What percentage of people could have done a 'Virginia Tech massacre'?

My work collegue was trying to work out the number of people in the USA who are ‘willing and able’ in his terms to do a mass shooting. He was saying there are 300 million people in the USA and this percentage of people have firearms, this percentage of people have semi-automatic weapons, this percentage of people have military training and this percentage of people have mental problems such that they could do a ‘massacre’.
He reckoned that around 75 people currently in the USA could carry out such a massacre.
I said to him that I doubted all his figures except for the population figure of 300 million. Surely this reasoning does not hold , does it? If it does can one find these percentages and come up with such a number?

I can pick a flaw or two in his reasoning.

First, if a person wants to commit a massacre with a semi-automatic weapon, they can go out and get one; there’s no reason to assume a strong correlation with already owning one and committing a massacre with one.

Second, where’s the relevance of military training ? You don’t need military training to kill unarmed, basically unresisting people.

I was under the impression that to kill 33 people you had to have some kind of weapons training. I can see someone without training killing 4 or 5 people. I am just a New Zealander who has nver picked up a firearm, so forgive my ignorance.

Never picked up a gun. Yes never

I expect he needed enough training or just practice to hit a target, but that’s all. That’s not “military training”; I’m sure some military Doper will be on sooner or later to point out that they were never trained on massacre techniques. I doubt that even a military ruthless enough to commit massacres as a standard practice would bother with such training.

Besides, the gunman used pistols; that’s hardly a weapon that the military has a monopoly on training people with.

Oh, and to make things clear; I have no military or gun experience myself. It’s just that I can’t see what a person would need training for to commit a massacre against helpless people, beyond markmenship.

Military training may not be necessary to commit these massacres, but, if you do have it, maybe it better prepares you for the act of killing people.

Militarily-trained Dopers can correct me if I’m mistaken, but isn’t one of the basic tasks of military training to prepare you mentally for the eventuality that you will one day kill another human? Most civilians never go through this mental preparation.

Rumor has it this guy wasn’t American. So you have to include the whole world in your calculations.

I don’t think mental preperation for killing people is applicable in a case like this where you have some nut.

To be honest, if one is amoral, adventurous and suicidal I cannot see any reason not to go on a killing spree, and am surprised that they are not more common.

The amount of training required to operate a handgun can be done in 10 minutes by the guy at the store who sells you the gun. Anyone who ever had a toy pistol or water squirter as a kid is 75% there already.

I spent 4 yrs active duty USAF and there was no training that prepared me to kill people. The term military training paints with way to wide a brush.
blinkingblinking, your friend needs to take the percentages of people trained in infantry as they are the people that are most likely to face person to person combat.

I’m in no way suggesting that those trained in infantry are in any way more likely to commit such an act. I’m just saying that they’d be better at it if they did.

No, not exactly. You are certainly prepared to do so because it is the job description, but I think that given the preponderance of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder cases resulting from combat action it is pretty indicative that the military does not and cannot train the humanity out of people.

I must say that I knew quite a few people where I grew up who it would not surprise me at all if I learned they had committed this sort of act. But then, I grew up in one of the stranger parts of Texas.

Indeed - during my Military Service we did an awfull lot of target practice, but the only nod in the direction of preparing us for actual combat was the sergeants constant yells of “Stay down or Ivan will blow your head of”, which of course didnt prepare us in the least for actually taking a human life.

Bayo drills, war faces and all that also does squat to prepare you for war. I’m guessing the claim from WWII (which I take from memory and therefore are wholly unreliable) that a large percentage of soldiers in a firefight wont even aim at the enemy but insted will fire in the air or simililar still holds true.

I am fascinated by serial killers and mass murderers. Everything I’ve read suggests that there is no way to predict who will commit mass murder. Something happens that sets a certain type of person off and a massive tragedy results. There is no way to say “Look at him. He is going to be a mass murderer.”

Being an angry socially isolated loner seems to be a common denominator.

Yes, but a vanishingly small percentage of angry socially isolated loners actually become mass murders.

As others have said, one doesn’t need military training to basically shoot people with a hand gun from essentially point blank range…especially when they aren’t firing back at you. The shooter in question did not, AFAIK, have extensive military training. All one would need (besides the sickness to actually follow through with such a fucked up series of actions) is the ability to recharge the pistol…something I’m guessing many people could figure out even if they never picked up a gun in their lives.

:dubious: The exact number of sicko’s out there is probably not something one could determine. Luckily its vanishingly small, even in a nation of 350 million people. To say ‘75’ though is silly. Mostly based on the elaborate (and incorrect) assumptions of some perceived high level of military training needed. Again, shooting someone with a pistol at essentially point blank range or spraying and praying is something any monkey could do. Hitting someone with a high powered rifle with a scope from a hundred yards or less is not all that challenging either, even for a novice. Shooting accurately with a pistol at more than, say 20-30 yards, or hitting targets at a few hundred yards in outdoor conditions is a bit more of a challenge and probably would take a bit of training…but still not ‘military’ training. Shooting a pistol accurately and rapidly while under fire, or shooting outdoors at, oh, say 500+ yards (depending on the rifle)…thats a bit more of a challenge.

You can’t. The limiting factor would be who is crazy, mad or some combination of those to do such a fucked up thing? That number has got to vary wildly from day to day.


Guesstimating the number of wackos who will go on a shooting spree is actually pretty easy. You just count up the number of similar shootings each year. Presto, you can guess how many there will be next year to within some range. If you run a bell curve of ages of shooters, you can then go on to guesstimate how many future shooters there might be in the total population.

75 might be a reasonable number, but your friends’ logic sucks.

75 is a ridiculously low number. And it was arrived by essentially arbitrarily coming up with any numbers you want.

No military training is necesary, although people here are understating the difficulty in being good with a pistol. I haven’t read much on the incident, but hitting 50+ people is going to require some marksmanship.

That said, it’s really just a matter of circumstance. A guy might be moderately depressed by stable and sane - and then one day he loses his job, his kid dies in a car accident, his wife leaves him, or whatever, and he snaps. Was that guy one of the 75? Did he become one of the 75 when that stuff happened?

I’m honestly surprised this stuff doesn’t happen more often. I mean, in a country of hundreds of millions of people, and all sorts of crazy people, and you only get incidents like this once in a while (colombine was 7 years ago now, that was the last big one) this happens amazingly infrequently. It’s just that people with an agenda (media with sensationalism, gun controllers trying to capitalize on emotion, etc.) make people focus on these isolated, fluke, gruesome incidents for months and months, blowing their perceived occurances out of proportion.

It’s similar to plane crashes. Air travel is very safe, and no one should ever really worry about it. Yet every time a plane does crash, it’s a huge media circus which reinforces the idea in people’s minds that air travel is dangerous.