Grieving nation searches for reasons why

CUMBRIA: Every time there is a national tragedy such as Derrick Bird’s gun rampage there is a natural tendency to search for specific reasons and urgent lessons. Both are hard to find in this case.

There may have been lapses in the gun-licencing procedures which allowed the 52-year-old taxi driver to possess both a shot gun and a rifle. But one should be cautious, as British Prime Minister David Cameron argued yesterday, about drawing hasty conclusions on the need for a fundamental overhaul of the gun laws.

They are already among the tightest and most cumbersome in the world. Bird had owned these guns for 20 years and never given any indication that he might use them in this way. The guns were neither unusual nor particularly difficult to obtain. Numerous people possess them in any district, particularly in the countryside.

Nor, despite the outpouring of psychological interpretations in the last couple of days and the efforts to put this massacre down to this cause or that, can there be an easy answer as to why Bird should have exploded in anger in this particular way.  We know now that Bird had quarrelled with his brother over money and wills. But that is hardly uncommon.

What drives an individual to go on a shooting rampage may always remain a mystery and an unpredictable one.  In the aftermath you may be able to point to warning signs. But the rarity of these events make them virtually impossible to prevent.  “You can’t,” as David Cameron said yesterday, “legislate to stop a switch flicking in someone’s head and for this dreadful sort of action to take place.”

This does not lessen the tragedy or the pain of those involved.

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