in general though I bridled at your implied characterization of Anders Behring Breivik as being non-political despite the fact that I suspect your implication was unintentional.


    • Psychologically speaking, I think he was far more motivated by his internal crazy than by his political leanings.

      Certainly he had no (rational) reason to believe that he was going to effect a change via his methodology.

      Of course, you can argue about that for most cases of terrorism, but that’s a whole ‘nuther conversation.


            • There’s a border there, certainly… and it’s probably not a bright line, but a continuum.

              You can make a case that the Unabomber belongs on that side of the line, as well. It depends.

              I suspect that from a psych standpoint, there are differences between these types of mass killers that are worthy of note, which means systemic response for one might not cover the other.


              • I was actually thinking of the Unabomber when I mentioned McVeigh. I’d kind of lump them together. They seemed to have a coherent ideology. Their methodology was counterproductive, but it’s hard to say how much that’s an issue of misunderstanding the depth of their isolation (no, people don’t agree – not even secretly) and how much of it is that the ideology is simply an excuse for violence. It’s hard to know what is the cart, and what is the horse.


                • “It’s hard to know what is the cart, and what is the horse.”

                  That’s totally true.

                  There are also mass killers (like the poisoning event or the apartment bombing) where the motivation sounds more like degenerate sociopathy than mass killing… that is, the body count isn’t a function of the desire to outlet some violent impulse, it’s more a factor of disassociation.

                  So it’s hardly a cut-and-dried classification system. This does make the question of efficacy of gun control less cut and dried… it depends on which sorts of these activities we’re really trying to reduce.

                  Still, I don’t see much of a correlation between levels of gun control and the aggregate. Maybe you’d see something with a much more detailed analysis, but you need better data.

                  And I don’t know that you’re going to get better data that’s good enough to support any robust conclusion, anyway.


      • I guess so Pat, you know more than I when it comes to psychology. I just find it difficult to imagine calling the acts of a man who targets the next generation of political leadership of a party he opposes; who bombs the offices of a party he opposes and who spouts right wing ideology when he’s permitted to speak a-political.


        • You can say the same thing about Ted. He’s an anarcho-luddite or something.

          Me, I think they’re both first and foremost violently nutbar. The politics is just a mental framework which organizes their impulses.

          I don’t know anywhere near enough about psychology to make that a definitive diagnosis, that’s just my impression of the very little I do actually know.


          • I know less psychology than you do, I’m sure, but my view of Ted, given his history and what he put in his manifesto was this: he was a deeply unhappy man who didn’t fit anywhere. A combination of no understanding of people or society, an immense talent for abstract thought, and way too much free time combined to create a picture of a society where he thought he could be happy. [1] Sociopathy allowed him to try to get there via serial killing.

            Breivik had a much realer plan. But his vision of a xenophobic Europe is a far more achievable reality than Ted’s neo-neolithicism.

            1. An idiotic one, to be sure. His manifesto amounts to “If we reverse 10,000 years of technological progress, I might be able to get a date.”


  2. Minor correction: A spree killing is defined as killing at two or more sites, without the cooling-off period that characterizes serial killing. Killing a bunch of people in one place is mass murder.


  3. Nitpick:
    What you call a “spree killer” is usually defined as a mass killer or, as wikipedia does, a rampage killer.

    Spree killer is a somewhat vague category between mass killer and serial killer. A mass murder kills all their victims at once, in a single event that’s more or less continuous in time and space. A serial killer kills victims on separate occasions (often, though not always, targeting a single victim for each event) with a prolonged waiting/planning period between killings (weeks, months or years). A spree killer kills victims at separate events, but doesn’t wait long periods between events.


  4. A standing ovation, PatC, for your sanity and numerical literacy:

    “back-of-the-envelope…the U.S. having 33 attacks at its population of 300 million, or about 1 incident per 9 million. Germany has one per 10 million, France one per 8.5 million, the U.K. one per ten million”

    “the U.S. isn’t significantly more likely to have one of these events than Germany or France or the U.K. (less than France, actually).”

    I also like your takeaway

    I think that this sort of violent insanity is probably best dealt with via the mental health system

    that the question is not what to do with our guns, but what to do with our crazies.

    You add re our mental health system [admittedly, not a “system” atall, but a patchwork of ad hocs] “which is much less robust than I wish it could be,” and this gets into political policy questions about what would make the system more “robust.”

    Yes, we could spend more—would that help us catch and/or cure the one in a million [1-in-9 million!]? And then there’s the involuntary commitment thing, etc.

