23 September 2008

Mass Murder in Finland

For the second year in a row Finland has witnessed a mass shooting. This time the perpetrator killed ten people, by the latest count, before killing himself. Matti Juhani Saari was a thoughtcrime suspect shortly before the killings because he had posted videos on YouTube showing himself carrying a gun and issuing general threats. The local authorities found no cause to detain him, however. Before you draw zero-tolerance conclusions from this, we ought to know how many people in Finland or any other country are questioned for provocative videos and statements, and how many of those, in any given country, live up to their threats. My hunch is that the great majority are just venting through their creativity, such as it may be, and thus make themselves harmless to society as a whole. People who want to crack down on such exhibitionism might want to consider how subjects will respond if they're denied that outlet.

The MSNBC report notes that Finland has the third-highest (reported) gun ownership rate in the world after the United States and Yemen. This site shows that Finland is not so highly rated in the category of per-capita murder, -- nor, for that matter, is the United States, -- but by scrolling down the page you'll see that the statistics are vigorously contested for a variety of reasons. I'm not sure if per-capita is necessarily the most accurate way to show the impact of violent crime in any particular country. Murders as a percentage of the total population might tell a different story, for instance. I don't know if Finland would go up the chart by that measurement, but by any standard two massacres in two years is an alarming statistic, a warning that your country is going the mad way of the United States.

Stories like these are a problem for gun-rights advocates because they don't really fit their preferred categories. For the NRA and similar entities, the paradigm that justifies gun ownership is crime in the conventional sense of the mugger on the street or the home invader. Mass shootings don't fit this model of crime. As I've argued in the past, they come closer to terrorism, albeit with cultural differences expressed in the object, mode and tools of attack. Much as we imagine the suicide-terrorist to be, the mass shooter is "undeterrable." He is not a rational actor who will calculate the costs and benefits of his scheme. Often he is determined to commit suicide or "suicide-by-cop" to climax his adventure. He wants to see people die and is willing to die to make it happen. The only solution the gun-nuts can propose is to arm the public more generally in the hope that someone in a threatened crowd will be able to pick off the shooter with deadly accuracy without sparking a Wild West shootout that only adds to the casualty list.

Rather than risk exacerbating the violence, more reasonably people ought to ask every time how many people the latest shooter would have killed if he couldn't shoot? I don't deny that people had murderous impulses, perhaps even mass-murderous ones, before the invention of firearms. But how many would Juhani Saari have killed if he only had a knife or even a sword, before someone or some group of targets summoned the courage to jump him? After all, unarmed people on board United 93 on September 11, 2001, were willing to fight terrorists armed with box-cutters, even though some had guessed that they were doomed one way or another. They did not need guns to save the White House or whatever those hijackers were targeting. All they needed was the courage to do what was necessary, which perhaps some people can't summon without guns in their hands. Concede that point and you might also admit that many murder-minded people wouldn't have the courage to embark on their dreamed-of massacres without guns that let them strike from afar. Mass shootings like the atrocity in Finland are the best argument for greater gun control, but the argument shouldn't have to be made so often. You'd think most people would get it after the first few times, but some live just as completely in a fantasy world as do the killers they imagine themselves gunning down.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bravo! A point most eloquently made.