Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Elliot Leyton on Virginia Shooting Rampage

In an interview with CBCs Diana Swain anthropologist Elliot Leyton explained his theory about why mass murderers kill. He said they typically have a sense of exclusion and alienation, and feel worthless. They incubate a campaign of vengeance, having experienced a long period of frustration and rage. They seek revenge on those they perceive have provoked their misery. Leyton said they know that they will be killed by police anyway, so the event is actually a suicide and the killings are a suicide note.

Dr. Leyton mentioned that there may be another possible factor in mass murders like this. He said that this may be part a renewed wave of violence. He alludes to a theory first put forward by sociologists Dane Archer and Rosemary Gardner, which says that when a country is participating in a war, and when the war is coming to an end, people become more desensitized to violence, and the murder rate will go up radically.

The 33 dead and over 20 injured were all shot, and the gun debate is also on the rise. One argument says that had the killer been wielding a knife as opposed to a gun, the chances of so many being killed would have likely been much lower because the killer would have to be in physical contact with the victim rather than kill from various distances.

Of course guns do not make the killer, and someone with the characteristics that Leyton described will find some weapon to get revenge. But society needs to continue finding out more about the murderers. What about them, or what about society has affected their behaviours and feelings about the world around them? If the killers feel excluded and frustrated, what does that tell us about them, their upbringing, our culture and human interaction? For example, is societal greed or competition a factor in making them feel excluded or worthless? Does society need to change the way it values people and individuality?

This, the worst mass murder by gun in U.S. history, will be talked of for years to come. Hopefully more insight into whatever factors influenced the shooter will come to light and the chances of this happening again will decrease over time.

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