Ed West Ed West

The California spree killer: why is that loser’s face all over the media?

Last Saturday a young man in southern California murdered six people. I’m not going to name him or link to his picture because you would have probably seen it anyway, and he does not deserve to be remembered except by his family. He achieved nothing.

One of the depressing inevitabilities of such atrocities is the eagerness with which people in the media jump to some sort of political explanation; since many of these killers are men hateful of women or other people generally, and are obsessed with guns, some commentators put this in a wider context of political conflict where scant evidence actually exists.

If we were to draw a counter, conservative political explanation we might as well blame modern sexual mores that create intense and frustrating sexual competition, or point out that such killers are more likely to come from broken homes, or play lots of computer games.

But such explanations are unhelpful because spree killings are an anomaly. Such a tiny, tiny proportion of men from broken homes or misogynists or computer game addicts or virgins open fire on schoolmates that it’s fairer to say that such massacres are truly meaningless. Perhaps that is harder to take because it suggests that the victims are not martyrs for a political cause and their deaths were just a tragedy.

There is analysis to be done on the reasons and the patterns involved (and there is a profile of spree killers – late adolescents, male, white or Asian, not especially successful with women), but it would be more usefully conducted in the dry atmosphere of academia rather than the comment pages.

One thing a lot of experts do say about spree killings, a phenomenon that really took off in the mid-1990s (although there were cases before that), is that the killers are to some extent seeking fame and meaning in their otherwise pointless lives.

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