Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Triggering a frenzy for guns

By now, everyone knows about the Virginia Tech shooting that is being considered the worst massacre of its kind in American history.

What compels people to act out in such a destructive manner? I'm not sure sane people can even comprehend that. Sure, we all get angry sometimes--some more than others. But even the most short-fused among us generally has a mental check that keeps them from acting on their basest impulses. Such passionate shooting sprees are rarely the product of a clear mind. Charles Whitman, for example, knew he was crazy when he picked off 46 people from the bell tower at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966. An autopsy revealed that he did, in fact, have a growth in his brain.

On the other hand, the Unabomber made plain and clear in his journal that he didn't want people to think he was insane and that his killings were anything less than a deliberative effort. And there's also the Columbine shootings, which Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold set off with relative skill and all the indifference of recess. So it's safe to say that such causes are complex.

Either way, I'm not going to attempt to root out the causes of Cho Seung-Hui's spree. Yes, the killer was a South Korean with a student visa, which has somehow made this crime worse in some pundits' eyes. As if it would have been better if the sniper had been an NRA-lovin' American? Some of the vitriol that's being written on this topic makes me think that, yes, somehow that would have been preferable.

What I find remarkable (albeit unsurprising) is the assertion that such a tragedy could have been prevented if more students had access to firearms. This, of course, is false on its face in more ways than I have the patience to discuss.

So let's just assume that we've fulfilled this right-wing fantasy of every student carrying firearms. And let's pretend that every one of them is as highly trained to use them as any law-enforcement personnel (this being necessary to fulfill the self-defense requirement). Does it really stop anything? Well, let's take a hypothetical look:

--Alert student walking to class sees seething international student reach into his jacket.
--Alert student drops books, draws like an expert and fires.
--Seething international student drops immediately from barrage of bullets to the back.
--Several passers-by are witnesses to the commotion and begin firing as well.
--The first passer-by to fire immediately kills the alert student, who was seen opening fire on a college campus.
--The second passer-by, due to their angle, sees only the first passer-by shooting at an unseen target, and guns him down.
--Before long, every student within a 50-foot radius is shooting at someone else. Most pick off each other before anyone can figure out what's going on.
--The campus police get in on the action, and have to fire shots to quiet the crowd. Several officers are killed by random gunfire.
--Once the smoke clears, officers begin the body count. Among the dead: an international student with a campus map in his jacket.

I went to college for seven years. In that time, I saw thousands of faces come and go. And I can say with authority that I would have trusted maybe 17 of them to carry a concealed weapon. Even among my friends, I wouldn't trust most of them with a starter pistol. College should be about educating oneself in a relaxed and social environment. A gun-centric student body would take that away as much as the Virginia Tech shooter took that away from his victims.

I have known people who either carried a concealed weapon, or wanted to carry a concealed weapon. One told me years later that he had carried a gun every day that we were in high school. Almost to a person, these are the people I trust least to carry a weapon.

And thus lies the paradox: those who itch the most to pack heat are usually the least qualified to do so. Why do people wish to carry a gun in an everyday situation? To protect themselves? Fair enough. That's a sound argument when strolling Baghdad, or maybe Virginia...in 1776. But why would anyone clamor to carry in today's grocery stores, schools and churches? For whatever reason they give, I suspect that, deep down, they want to be a hero. They want to be able to avert a tragedy. They want to use the gun in the grocery store. The school. The church. And they'll always be looking for reasons to do so. Watch your jacket.

One of the reasons we've been so slow to solve problems in the last few years is that every violent event becomes an excuse to enforce some extremist, right-wing cause. We've already seen the sad results of this in the war on terror, the PATRIOT Act, the immigration fence, First Amendment zones and treatment of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Prejudice and fear do not solve problems. They are also no ways to live. This tragedy took at least 32 victims; we cannot let it take our sense of community as well.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

clever! I sure don't trust you for anything more than some clever writing. Your ability to write so google hits is very good. kingofallclergy/xanga

D.Daddio Al-Ozarka said...

