Let’s start with William Unek. William Unek was police constable in Africa, the Congo. In 1954, in less than an hour and a half, Unek killed 21 people with an ax. He then escaped and disappeared, resurfacing again in 1957 when he somehow got his hands on a police rifle and another ax and shot, hacked, and strangled 36 more people until the authorities finally tracked him down and burned him alive. Unek’s antics are an interesting example of rampage/spree killings in that he used melee weapons (ax/knife) and then later added a rifle, flames and his bare hands to the mix. In his original spree, Unek cut down more people with an ax than many killers with firearms. In fact, when you compare the base effectiveness of a firearm with an ax, his efficiency didn’t improve with a gun as much as one might expect. Sure, he killed 36 people his second round but only 26 of them died of gunshot wounds. The remaining 9 victims were stabbed, hacked, burned and strangled. William Unek killed 26 people with an ax. Few of our most notorious gun spree killers make it to 20.
Fire, also used by Unek, is a far more efficient weapon than any ax or sword or firearm. In 2003, Kim Dae-han killed 198 people by setting fire to a train in South Korea. Zhang Pilin of China set fire to a commercial airliner, killing 111 passengers and crew. Fire is so efficient even law enforcement with all their tanks and bombs and bullets resort to it. A gang of LAPD and sheriff’s deputies burned whackjob cop-killing cop Christopher Dorner alive during a standoff last year. I was going to keep the siege of the Branch Davidians out of this (mainly due to overwhelming evidence that the cult started the fire) but I googled “standoff leads to house fire” and the page lit up with story after story of the same scenario over and over. Standoffs can and do lead to house fires. So I’m forced to address the Waco Siege. Look, cops are a profession like any other. They perform, they observe and they extrapolate all the time, changing their tactics based on new information. It appears that fire is either directly or indirectly far more efficient in stopping a siege than breach or negotiation.
“So if the besieged have a tendency to start fires, let ‘em.” – a fake quote by an imaginary training officer in some made-up SWAT lecture I’ve never heard… but I can hear it as if it’s actually happening; in fact, I can’t imagine it not happening.
A total of 79 men, women and children burned at Mount Carmel.
When the police finally got to William Unek in 1957, they set his ass on fire.
However, fire has some gnarly competition, namely bombs and cars. In 2001, China executed Jin Ruchao for the deaths of 108 people after several bombs leveled several apartment complexes. What is striking about bombs is that they seem the weapon of choice (second only to knives) in countries with strict gun laws like Thailand. (Feel where I’m headed with this?) Motor vehicles don’t produce piles of bodies overall but they do deal death with a gusto and flare that these other implements sometimes lack, such as the Hebei Tractor Rampage of 2010 when drunken coal miner Li Xianliang mowed down 17 people with a frontend loader. Or Olga Hepnarová, a mentally disturbed female Czech truck driver, who plowed into a crowd of 25 folks waiting on a streetcar.
At the risk of waxing too esoteric, I want to list another weapon, one I personally think is one of the deadliest and most prolific weapons we’ve ever devised as a species. Ideology. The religious and the racist produce high kill counts. Anders Behring Breivik—both religious and racist, twofer—used a car bomb and a whole bunch of bullets to kill 75 people in Norway. Even though the guns and the bombs spill the blood, when you add up the numbers, ideology proves an inexhaustible weapon. Mass murderer, Charles Manson never fired a shot or brandished a knife yet he sits in prison, convicted of murder. His ideology was his weapon and he used it to kill people. Fascism has killed millions. Christianity and racism have tag teamed entire civilizations out of existence. It’s ideology that sharpens my whole reason for listing all of these crimes and the weapons used to perpetrate them. Anything can be a weapon. A gun. A sword. A bomb. A match. A ’79 Lincoln Continental. A credit card. A bathtub. A gas oven. A pillow. A sharpened stick. And, yes, an idea. Anything can be a weapon. Anything.
Are we going to outlaw certain ideologies? Let’s not even begin to navigate that culdesac.
Yet we hear the call to control or outlaw guns every single day. I was raised around guns. I don’t like them. I don’t own them for all the tired old reasons. Go ahead and scream and yell and spit on the damn things. I don’t really care but to say we have to outlaw them because of their efficiency is ridiculous when you look at the facts. As respectful as his performance, I doubt William Unek’s 26 victims with an ax is the height of ax murdering efficiency. It’s probably a lot like the three-minute mile. If we were striving for it, if the media could make ax killing as sexy as AR-15s and laser sights, that 27th victim with an ax might be right around the corner. Personally, I don’t think it would take that many intentional head-on collisions or high speed drifting through a few school yards to make vehicular manslaughter sexy enough to start a fad. “But cars have other uses, Skitz. Guns are made for killing and only killing.” Try saying that on stage while a slide show behind you ticks through pictures of all the dead people on American highways, thoroughfares that routinely claim more lives per year than cancer.
Why don’t you just make dying illegal? There. We fixed cancer and highway deaths and spree killings and sad granny funerals all together. Pass a fucking law. Make another crime. Problem fucking solved.
What all of this bullshit about guns and media frenzy and psychology fails to address are the real mysteries: 1) why have mass killings gone up since the ‘70s while general violence has gone down? 2) why are white and Asian men (the biggest killing demographics) losing their fucking minds? I don’t know. I can’t even fake a guess. What I do know is this: 1) passing laws based on unsubstantiated fear, fed by entertainment/media/marketing is just plain stupid. 2) most legislators are pretty stupid people.
Chrysalis, a growing collection of very short fiction.
Unless noted, all pics credited to Skitz O'Fuel.