Lights, Camera, Action

Most commentators have stopped saying Derrick Bird “snapped” and are now thrashing around instead to find his motive. I think we may need to go back forty years for that. Derrick Bird was born in 1957, and I think it may be significant that he was born within a few years of two other mass-murders, Michael Ryan (Hungerford) born in 1960, Thomas Hamilton (Dunblane) born in 1952. So I think it’s not the year they committed their crime that matters, nor their age at the time, but that they were young and impressionable when Hollywood released films such as these:

Get Carter (1971)
High Plains Drifter (1973)
Death Wish (1974)
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

These were highly acclaimed ultra-violent films that dealt with retribution, portraying a solitary individual successfully exacting revenge and being widely admired by the cinema-going pubic for it. Allowing of course that each of these three murderers had different “triggers” that prompted them to put their fantasies into effect, I do think it’s possible films such as these could have provided them with a rationale for their actions. That was to settle scores and die in a blaze of glory. In their world, the outcomes were justified.

Here’s the score-settling tally for Bird: He settled scores with his brother and the family solicitor over a family dispute; he settled scores with his taxi-driving colleagues over alleged fare stealing; he tried to settle a score with a scuba-diving instructor; and he targeted passers-by seemingly at random. I wonder if they weren’t as random as we imagine, but perhaps they represented fare-paying passengers who he felt had disrespected him in some way. I can certainly imagine as a taxi driver he might have a problem with cyclists. I’m not saying all taxi drivers do or should, but seeing as he now seems to be an intolerant individual maybe he saw cyclists generally as a nuisance. So, see one, kill one. Likewise if he sees someone who reminds him of passengers who never tip, or someone who might have thrown-up in his cab once, or maybe even the guy who robbed him. It’s death by association.

You need the means and you need the motive to carry out something like this, but I think you also crucially need the self-justification.

Outrage >> Knee >> Jerk

It had to happen. It’s been years since we had a shooting outrage, but within minutes of the latest one, and on the basis of no knowledge whatsoever, we have the first knee-jerk reactions calling for tighter gun control.

First of all it has been reported that this guy held his license for 15 years. Is there any possibility whatsoever we could make gun license applicants wait fifteen years to see if they were going to do anything stupid? On top of all the other existing conditions and restrictions? Would that work? Of course not. In the 15 years he held his license, some 750 people (as near as I can find out right now) have been shot dead by people not licensed to carry guns.

It is suggested that he “snapped”, perhaps provoked in a family dispute. It has also been reported he told a taxi driver he’d argued with the night before, “There’s going to be a rampage tomorrow,” and then he went home and armed himself with two weapons. He was dissuaded on that occasion by a friend’s daughter. I feel desperately sorry for her right now, how must she feel? But at that point, even then could he have been stopped? How many people get angry but never follow through? Could she have reported him? What if it turned out he was only making an idle threat? It must happen a million times. How about the hospital where he is supposed to have gone for help, only to be turned away?

In the event, after killing his twin brother, he calmly went to the home of the family solicitor, waited for him and killed him, before going to Whitehaven to settle a grudge with former co-drivers. That done, and all in cold blood, he went off on his killing spree. It doesn’t seem to me he “snapped”, he made a calculated decision and followed it through. Even the killing of his brother could not have been a “snap” decision, it occurred at a quarry and not at the home of either of them. So they met there, and Bird took his guns with him.

How do we legislate against that, other than “No guns, no way”? I think everyone who’s asking that question right now is asking the wrong question. I would be much more interested in a debate about personal responsibility. He was able to rationalise his actions before he took them. How did he get there? I think that’s the more frightening aspect.