It is, of course, pure coincidence that the latest shooting massacre in the United States – in the Denver suburb of Aurora – should have taken place just a couple of days before yesterday's anniversary of the mass killings in Norway by Anders Breivik. But the response to both was the predictable call for tighter gun control, along with much handwringing on this side of the Atlantic about what seems the extraordinary and deeply alien American cult of the gun.
Tighter gun laws – and their proper enforcement – however, are not all that these tragedies are about. And it is simplistic to believe that more rigorous licensing, background checks and restrictions on purchasing, while perhaps cramping the style of would-be gunmen, would prevent each and every one of them.
Whatever the court decides about the nature of Breivik's responsibility for the killings in Norway, his motivation has never been challenged. His warped view of the world, as evinced in his prolific writings, led him to believe that his country was degenerating and that he and his guns were all that stood between Norway and perdition. He was able to act on his fears, even though Norway's gun laws can hardly be described as lax.
With the Aurora killings, comparisons have been made with the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, not so very far away. And the parallels are striking: another aggrieved individual, another huge – and legal – hoard of weapons and ammunition, another lethal scenario planned in intricate detail. But many of the same characteristics also apply to Breivik, and indeed to the perpetrators of other mass killings on either side of the Atlantic.
Here we have aggrieved individuals who feel alienated from a society, or a social circle, that is at once highly competitive and highly conformist. It is unrealistic to expect the US to Europeanise its gun laws – it has resisted many opportunities to do so – nor, as Breivik's crime shows, would it necessarily prevent future atrocities. The demons that drive mass killers are about more than the availability of guns.Reuse content