A Brief History
On April 26, 1982, South Korean police officer Woo Bum-kon killed 56 people (and himself) while wounding another 35 in a single night of mayhem, the worst single person mass murder incident in history (until eclipsed by the Norway attack in 2011 in which 77 were killed) up to that point. Woo was a former Korean Marine and apparently was angry with his girlfriend. Mass murders do NOT only occur in the US, and do NOT require civilian owned firearms to occur.
South Korea has a civilian gun ownership rate of only about 1.1 firearms per 100 residents, approximately 1% of the American rate of guns per person. This low ownership rate of private weapons puts South Korea at #149 on the list of gun ownership rates in the entire world, and yet we find this 1982 incident being a record setting tragedy at the time. Woo had roughed up his girlfriend, been drinking, and stormed off to the military reserve armory where he got his hands on 2 World War II era M-2 carbines (fully automatic versions of the US M-1 Carbine) as well as several hand grenades.
The incredible rampage Woo went on included killings on the street, at a post office/telephone exchange, a market (where he shot and killed a 16 year old boy after having the teen fetch him a soda), and even private homes. Police were alerted to the rampage within minutes of its start, but took an hour to respond with SWAT type forces. National police headquarters were not informed until over 4 hours into the incident! Meanwhile, Woo went to other homes to continue killing, including one home where he was invited in for dinner, and began massacring the guests when one mentioned that Woo’s ammunition looked fake! Woo was eventually cornered in a farmhouse where he held the family hostage, eventually killing himself and 3 family members by detonating 2 grenades. As is often the case, an unarmed population was powerless to defend itself by a lunatic that used explosives as well as firearms not obtained through legal channels.
The previously mentioned Norway incident of July 22, 2011 happened when another deranged man set off a homemade car bomb that killed 8 people and injured another 209 (12 seriously). This murderer then took a ferry to an island where a youth camp sponsored by the ruling political party was taking place. With no police on the island, and no privately held firearms in the hands of the people there, the crowd was defenseless against the homicidal maniac who went on to kill 69 people there and injure another 110 (55 seriously). A hunter and firearm owner with a clean criminal record, the shooter failed to obtain additional firearms in the Czech Republic, so he returned to Norway and went through the careful legal process of obtaining permits to purchase a rifle and a pistol which he used in the attacks. Once again, meticulous background checks did not stop a mass murderer, and his use of a bomb proved explosives can kill many people as well as firearms. The gunman in this incident was a right wing extremist and was sentenced to 21 years confinement, the maximum penalty in Norway. (The sentence can be extended for psychiatric necessity.)
In Toronto, Ontario, Canada on April 23, 2018, Alek Minassian age 25 was arrested after driving a van into a crowd of people, killing 10 and injuring 13 in the worst mass killing in Canada in 30 years. Alek’s motives are not yet clear, but it appears he has some sort of grudge against females that apparently do not find him attractive and men who are successful in their pursuit of females. (He relates to an American mass murderer that suffered the same mental frame of mind.) Again, a firearm is not essential to a deranged person intent on killing innocent strangers. The previous mass murder we referred to from 3 decades ago was the Marc Lepine killings in Montreal, Quebec in 1989, once again inspired by a hatred of women (he claimed he was fighting “feminism”). Lepine used a legally purchased firearm after going through the rigorous Canadian background check application process, even though he had previously shown indications of psychiatric disorders, including being turned down for military service because of his personality problems, suicide threats, and drug use.
In 2016 in Japan, a mentally disturbed man killed 19 people using a knife as his murder weapon at a home for disabled people. The attacker turned himself in to the police afterwards. Another 26 people were injured, 13 seriously. In another Japanese knife attack in Osaka, Japan in 2001, a 37 year old former janitor killed 8 children and injured another 15 (13 seriously). That murderer had been diagnosed with a personality disorder. Both of these incidents demonstrate that a firearm is not essential to commit mass murder.
