The 'cocktail of risk' behind senseless shootings

14th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

The debate over tougher gun laws intensified as Germany mourned 15 people gunned down near Stuttgart by a teenager who took his father's gun and went on a vicious rampage in his old school, and the United States agonised over an unemployed Alabama man's killing of his mother and nine others.

Berlin -- Politicians and experts on both sides of the Atlantic are squaring up to calls for tougher gun laws and tighter monitoring of video games, after two more horrific massacres.

The debate over tougher gun laws intensified as Germany mourned 15 people gunned down near Stuttgart by a teenager who took his father's gun and went on a vicious rampage in his old school, and the United States agonised over an unemployed Alabama man's killing of his mother and nine others.

Alabama has some of the most liberal gun laws in the US.

On Thursday, a 17-year-old boy was also detained in Sweden, suspected of threatening a copycat gun attack on his school after posting a picture of himself with a weapon on an Internet forum with a threatening message, police said.

Jens Hoffman, an expert who has studied more than 30 mass killings in Finland, Germany and the US, told German radio that "all of these acts, without exception, are preceded by clearly identifiable signals (of intent)."

Mirjam Kalland, the head of a Finnish child protection group, said parents, school authorities and psychologists have to "react promptly to warning signals" including efforts to obtain arms and combat clothing, or expressions of anger in Internet chat-rooms.

Finland announced plans Wednesday to toughen handgun laws -- raising the minimum age for a handgun permit from 18 to 20 -- after two school or college massacres in less than a year left 20 people dead there.

And for all the power of the gun lobby in the US, experts largely agree that gun control is a no-brainer.

"The combination of access to weapons, training and training your brain through violent video games, creates a cocktail of risk," says Peter Gill, professor of educational science at Gavle in Sweden.

"It's a thing to want to kill people but you have to get access to weapons and to be able to use them. Why is it so easy for young people to train and to get access to weapons whereas teenagers can't smoke and can't drink in some countries before 21?"

Gill also believes it is naive to dismiss the impact of video games in channelling anger, noting that "when you're playing violent video games you can do so against real opponents (over the Internet)... video games are much closer to reality than we thought."

Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, refuses to believe that "someone gets up on a given morning and decides to kill 10 people.

"When you look at democracies with tough gun laws, you see much lower rates of gun death and homicide," he says. "Britain, for example, has about 74 gun homicides a year. We have more than 12,000 here in the US."

James Treadwell of Leicester University in England cautions that the Dublane shooting in Scotland, where Thomas Hamilton killed 16 pupils and their teacher before turning his gun on himself in 1996, was carried out with arms obtained legally.

Likewise, Treadwell says the link to video games for all -- the German teen, an adept at the violent game "Counter-Strike," had signalled his intent via an Internet chat-room -- is "inherently problematic."

However, Everitt says reducing the number of lives lost in such senseless circumstances is not rocket science.

"This is not magic, how you prevent this. You prevent it through sound laws so that when someone buys a gun you actually have an idea about their criminal and mental history," he said.

"That's not going to prevent every single tragedy in the book, but it's going to save a lot of lives."

Arnaud Bouvier/AFP/Expatica

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