The previous worst gun massacre by a deranged individual is thought to have been in the Colombian capital of Bogota in December 1986 when a Vietnam war veteran went berserk and killed 30 people in six hours in three city locations. In April 1982 an off-duty South Korean police officer, Woo Bum Kong, went on a drunken rampage in Sang-Namdo killing 57 people and wounding 38 before blowing himself up. The death toll was so high because he used grenades as well as automatic weapons.
Britain's worst gun massacre came just last month, on 13 March, when Thomas Hamilton killed 16 young children and their teacher in a a school gym in Dunblane, Scotland. He later turned the gun on himself. An inquiry is to be held on how Hamilton, who had a chequered past in running boys groups and who was obsessed with clearing his name against rumours of being a pervert, was able to get and keep a firearms licence.
The previous worst in Britain was in August 1987, when Michael Ryan went on the rampage on the streets of Hungerford, Berkshire, shooting 16 people, including his mother. He later killed himself.
But it is in the United States that mass shooting incidents have recurred with horrifying regularity, with one every couple of years for the last two decades.
The grim pattern for such random killings was set in August 1966. A student, Charles Whitman, became the archetypal lone gunman when he killed 14 people from a 27-storey clock tower at the University of Texas after first murdering his wife and mother. He was later shot dead by police .
The worst gun incident in the US was on 16 October 1991, when an unemployed man, George Hennard, 35, gunned down and killed 23 people in 10 minutes at Luby's cafeteria, Killeen in Texas. Twenty more were injured. Hennard, who lived alone, apparently blamed women for his problems. As police moved in he shot himself.
Another fast-food outlet was the scene of another massacre in the US, when an out-of-work security guard, James Huberty, went on a killing spree at a McDonald's. It was on 18 July 1984, at the branch in San Ysidro, near San Diego, that the killer shot 21 people dead. As he did so he drank soft drinks and danced to music on his portable radio. Police marksmen eventually shot him dead.
On Christmas Day 1987, Gene Simmons, 45, killed 16 after being jilted by his girlfriend. In this case some of the victims, including his children and grandchildren, were strangled while adult relatives were dispatched with a gun. Simmons was executed three years later.
Another mass killing in the US was in August 1986. A loner, Pat Sherrill, 44, went on a rampage at a post office in Edmond, Oklahoma and killed 14 people. He was about to be sacked. The experienced marksman moved from room to room, checking to see whether his victims were dead, before turning the gun on himself.Reuse content