White Lightning

The media attention focused on massacre of children at Sandy Hook  has made it easy to forget there are two kinds of killers on the loose. Statistically most children killed are from the inner cities and mostly black. The Children’s Defense Fund notes that the firearm injuries rate for children and teens is 5 per 100,000 for whites and 51.1 per 100,000 for blacks. And most of the deaths don’t happen in Sandy Hook, in universities or theaters in Colorado but in (by descending order) New Orleans, St. Louis, Oakland, Newark, Baltimore, Richmond, Miami, Washington DC, Detroit and Cincinnati. About 2,800 children and teens are killed per year. Every year.


Representative of these child deaths is Heaven Sutton, 7, who was shot outside her Chicago home while tending to her lemonade and candy stand.  Her killer is probably poorly educated and bought his weapon from the back of a van. It is doubtful that her killer actually intended to even harm her. Police she was killed gang related incident and we can surmise that the shooter, perhaps firing his gun sideways as shown on TV  or  arm weighed down by dollar store bling discharged his bullets more or less at random and they hit little Sutton. Statistically it is this kind of killer who is the most deadly to children.

But when we are talking about perps who kill big time in individual incidents the great majority of perpetrators are apparently crazy white boys, who to paraphrase Stephen Hunter are the “meanest, deadliest animal on the loose”. The good news is there aren’t that many of them, relatively speaking. The bad news is that they are almost impossible to stop.

If the massacre of children is largely black and their execution largely the result of nameless statistical violence, for reasons that are still poorly understood, most mass killers appear to be “white” — including in that category Asians and persons of Middle Eastern origin.

Their crimes, according to J. Reid Meloy, writing in the Oxford University Press blog, are meticulously planned and executed. He says that “research consistently shows that mass murderers research, plan, and prepare for their act of violence for days, weeks, and even months. The fantasy may have incubated in their minds for years, even though the time, place, and target had yet to be determined.”

There is no way to predict them. In fact, Melloy refers to them as basically unforseeable “rare events” akin an asteroid strike or lightning. They seem to come straight out of the clear blue.  While the small time inner city gangster may often kill for a recognizably human motive — money, revenge, jealousy or the influence of drugs — the ‘crazy white boy’ by contrast, marches to a mysterious, unheard drummer, killing people he has never met for no apparent reason or for the most abstract or bizarre of motives. Melloy writes that:


I have forensically evaluated a number of mass murderers in prison or forensic hospitals, and with few exceptions, there was no evidence of a high state of emotional arousal when the killings occurred. Witnesses who have survived mass murders invariably describe the shooter as cool, calm, and deliberate — a lack of emotion that is a corollary of planned violence …

In mass murder, however, drug use is minimal … because the mass murderer does not want drugs to cloud his consciousness at the time. They could interfere with his planning, preparation, and most importantly, his tactical goal, which is often to maximize his casualty rate. We even found two cases where the mass murderer utilized therapeutic amounts of sedating drugs to help him remain calm during the shooting.

They did it as calmly as lighting a cigarette back when people smoked cigarettes. It is the combination of intelligence, secrecy, and cunning preparation that make the Lanza type killer so hard to head off except by lucky discovery.

This stopped Richard Reid from bringing down an airplane over the Atlantic in December 2001, when a passenger noticed he was trying to light his sneaker with a match. It contributed to the prevention of another ideologically driven mass murder in Times Square on 1 May 2010 when two street vendors noticed a suspicious van parked on a busy corner and alerted the police; two days later Faisal Shahzad was arrested as he sat on a plane at Kennedy bound for Dubai. Such situational awareness is critical to interdict someone in the final stages of an attack.

Accidental discovery may have almost stopped Jared Lee Loughner from shooting Gabrielle Giffords. “He was stopped by an Arizona Game and Fish Department officer at 7:34 a.m. for running a red light, but once the officer determined there were no outstanding warrants for Loughner, he was allowed to proceed to his destination with a warning to drive carefully.” Loughner then took a taxi to the scene of his intended attack, eliminating the possibility of another traffic stop. Why take chances.


For the crazy white guy, firearms seem almost incidental. In fact in the worst cases of mass murder, they are not even used. Andrew Kehoe blew up 42 people in a school with dynamite, including 39 children, in 1927. Timothy McVeigh killed “168 people, including 19 children in the day care center on the second floor, and injured 450 others” with explosive made from fertilizer. Jim Jones, killed 909 people by convincing them to drink poisoned Kool-Aid out of buckets. He only used firearms to kill Congressman Leo Ryan who had arrived to investigate the Jonestown site.

No guns in Japan? No problem. Shoko Asahara and his disciples manufactured sarin in a homemade laboratory to kill 13 people in the Tokyo subway. No guns in Europe? No problem. Anders Breivik killed 77 and injured 242 people by legally obtaining guns and manufacturing home-made explosives in Norway.

And of course, lest anyone forget, the September 11 attackers killed nearly 3,000 people and injured more than 6,000 people using box cutters obtainable for a few dollars you can buy from any craft store. The crazy white boy’s major weapon is his mind,  very often magnified by a high level of education.

