University Mass-Shooting Averted in Sweden

Monday, March 15th, 2010

OK, the report I caught about this is from the Dutch press (specifically, the Algemeen Dagblad – I don’t routinely cover the Swedish press due to language incapability). But it’s an instructive tale nonetheless: after some guy had announced (anonymously) on an Internet forum site his intention to head to the KTH Royal Institute of Technology (a state technical university located in Stockholm) and kill as many people as he could find there, police managed to track him down and arrest him before any harm could be done.

How instructive? First of all, this sort of thing is not supposed to happen in a place like Sweden, due to the much stricter gun-control there, but mainly because of what people assume is a more non-violent culture that doesn’t lend itself to that sort of thing. (Although one shouldn’t forget how Swedish prime minister Olof Palme was gunned down on a Stockholm street back in 1986, in a murder that is unsolved to this day.) Secondly, the authorities did manage to track the proto-perpetrator down – even behind the veil of supposed Internet anonymity – and detain him before he could actually perpetrate. What does this say about how genuine this supposed “anonymity” on the Internet actually is – and how genuine should it ultimately be allowed to be, when lives are on the line? Thirdly: Were lives truly on the line? How can anyone tell whether the suspect really meant to do what he declared he intended to do? That must still be unsure – you commit a crime only by doing it, not by only thinking it or even announcing it. (The latter probably constitutes a crime in itself, but of a different sort and one calling for nowhere near as much punishment as actually killing.)

Anyway: in the final analysis we seem to have here in Sweden one pole of a spectrum whose other pole is Seung-Hui Cho and 32 people shot at Virginia Tech. Where do you, and the society where you live, want to be on that spectrum? “At the pole of the Swedish incident that was prevented in time” may not truly be the answer, given the injury to privacy rights that was an important part of that episode.

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