    Oy. Easier to pass anti-gun laws, that’s for sure.

    Great work, bro.


    • Thanks, Tom.

      Spending more probably won’t significantly increase your catch rate on this sort of crazy. Unfortunately, for every guy like the VA Tech shooter, where there are plenty of warning signs, you get someone who appears pretty normal like Charles Whitman. And even when you have plenty of warning signs, any systemic approach is going to wind up missing some of them anyway, because you’re going to get false negatives unless you dial the criteria up so high that you catch way, way too many false positives.

      But, at the least, you’ll help people with depression and bipolar disorder and others who would never have these sorts of breaks… if you think of mental illness severity as a bell curve, increasing treatment access is probably going to catch the vast majority of sufferers who are in the fat middle of “needing treatment” but far away from “are violently dangerous.”

      It’s a particularly hard people problem.


      • I go back and forth on this issue. One part of me says we should absolutely do more for the mentally ill to prevent this sort of thing from happening. The other part asks how we do that without empowering the sort of people that become high school guidance counselors to run roughshod over the lives of the teenage oddballs any more than they already do.


        • I mean, can you imagine if we had a “war on mental illness” to rival the “war on terror” or the “war on drugs”? It would be a friggin nightmare. Not to mention the danger of empowering some bureaucrat to invent a new category of thought-crimes.


          • Right… basically, this.

            The problem is that you can take all the warning signs that are exhibited from people who do stuff like this, and if you try to apply some sort of screening to the entire population based upon those signs, you’re going to put a bunch of people in treatment for violent disorders when they have almost no probability of doing anything violent.

            Most people who act weird just aren’t that weird, they’re not even close.


          • Ecchh. On the one hand you have a Governor Reagan emptying out the mental wards and basically creating the schizophrenic homeless problem overnight. On the other hand, you have One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the old Soviet psychiatric-hospitals-for-political-dissidents situation.

            Nasty problem with no clear answers.


            • The person convinced that the squirrel is talking to him needs … guidance, of some sort. may not need institutionalization, at least not forever.

              Most depressed folks don’t need institutionalization.

              There are people who are dangerous to those aroudn them, and they need hospitals.


        • A good start on “doing more for the mentally ill” would simply be to get more insurance providers to cover mental health services. I doubt this would do much to prevent mass murders like this, but there are plenty of much more mundane benefits we could accrue. Plus, greater availability might lead to more de-stigmatization of mental health care. And in my experience, there’s a substantial population being treated by MD’s (at great cost) that ought to be talking to a psychologist instead.


      • Tom stole my response.

        Hat is the evidence that increased mental health resources and easier to get care would reduce the incident of mass murder, spree killing, and serial killing?

        While I agree that it would help loads of people I just don’t know if it would make a difference in this case. Unless some evidence is presented this isn’t the reason to improve our mental health system. The number of people not getting the help they need is.


    • You add re our mental health system [admittedly, not a “system” atall, but a patchwork of ad hocs] “which is much less robust than I wish it could be,” and this gets into political policy questions about what would make the system more “robust.”

      Yes, we could spend more—would that help us catch and/or cure the one in a million [1-in-9 million!]? And then there’s the involuntary commitment thing, etc.

      Yeah, this. I think there are really great reasons for wanting to improve our mental health system (starting with making it more, err… systematic, for one, perhaps) but I don’t know how much we can expect it to impact these sorts of events. Often as not, I suspect these sorts of people are just going to fly under the radar in any case. Similarly for gun laws, where if we’re going to do anything, the focus and intent should be on reducing the overall level of criminal acts committed with firearms rather than these once-in-a-blue-moon tragedies.

      An interesting aspect to me is the interaction between our mental health system (such as it is) and our gun purchasing and CCW laws. The Virginia Tech shooter was in the mh system and I believe the Aurora shooter was as well (although that’s less than clear from initial reports). And yet they were both able to legally acquire firearms despite crazy-in-the-head supposedly being a disqualifier. Is HIPAA a barrier? Are the systems too disjointed and ad-hoc? With a robust black market and the “grey” market (gun shows/private sales) would it make much difference?

      I tend to view these sorts of things like natural disasters. Once in a while you’re going to get a tornado that wipes out a Joplin, MO, or a Norman, OK, or an earthquake that collapses a freeway and there ain’t a hell of a lot you can do to prevent that.


