I don’t know why (probably some kind of morbid curiosity) but I’ve got a bit of an interest in American killers.

I’m not the only one – following any murderous incident in America the press go wild, releasing a flurry of articles that add to the corpus of literature about the ‘American Killer’.

Jared Loughton’s attack on a US senator has had its fair share of analysis . So I thought I would post a digest of some of the best articles I have read that try to describe the modern American murderer.

The Statistics

America is a murderous nation, the homicide rate is four times higher than the UK. But it is not just the citizens that are murderous, the state is just as bloodthirsty. Whereas most western nations abolished the death penalty throughout the 20th century, America still kills its criminals. Over a thousand people have been executed in America since 1976, and a third of those in Texas.

Statistically, both the victims and killers are usually young men. Also, according to Gary LaFree ‘the crime rate correlates, inversely, with public faith in government and trust in elected officials. So, for instance, the Vietnam era, marked by declining confidence in elected officials, experienced a rising crime rate.’

Of course, some states suffer more crime than others. With this in mind, Richard Florida from The Atlantic has done some interesting data journalism that charts the statistical correlations between firearm deaths and a variety of psychological, economic, social, and political characteristics of states.

Killers are not the drug fuelled, unemployed victims of inequality as you might think. Nor are they disgruntled immigrants. Rather, according to this analysis, it is more political than that. States that voted for McCain are significantly more likely to experience gun crime than those that voted for Obama. Poverty, a working class economy and (unsurprisingly) a state where kids take guns to schools are also likely to have a high level of gun related deaths.

Mind of a Killer

According to research by the American Secret Service, the motives behind people that attempt to assassinate a public figure fall into several categories:

  • Hoping to achieve notoriety by killing a well-known person.
  • Wanting to end their pain by being killed by Secret Service.
  • Avenging a perceived, idiosyncratic grievance unrelated to mainstream politics.
  • Hoping, unrealistically, to save the country or call attention to a cause.
  • Hoping to achieve a special relationship with the person they were killing.

Going against the image of the menacing stalker, very few would-be assassins threatened their target before attempting to kill them.

But, was the Arizona murder a political assassination or a murderous rampage, or both? According to writer Jared Lee Loughner, this hybrid killing is the first of its kind – a planned killing followed by a murdous rampage.

The arrival of a new kind of killer marks a new era. The first instance of a killer that went postal and indiscriminately killed people was during the Nixon era of corporate bullying and management intimidation. Before that a period of regular assassination attempts was synonymous with a period of radical political upheaval (that Nixon snuffed out). Now we see the merging of the two, and the question is – will this catch on?

Weapon of Choice

The weapon of choice in the recent Arizona killings was a Glock, a gun that has swept America  - and, according to The Violence Policy Center, ‘Glocks and similar semi-automatic firearms figured in most major mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years’.

The reason for Glock’s popularity is the amount of ammunition it can hold. The gun used by Jared Loughner, the recent Arizona killer, could hold 33 rounds of ammunition. Popularity for Glock weapons grew after the Bush administration ended the block on guns that contained over 10 rounds of ammunition in 2004. If Loughner had been limited to ten rounds, he would have killed far less.

Has there been a backlash from the American people in response to this massacre? No. In fact the opposite. The Tucson gun show opened a week after the event and enjoyed booming business. One Glock salesman explained “”Business is dramatically up. I put it down to the media exposure, which has focused attention on the brand”