Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013, 3:03 pm

Getting to root of why mass murderers kill

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By John Donald O'Shea

What does America need to do to prevent mass murders? How do we prevent a future Columbine? Sandy Hook?

The immediate focus has been on banning assault weapons. But even given the availability of guns, I can't help but wonder if any of these murders would have occurred if that was the only factor present.

Ask yourself what common factors you see in three recent mass murders. See if you see what I think I see.

In discussing contributing factors to the violence at Columbine High School by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, researchers Dr. Craig Anderson and Dr. Karen Dill stated:

"Harris and Klebold enjoyed playing the bloody, shoot-'em-up video game Doom, a game licensed by the U.S. military to train soldiers to effectively kill. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which tracks Internet hate groups, found in its archives a copy of Harris' website with a version of Doom that he had customized. In his version there are two shooters, each with extra weapons and unlimited ammunition, and the other people in the game can't fight back. For a class project, Harris and Klebold made a videotape that was similar to their customized version of Doom. In the video, Harris and Klebold dress in trench coats, carry guns and kill school athletes. They acted out their videotaped performance in real life less than a year later. An investigator associated with the Wiesenthal Center said Harris and Klebold were 'playing out their game in God mode.'"

Norway's mass killer, Anders Behring Breivik, testified during his trial that he played video games as a way to train for his shooting spree that killed 77 people last summer. In particular, Anders Behring Breivik said at his trial, he played "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" for shooting practice, according to CNN's report. That military action game sold more than 10 million copies upon its 2009 release.

"Breivik ... testified that he spent hours playing Call Of Duty instead of socializing with any friends. He had spent the preceding New Year's Eve on his computer."

"The game is described as a 'first person shooter video game' and Breivik admitted by using it he honed his gun and targeting skills.
"He would use those same 'skills' to kill 69 innocent people on the island of Utoya."

"On the opening day of the trial prosecutors read the names of the dead ... Most of them had died after taking two or three shots -- and sometimes more -- directly to the head.

"Cross examined about the game, Breivik told the court: 'The game teaches about target acquisition and you have to practice within a specific time. It's a war simulator that shows you how to shoot at people. It helps you acquire experience of sights and targeting.

"The game uses a 'holographic sight' similar to the one that Breivik attached to his hunting rifle when he stalked his victims on the island with unerring accuracy." (

Adam Lanza, 20, forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School at Newtown, Conn., and murdered 20 children and six adults before committing suicide, after murdering his mother, Nancy Lanza, in their home by shooting her in the face. Lanza used a .223 semi-automatic rifle, fired from close range.

Lanza is reputed to have been mentally ill, aggressive with an baleful obsession for violent computer games. His favorite was said to be a violent fantasy war game called "Dynasty Warriors". That game is thought to have given him inspiration to act out the murders. He is said to have suffered from antisocial disorder and was known for being unable to empathize or socialize with others, suffering child-like violent tantrums. His condition was so extreme that his mother would never leave him alone in a room.
Lanza's mother was said to be a "survivalist". She was honing her skills, including her shooting skills.

The killer's aunt, Marsha Lanza, said Nancy "was stockpiling food ... getting ready for the economic collapse. I think she had (legally procured) the guns for self-defense because she lived alone." It was apparently for that reason that she had acquired the weapons and "dum-dum" bullets used by Lanza to kill the teachers and children in Newtown. Lanza appears to have had access to his mother's arsenal. He learned to shoot when his mother took him to a local gun range. (

Unquestionably, guns were present in each of these situations. But would any of these shooting have occurred in the absence of the violent video games that trained the murderers, and inspired them to replicate mass killings they saw in the videos? Without mental illness — insanity? Or if any of the murderers had a strong belief in God? In the commandment that says, "thou shall not kill?" Or a belief that if they took innocent life they might well face an eternity in Hell?

Or is it the gun alone that causes a person to drive to a grade school and take innocent life? If so, why weren't the Columbine and Sandy Hook murders the work of policemen?
John Donald O'Shea of Moline is a retired circuit court judge.