      • Much of the problem is related to how much better things are today than they were in the past… and part of things being better is that we have more brain space for each individual victim. I mean, Bush met with the families of each soldier killed in his Iraq War. Each one!


        But that also means that he (and we) can be haunted in a way that we weren’t haunted by body count numbers on the television during Vietnam.

        When it comes to murder, the first year going back that had fewer murders (total) than 2010 was 1968. We even had 100,000,000 fewer (!) people in the country then… but something like Aurora happens and it feels like things are getting worse, even though, according to the numbers, they seem to be headed full steam in the right direction.

        (Based on this: )


      • I’ll jump in on that. This is a great post.

        I’m curious about the correlation between western countries and higher incidence of mass murder or spree killings. My own feeling on gun control advocacy in general is that its proponents justify it as a legitimate response to the perception that the US is violent society. I say “perception” because what constitutes the right level of tolerance for, and acceptance of, within a society is subjectively determined, and opinions on that can differ wildly even if everyone in the debate accepts the premise that society should tolerate and accept only those uses of violence that are clearly justified by moral necessity. So gun control advocacy is justified on these grounds as mitigating against an otherwise unconstrained acceptance of the violence resulting from guns. So passing gun control laws becomes a codified norm of some sort.

        I’m not sure the above argument is coherent, but insofar as it is, I think that brings us back to some of that data points in the post: that individuals from western countries are more likely to engage in these types of violent acts. And it might be because western countries are more tolerant, or fundamentally accepting of, the uses of violence to achieve personal or national goals.

        I don’t know the answer to that, of course, but it strikes me as interesting. It also strikes me that any conclusion require care so the argument doesn’t become blatantly circular.


  5. Great work, Pat. I’m a great fan of sussing out the data and crunching the numbers. It adds much needed clarity to politically and emotionally charged topics.


    • This is one of those cases where a social scientist who really studies this stuff would complain that there just isn’t enough data and then… stop and think about that complaint, and maybe be glad that they’re studying a phenomenon that isn’t quite so readily exposed to statistical tools, because it just doesn’t happen often enough.

      Which, in and of itself, tells you something. If the odds of you getting killed by a rampage or spree killer is a couple order of magnitudes lower than getting hit by lightning, you probably don’t need to get very invested in attempting to lower that risk, much.

      You’re much better off taking a defensive driving course than you are buying a gun for self-defense from this sort of thing, or campaigning in your free time for increased gun control.


  6. Should we add a category for Government Murderer? One hundred and seventy million people were killed by their own government in the last century, almost all in totalitarian regimes.


      • if we ban governments, then who will stop the powerful non-governmental entities?
        Banning government simply implies return to feudalism, where the people with the sword get to be in power.

        Have you ever hired mercenaries to guard your ass?


    • It becomes worth asking whether the cure isn’t worse than the disease. Libertarian anarchists sometimes take a hasty step here from noticing the democide in totalitarian states to concluding that all states should be abolished.

      Much more difficult (for them anyway) is to observe that not all state-cures are necessarily worse than the disease. Do liberal democracies sometimes degenerate into totalitarianisms? Yes. Of course. Are they still worth the risk? This is a messier question, but I’m afraid the answer for now is yes.


      • I agree, Jason. I would add that the right to bear arms may, or may not, influence the tendency of a society to become totalitarian. The answer to this question will dwarf all other violence statistics. For the record, I am ambivalent on the issue.


  7. I find it odd that there is little consideration of personal responsibility here. The tendency instead is to medicalize virtually everything. While some things clearly can be medicalized, I don’t believe all of them can. You will likely find August’s Cato Unbound interesting. Its lead essay will be published on Monday. The title is “Mental Health and the Law.”

    I also find it odd that there is no discussion here of the very common sexual dimension to serial killers’ behavior. Often the impulse to kill seems to stem from a sexual impulse, coupled with some degree of self-loathing over it.

    Serial killers tend to be men, yes, but they also tend to target sexually attractive objects, as per whatever sexual orientation they have. Jeffrey Dahmer was gay and evidently attracted to very young ethnic men. Ted Bundy was straight and targeted young women instead. And so forth.

    I wonder whether changes to our sexual mores or sexual culture would be capable of reducing or increasing the number of serial killers. It seems evident that the rise of cities in the industrial era made serial killing easier, although earlier examples certainly exist. Now that so many people live in or near urban eras, that trend may have stabilized. Would it be possible, somehow, to give these people some outlet either for their sex drive or their associated feelings, such that the did not desire to kill? I don’t know.


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