In fact, the worst school massacre in American history occurred in 1927 when a 55 year old man in Michigan killed his family and then blew up a school and himself with 500 pounds of explosives, killing 38 children, 2 teachers, himself and 4 other people in the blast. His presumed excuse? Losing an election as town clerk and high taxes. No gun needed by this nut.
In 2016 in Nice (not so “nice” of the perpetrator), France, a terrorist (Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel) managed to kill 86 people by driving a truck into a crowd, injuring another 434 innocent persons. The killer was a terrorist operating in support of radical Islamic beliefs. This particular incident resulted in a tragedy of similar proportions to the 2017 Las Vegas massacre at the MGM Resorts in which a 64 year old American using a slew of semi-automatic rifles (some with “bump stock” adapters for more rapid fire) gunned down 59 people and wounded another 422. The comparison is a clear indication that the worst mass shooting in American history can easily be eclipsed by a lunatic with a truck. Of course the worst mass murder in American history was the 9/11 attacks, in which jetliners were used as weapons, killing far more people than anyone with a firearm ever could.
As the above incidents indicate, maniacal killers do not necessarily reside in the United States, nor do they have to have a firearm to commit mass murder. The knee-jerk reaction of banning military style semi-automatic rifles and carbines might make gun control advocates feel good, but in reality, does little if anything to make our country and our children safer. Only 1 in 400 firearm murders are committed with a rifle of ANY type, let alone an assault rifle look-alike. In fact, twice as many murders are committed unarmed than with rifles of any type in the US! The number of people killed with the AR-15 or AK-47 type rifles each year in the United States is an incredibly tiny number compared to other murder weapons (knives account for about 7 times more murders than all types of rifles combined), and yet we are laser focused on stopping this “imminent threat” to our well being, while largely ignoring the clear and present danger of opioid overdose deaths that account for twice the number of firearms deaths (from all causes, including suicide and self-defense) and medical mistakes that kill as many as 10 times the number of Americans killed with firearms!
All of the above information is readily available in official US Government studies and statistics and in mainstream media stories and does not come from any right wing conspiracy theory sources. Balancing the rights of Americans to protect themselves, their families, and their liberty against the rights of other Americans to be safe and secure is not all that simple. Demands about seizing weapons or depriving rights of mentally ill people is likewise not so easy. The ACLU and other progressive groups are alarmed by any actions taken that do not include fair due process, and understandably so. How we define a debilitating mental illness and how to go about achieving such a diagnosis must be carefully considered and delineated, along with fair and expedient methods of addressing challenges to such actions taken to limit a citizen’s access to firearms (or any other limitation of rights).
As always, we eagerly await your input into suggestions about how we can go about protecting society from deranged, dangerous people without infringing on the rights of other, law abiding people to protect themselves and enjoy shooting sports. The concept is not so “common sense” as some publicly state, as is the case with many of societal issues.
UPDATE, April 22, 2020: On April 18-19, 2020, a 51 year old resident of Nova Scotia, Canada, went on a shooting rampage that left 22 victims dead. The shooter, who had made up his SUV to look like an RCMP police vehicle and had donned an RCMP look-alike uniform prior to the shooting gunned down defenseless victims that apparently did not have or at least did not use firearms to defend themselves. When police finally caught up with the mass murderer, a shootout ensued and the murderer was killed. One of the victims fatally shot was an RCMP veteran of 23 years, the mother of 2 children. In a typical display of political buffoonery, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, vowed to create new and stricter gun control measures, including an “assault weapons” ban. This before he and we even knew what kind of guns the shooter used and how those guns had been obtained.
Question for students (and subscribers): Are any of these stories or statistics news to you? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Fox, Fridel and Levin. Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder. SAGE Publications, 2018.
Grant, Duwe. Mass Murder in the United States: A History. McFarland & Company, 2007.
Lott, John Jr. More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun-Control Laws. University Of Chicago Press, 2000.