There is a tendency to see mass murder, such as happened in Jacksonville last night, as a modern problem of American Society.
First of all, it is by no means peculiarly American. The U.S. is not even at the top of the list in mass murders by shooting. And that’s only mass murders by firearms. In countries with more restrictive gun control laws, mass murderers demonstrate the ability to improvise, but I am sure that you don’t know about these other tragedies. In 2013, Matthew de Grood was invited to a party in Calgary, Alberta. He retrieved a butcher knife from the kitchen and stabbed five other guests to death. In Japan and China, mass murders at schools are not unknown; they involve sharp objects (such as the eight students stabbed to death in Osaka in 2001; and eight children stabbed to death in Nanping, China in March, 2010; and nine students murdered in Hanzhong with a meat cleaver in May 2010).
Never underestimate the creativity of a sociopath or mentally ill person. In 2000 (after Australia’s much touted 1996 gun control law), a hostel in Queensland was set on fire, killing 15. In 2011, a nurse was questioned by Australian police about drug violations; he burned down the Quakers Hill Nursing Home, killing 11. Of course, there are many mass murders with blunt objects (such as five members of a Sydney family beaten to death in 2009 with a hammer). Explosives, vehicle attacks, and even poison gas are methods for mass murder in Europe and the Far East.
Now, on to my major point: mass murder is nothing new. I am currently researching and writing my tenth and most horrifying book: a history of American mass murder. Sadly, I am not at all short of material. I am not even done with American mass murders committed before 1922, and I have 133 incidents where three or more people were murdered in one place and time. Even into the early 20th century, these are usually done with axes and hatchets: silent, no need to reload, and I suspect some of these obviously mentally ill mass murderers found it a very satisfying weapon: one beheaded his whole family, then split his father’s head open. Why? He wanted to inherit his father’s wealth to buy a fleet of used cars. Crazy? I think so. Among the more depressing incidents are a series of ax murders committed by members of the “Church of the Sacrifice,” who broke in on and murdered several dozen families with axes in the period 1910-1921.
And these aren’t even the high death count ones. Labor violence has some very high death counts. Two labor union organizers bombed the Los Angeles Times in 1910, killing 21. Anarchists set off a bomb in Wall Street in 1920 killing 31 and injuring 125 others.
There is nothing peculiarly American or firearm-related to mass murder. Nor is it terribly new.