The attack on a youth camp in Norway -- the youngest killed, according to the reports this morning, was sixteen -- is shocking to me. I am not shocked because of the violence, as surely we have seen enough violence from our fellow man lately to know that it is to be expected. I am not shocked that the killer targeted the young, as that also has become usual among the wicked. I am also not shocked to discover that the killer may have been a Christian rather than a Muslim; for there are good men and bad ones among all faiths.
What I find shocking, as a professional, is the number of people killed by what was apparently a single actor with a single handgun. (Reports that there may have been more than one shooter are so far without confirmation; but even the outer limit of those reports suggests a very small number of shooters at most.) Brian Fishman of the New America Foundation argues that firearms are becoming more deadly than explosives:
Perhaps the starkest lesson from the Norway attack is that, based on early reports, more people seem to have been killed by firearms than by explosives. In this way, the Norway attack reflects a larger trend in terrorism, exemplified most terribly by the November 26, 2008, terrorist attack in Mumbai, in which 10 gunmen collaborated to kill more than 160 people.
Respectfully, that's simply not right. In fact, the reason that the United States' mass killings normally have been less traumatic than Iraq's or Pakistan's is that the killers usually use firearms rather than explosives. Explosives routinely kill 30+ people in Iraq; almost no mass shootings approach that level.
The lesson of Mumbai is that a team of men is far more dangerous than a man alone. Even so, the Mumbai killers slew approximately 16 people each; here is what appears to be one man, at most two, who killed nearly a hundred. Even Chairman Mao's killers, who numbered in the millions, did not do so much: the outer range for people killed by the regime is still well under a hundred million.
How did this happen? The reports suggest four factors, which I will list in increasing order of importance:
1) The police did not arrive for two hours, giving him ample time to murder.
2) Many threw themselves into the water in panic, and I suspect we will discover that panic or drowning killed a large number.
3) He arrived dressed as a policeman, called everyone into a tight group around him, and only then began to shoot.
4) When he began shooting, everyone ran.
That last factor alone is responsible for almost all of the dead. A tight group of young men taught to run at danger instead of away from it could have overpowered him almost at once.
As that did not happen, he had a clear field of fire and a target rich environment. As that started a panic, probably some were trampled and others drowned. The police did not arrive for a long time, giving him time to finish what he had begun -- but the police will never be around when one of these mass killings happens, unless it is targeted at them specifically. It is always easy to find a soft target if you want one, even in a police state.
The key lesson to mass shootings is that the whole of our societies must remember their duty to fight for the common peace and lawful order. We must all do it. We must train for it, and we must equip ourselves as well as the law and our natural abilities permit. This is the duty of a citizen. It is a duty that cannot be delegated to the police or to the military. It must be borne by all of us. We must train our sons for this duty also. In a dangerous world, this alone is what makes civilization possible.