Politics & Policy

Mass Murder without Guns

French police secure the scene where a heavy truck drove into a crowd at high speed in Nice, France, July 15, 2016. (Eric Gaillard/France)
We’re focusing on the wrong thing.

There is much focus this week on the role of guns in mass murders. But the history of such atrocities teaches us that other methods can be just as effective.

I am currently creating an encyclopedia of mass murder in America and have catalogued 504 incidents so far. Common methods used throughout our history include axes, hatchets, blunt objects, knives, hanging, drowning, poison gas, poison, fire, and aircraft (and not just on 9/11). Some of the rarer weapons demonstrate that where there is an evil will, there is a way. Scythes. Blowtorches.

Of course, the axes and hatchets were around because they were needed in an age when people cooked over wood stoves. I can imagine axe-control fanatics in 1890 arguing that “an axe in your home is more likely to be used against you than against an intruder.” And perhaps it would have been true: The “Church of the Sacrifice” slaughtered dozens of families with their own axes in the early 20th century.

Even today, there are a lot of non-firearm mass murders in America: In USA Today’s collection of mass murders for the period 2006 to 2017, nearly a quarter were done without guns. And most of them you have probably not heard about because they do not advance the Left’s cause of disarming the peasants.

There’s the 1973 mass murder at a gay bar in New Orleans that killed 32: An ejected customer went down the street and bought a can of cigarette-lighter fluid. And the 87 murdered in New York City in 1990: A guy upset with his ex-girlfriend bought $1 worth of gasoline. In 1986 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, union officers put pressure on an employer by using camp-stove gas to murder 97. On July 5 of this year, a guy in Port Angeles, Wash., burned his trailer, killing his wife and three children. Did you see that on CNN?

Nations with strict gun-control laws still have mass murders. One man stabbed to death five people with a kitchen knife at a Calgary party. After the 1996 Port Arthur mass murder, Australia banned most semiautomatic rifles, but they still have mass murders: eight siblings killed in a mass stabbing in Queensland; five bludgeoned to death in Sydney in 2009. Mass murders by arson are also a problem in such countries. Palace Backpackers Hostel in Childers, Queensland, was intentionally burned in 2000, killing 15. The 2011 Quakers Hill Nursing Home fire killed eleven, set by a nurse after police questioned him about drug abuse.

Japan has mass murders. In 1995, a sarin poison-gas attack killed 13 and injured many more. In 2016, a former employee of a nursing home stabbed to death 19 of the patients. Eight students were stabbed to death at an Osaka school in 2001. A combination vehicle/stabbing incident killed seven in Tokyo in 2008. A father burned his wife and five children to death in Tokyo in 2017. Last month, 35 died when a man set fire to an anime studio.

China, another society with very strict gun laws, also has mass murders. A 2014 terrorist knife attack in Kunming left 33 dead and 143 injured. A series of school attacks in the early 2010s killed at least 25 in total; while not all of these school attacks were mass murders (five or more killed in one attack), some meet the criteria: eight schoolchildren murdered with a knife in Nanping in March 2010; nine murdered in Hanzhong with a meat cleaver in May 2010.

Explosive mass murders have also been common: 22 with explosives in Manchester, England, in 2017. Two terrorists killed 33 people at an airport and subway station in Brussels with bombs.

There have also been motor-vehicle mass murders in Europe and Australia: 84 murdered with a truck in Nice, France; 12 in Berlin, Germany; five in Stockholm; 13 in Barcelona, Spain; eight by truck and knives in London. While these were terrorist mass murders, others have been mental-health-related, such as an attack in Melbourne, Australia, that killed six.

In the U.S., the core problem underlying most mass murders is people with severe mental illness, who in 1960 would have hospitalized before chalk marks had to be drawn around bodies. If we solve the mental-illness issue, the guns do not matter. And focusing on the guns directs the severely mentally ill to other weapons.

Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho. His ninth book, Lock, Stock, and Barrel, was published in 2018.


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