OPINION: Like millions of people all over the planet, I felt genuine sympathy and regret when I heard the first reports of the Sandy Hook school shooting. Despite the obvious tragic implications, my first thoughts were: This is another massacre by some male assailant who has simply slipped over the edge for some reason or another.
This reason continues to elude thousands of experts who have applied considerable time and resources to this question.
What is known is that this modern phenomenon has dramatically increased in frequency since the 1980s. Among the many theories as to what has driven it, some surmise that it is connected to the media portrayal of killers as heroes hell-bent on exacting revenge when they believe they have been disrespected or dishonoured. Others argue that new technologies and multimedia overload depersonalise the act of murder and teenagers are subliminally confused when those dying in one week return to life the next and victims are given no attention.
Apparently 60 per cent of mass murderers also have some history of diagnosed mental illness but the oft-touted theory that they are all isolated loners from dysfunctional homes is not founded in fact. Many are sociable and well connected. The schoolyard murderers, though, do seem to have some common experiences as victims of bullying.
Pseudocommando is a new term coined to describe the mass murderer who kills in public during the daytime, meticulously plans his attack and comes with an arsenal of weaponry. He expects to be killed during his assault and is most likely driven by feelings of anger and resentment about being persecuted.
The common story behind workplace psychopaths is of a worker being made redundant or fired and returning to their workplace to shoot bosses and colleagues. Think Michael Douglas in Falling Down. The modern social pressure on working-class and middle-class males to be able to provide enough for their family to indulge all of their consumer-based whims can be quite overwhelming. To have that capacity whipped away can be a shameful experience which, in some cases, has led to rage and murderous rampage.
When it came to Sandy Hook, it was nearly 48 hours before I realised that all of the children who were killed were between the ages of 6 and 8. My detached sympathy suddenly gave way to shock.
It was clear when President Obama choked up while announcing his condolences, and also when the city coroner broke down on camera, that this tragedy had affected people in quite a different manner.
Initial observations are that the Connecticut tragedy may well be a catalyst for genuine dialogue on reducing access to certain guns in the United States. This is promising but, even though for 15-year-olds to 24-year-olds firearm homicide rates in the US are 42.7 times higher than in other Western countries, it is not access to guns that is the problem. When it comes to mass murder, the combination of modern societal influences outlined above are more important than the ease with which someone may be able to buy a gun.
We do not fully understand the impact of unregulated access to multimedia stimulation, or the pressure to keep up with consumerist expectations when standard-of-living increases far outstrip family income increases.
Because of these factors, this type of event is very clearly on the increase and last week 20 little primary schoolchildren had to die in terror at the hands of someone, still a kid himself, who appears to have exploded in some fit of irrational juvenile rage.
In doing so, he has condemned the parents to a lifetime of nightmares and horror awakenings as, morning after morning, the realisation that their babies have been murdered creeps up on them again.
With kids of my own the same age, I couldn't start to imagine how I might cope if I was standing outside a barrier at our local school and the bloodied, broken little body of my child was carried out on a stretcher.
For many of those parents, the Mayan-calendar predictions that the world will end today could not come too soon. Having the earth open up and swallow them would be welcome relief.
Will they ever have a merry Christmas again? I doubt it very much.
- The Press