"-Alert student walking to class sees seething international student reach into his jacket.
--Alert student drops books, draws like an expert and fires.
--Seething international student drops immediately from barrage of bullets to the back.
--Several passers-by are witnesses to the commotion and begin firing as well.
--The first passer-by to fire immediately kills the alert student, who was seen opening fire on a college campus.
--The second passer-by, due to their angle, sees only the first passer-by shooting at an unseen target, and guns him down.
--Before long, every student within a 50-foot radius is shooting at someone else. Most pick off each other before anyone can figure out what's going on.
--The campus police get in on the action, and have to fire shots to quiet the crowd. Several officers are killed by random gunfire.
--Once the smoke clears, officers begin the body count. Among the dead: an international student with a campus map in his jacket."

C'mon, Ian! Do you REASLLY believe this is a vable hypothetical scenario?

Not likely.

Reality:

The professor is lecturing his class when loud "pops" are heard from an adjoining room. As fear understandably grips the students in the classroom, the door bursts open and a stone-faced gunman begins firing randomly at students after killing the professor with a shot to the head.

A student near the back of the room dives for whatever cover he/she can find while releasing the familiar handgun from it's concealment beneath his/her jacket/sweater and immediatle ends the murderous rampage.

Tell me...which is more realistic...my description or yours.

Be honest.

Oh...and BTW...Hello! Haven't encountered you for a while.

D.Daddio Al-Ozarka said...

What happened to Zac?

Ian McGibboney said...

I don't think either scenario is more likely than the other. They both could very well happen. And they both are likely to cost lots of lives before anyone can regain their bearings.

Guns in the classroom are a bad idea. More guns are not the answer to that. I can't imagine introducing a firearm into any of the hundreds of heated discussions I had in college classrooms! Think that's extreme? Never underestimate the power of momentary passion.

Zac stopped blogging, as far as I know. Otherwise, I believe he's up to the same old stuff. By the way who are you?

Anonymous said...

Although I don't want to break down into this... from each side:

At least one school shooting was stopped because another student had a gun. In his car.

There were armed guards at Columbine. They retreated.

Sometimes, one person is all it takes. Or, sometimes, training won't cut it.

Enough of that. On to something different.

There is a difference between paranoia and awareness. I try to be aware at all times, especially in unfamiliar territory, of where people are around me, and what they're doing. I don't tackle every one who's acting funny (except for that one guy, but he WAS a shoplifter) - but I notice them, and I watch them.

Read up on the Awareness Spectrum.

Nathan

D.Daddio Al-Ozarka said...

The blogger formerly known as Liberal Loather.

Heh, heh.


"I can't imagine introducing a firearm into any of the hundreds of heated discussions I had in college classrooms!"

You have less faith in your fellow man than I do, Ian.

Who 'da thunkit?

Which is the VERY reason I shall begin the process of attaining my own Concealed Carry permit.

I say you'd change your mind if you were in a classroom where some idiot like Cho was packing and brought his own weapon out during a heated discussion.

You'd wish like hell you had a weapon. All legal like.

Cho broke the law. Do you think a law would deter anyone? Really?

Ian McGibboney said...

Nathan, there's a profound difference between being aware of your surroundings and arming oneself to the teeth. I am always fully aware of my surroundings, as everyone should be. When I'm out and about in a potentially perilous situation, I make damn sure to exude confidence and have an exit strategy if the feces hits the fan. I've also studied up on basic self-defense techniques.

What I don't do is live my life assuming that every person within my perimeter is liable to blow my brains out at any second. It's no way to go through life. You just can't do it. And that fear, at least for me, would increase exponentially if the all the nation's right-wingers decided to arm themselves in public places.

And while I would most likely try to tackle a thief who was running toward me (I was once a free safety, after all), I harbor no pretensions toward being a hero. In a crisis, I'm going to do what anyone else ultimately does: whatever it takes to stay alive. Just like everyone else, whether or not they admit it.