Intelligence was something that Breivik, McVeigh, Jones, Holmes, Lanza and Bin Laden apparently had plenty of. They gamed their attacks, maintained operational security and even created trails of disinformation. Lanza has for example even destroyed his computer to conceal his motives from the police even after his death. He’s so far ahead of the cops they can’t even begin to understand why he did it. Asahara’s men had a light automatic weapons manufacturing department and even possessed antidotes for sarin. The school-bomber Kehoe tried his devices out on farm animals for size. Breivik even started a farm to buy fertilizer to concoct explosives.


A black gangster might kill a child by accident. But a crazy white boy will kill people he’s never met for reasons of politics, religion, flying saucers or simply because he likes to. That’s what makes him so hard to stop.

Clearly anyone who expects an ‘assault weapons’ ban or simplistic limitation on firearms to stop the next 911 or reduce the massacre of black children in the inner cities is bound to be disappointed. It is ineffective against the one and irrelevant for the other. It might make us feel better. But for those who simply looking for some way to stop mass killings, reforming the mental health system may be the place to start.

A study in the Netherlands showed that “psychotic patients are 10 to 20 times more likely to commit homicide than persons in the general population. Internationally, the incidence of homicides committed by psychotic defendants is 0.02-0.36 per 100.000 inhabitants.” That means there may be upwards of 7 million psychotics in the American population capable of murder. Alas some of them are bound to be extremely smart; some very well educated and even worse, some of clever enough to pass for sane and rise to positions of responsibility and power.

If you are looking for a silver lining in the Sandy Hook killings consider this: what if Holmes or Lanza had grown up and acquired access to major labs and resources?

Clayton Cramer says that studies have shown that one of the biggest single factors accounting for differences in homicide rates between states is the way they treat the criminally insane.

The reason that more mental-health services and more relaxed involuntary-commitment standards make such a difference in murder rates is very simple: Mentally ill persons are disproportionately involved in violent crimes, including murder. As of 2002, about 26,000 inmates in state prisons across the United States who were convicted of murder were also mentally ill. A detailed examination of Indiana prison inmates convicted of murder found that 18 percent were diagnosed with “schizophrenia or other psychotic disorder, major depression, mania, or bipolar disorder.” Many of the random mass murders that have so plagued not only the United States but many other industrialized societies in the last few years were committed by persons with clear evidence of severe mental illness, usually schizophrenia.


Controlling weapons is one thing. But there is always the human factor which often proves more important. Which is a way, I guess of saying, that you are safer in alone room with a sane man with a 50 caliber machine gun than with Hannibal Lecter and a small shard of glass.


The Most Dangerous Game

Once you start looking at mass killings from a person-centered point of view your security model changes. The worst serial killer in British history — you know the Britain without guns — was Dr. Harold Shipman, MD, who killed more than 250 people. The biggest mass murders were committed without guns for the simple reason that guns are a poor choice for mass killing. Poison, fire, explosives, big kinetic objects or as in the case of Dr. Shipman — trust — were much more efficient killers.

The disadvantage of guns is they have to be aimed and their report warns other victims of potential danger.  These deficiencies mean firearms are only capable of substantial mass killing when used in conjunction with favorable topology. Anders Breivik could shoot a lot of people because they were cooped up on an island. Similarly Lanza and Holmes exploited the confines of a theater or a classroom to obtain their effect. No favorable topology, no mass killing capability.

Malls, schools, auditoria and other limited access facilities should never be filled with people unless they are secured by armed guards. Every gathering of this type should be provided with security otherwise they are mere killing zones. Standard drills which exacerbate the fatal topology are potential catastrophes; thus procedures which emphasize herding kids or people into one place under the dubious protection of an unarmed teacher or designated person are disasters waiting to happen.

The reason guards are more effective than they might seem is because they put a man in the loop. They may not stop a killer but they increase the probability of accidental discovery by installing a set of eyeballs — however sleepy or rheumy — in the path of the killer.


If you simply rely on managing things — issuing a law decreeing the banishment of guns and then put kids in a limited access gun-free tower what’s to keep a person from burning down the the tower block? And if he does get a gun by manufacturing one himself — like a Sten — then you’ve simply created a target rich environment.

The logical thing would be to teach kids to scatter in a mass shooting situation and provide the exits through which to flee. This is a proven method. When there was no escort for a convoy what did they do in World War 2 when battleships or massed submarines attacked? Convoy to scatter. Don’t hang around for the wolfpack.

The right security model isn’t managing things, it’s managing the threat process. And that consists classically of the Four D’s. Detect, Deter, Delay, Defend. Detect the wacko. Deter the wacko. Delay, by guards or by obstacles the wacko and finally Defend. There was an academic recently who tweeted: “First fucker to say the solution is for elementary school teachers to carry guns needs to get beaten to death.”

There’s an example your crazy white boy right there. But I wouldn’t worry about him too much. He seems too stupid to be dangerous.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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