Day-O, I'm not sure how much faith I have in anybody. Even the most civilized people I know have their moments of passion, which could be made worse by the introduction of a firearm. Sure, I could quite possibly change my mind if someone were shooting up my classroom; but that's still an extreme hypothetical to bring a gun to school.

Anyway, I don't base my principles on what I'd do with a gun to my head. That's the opposite of clear thinking.

Brian said...

Your hypothetical that everybody everywhere would start shooting isn't held up by the history of concealed weapons carriers. And your insistence that the scenario of people shooting at each other willy-nilly is probable is simliarly innacurate.

"Nathan, there's a profound difference between being aware of your surroundings and arming oneself to the teeth."

If carrying a pistol is "arming oneself to the teeth", then what would be "appropriately armed to handle the vast majority of circumstances"? If you're aware of your surroundings and you've got a sidearm, you've covered most of your bases.

Have more faith in your fellow law-abiding citizens and less faith in the skills of criminals.

Ian McGibboney said...

I'd say carrying a gun is arming oneself to the teeth when you're taking it to a classroom. Because it's far more than necessary.

And I stand behind my scenario being far more likely than some idea that a heat-packing public is going to handle their weapon with the skill and restraint of professionals, especially if something's going down and the adrenaline is flowing. I know too much about my fellow law-abiding humans to think otherwise.

D.Daddio Al-Ozarka said...

"Because it's far more than necessary."

Tell that to the students who were in the classrooms.

"And I stand behind my scenario being far more likely than some idea that a heat-packing public is going to handle their weapon with the skill and restraint of professionals"

Sinking sand you stand on.

A person who carries a conceal/carry permit...from what I understand...is required to go pass a training course (haven't I already said this?). A person who decided to get a permit will VERY likely be familiar with his/her weapon...having prepared themselves for just situation.

That does not mean they are walking around in fear of others constantly. To say so is presumptuous at best. A person who carries will have the understanding that he/she should be prepared if they're going to actually strap a weapon on.

A judge isn't going to issue a CC permit to someone unqualified. Not a reasonable judge.

"Have more faith in your fellow law-abiding citizens and less faith in the skills of criminals."

What he said.

Ian McGibboney said...

"Tell that to the students that were in the classrooms."

What's funny about this statement is that I haven't heard much argument for packing heat from the survivors. It seems to be coming from the same far-right crowd that always pushes for it.

"A person who carries a conceal/carry permit...from what I understand...is required to go pass a training course (haven't I already said this?)."

Plenty of bad drivers have driver's licenses. Being able to demonstrate the handling of a weapon is not necessarily the same as always having the disposition to do so. And all the training in the world won't help if you don't have ice in your veins when it counts. And I don't think most average college students fit that mold. For that matter, most people don't.

"A person who decided to get a permit will VERY likely be familiar with his/her weapon...having prepared themselves for just situation."

That's a double-edged sword. Someone itching that hard to take their gun everywhere is probably itching just as hard to find a reason to use it.

"A person who carries will have the understanding that he/she should be prepared if they're going to actually strap a weapon on."

I would certainly hope so. But there's also a famous saying about war: "The plan lasts only until the first shot is fired."

"A judge isn't going to issue a CC permit to someone unqualified. Not a reasonable judge."

What if it's an activist judge? I worry about them too! Almost as much as I fear friendly fire.

Nick said...

Brian is right on about CHL carriers. Check and see how many murders have been committed by that group.

Icon, before you make the statement about "a bunch of college students carrying handguns," I would suggest you:

1) Attend a CHL class yourself. Tell them you just want to obvserve, you don't have to shoot, which the shooting is many times a separate day than the classroom day.

2) Look up the stats to see what percentage of our population actually carries. Very few do, at least legally.

Someone who has undergone CHL training is exponentially LESS likely to use a gun than someone who is illegally carrying.

P.S. I played CB and WR, and always preferred the ball in my hands, felt more in control. But just like your analogy of playing safety, that means zip when someone is pointing a gun at you or your family.