And he's right. So I don't feel good that I've let some of you prod me into having to defend my statement from last night that neither more guns on campus, nor fewer guns, would have made things any better. That some of y'all are sliming up this horrible but essentially random tragedy, that some of you are dragging your muddy political bootprints all over this while the corpses aren't even yet in the ground, that so many of you are so sick as to seek to twist this massacre into proof that your side should win in the literally pointless debate over gun control before even one family can bury their dead in peace, both sickens me and lowers my opinion of some of you. It lowers my opinion of your collective intelligence, too, because both arguments are so trivially disposed of that I'm having to struggle to maintain my faith in your sincerity -- or even your basic decency, your humanity. If you're one of the people who's been doing so, whether pro-gun or anti-gun, you should be ashamed of yourself.
Fewer Guns Wouldn't Have Prevented the Massacre. I'd like to thank xiphias for being the first to point out to me, in the replies to somebody else's journal posting, that while the Virginia Tech massacre is the worst school shooting in American history, it is only the second worst school massacre. The worst school massacre in American history was in Bath Township, Michigan, and its murderer used no guns at all, but instead a pair of bombs. It was in 1927, before the Depression even really began, when a farmer about to lose his farm because of rising property taxes decided to vent his wrath on the community by destroying the public building they were taking his farm to pay off, the local school. With the students still in it. He then waited at the scene, and made history as the first ever suicide car bomber, blowing up the first wave of would-be rescuers who rushed to the scene.
This is probably also a good time to remind you that it is, perhaps, a good thing that Eric Harris and Dylan Kleibold had guns. They had not planned to shoot up Columbine High School. They had planned to level it, and to that end had planted two ill-designed propane bombs. Their original plan was to use the guns only to pick off any survivors of the blast that escaped the rubble, before killing each other. Had they not had guns, they might have come back another day with better bombs instead of wandering around shooting at random, and the death toll would probably have been substantially higher. I know that Seung Cho didn't do anything at Virginia Tech on Monday that he couldn't have done just as easily and even more effectively with a machete or a good kitchen knife and a couple of ordinary pipe bombs.
England's got pretty strict gun control, you know. During the Troubles, this caused neither the Irish Republican Army nor the Ulster militias any difficulty whatsoever whenever they got the urge to slaughter a large number of people in British-occupied Ireland, either. Oh, once in a rare while they used guns smuggled to them (depending on which side they were on) either from the British army or from sympathizers here in the US. But more often, they used explosives. It's also worth pointing out that, since we destroyed their government, Iraqis have had a Virginia-Tech-sized school massacre at least once a month for the last four years. Even though the Iraqi people are some of the most heavily armed in the world, even more heavily armed than your average American, none of their school massacres have involved guns, either. When al Qaeda wants to slaughter high school or college students, they use suicide bombers, just like at Bath Township, just like the Columbine killers tried to do. For that matter, when Timothy McVeigh decided to slaughter a ton of federal employees in Oklahoma City in revenge for the Waco massacre, he didn't need any guns to do it, either, remember? Just some ammonium nitrate fertilizer, a couple of barrels of diesel fuel, and a few blasting caps.
Throughout history, we've been lucky when the sickos take up guns rather than bombs; the bombers were the ones that produced the truly horrific death tolls. So you should count yourself lucky that Seung Cho had decided to buy two handguns when he was indulging his violent fantasies to himself over the last month or so, one of them a weeny little .22 that he probably didn't manage to kill anybody with, rather than the dynamite or pipe bombs or other improvised explosive devices he might have bought or built if he hadn't had guns.
More Guns Wouldn't Have Prevented the Massacre, Either. I grant that this case is a little harder to make, but the only reason that this isn't obvious is that too many of you have failed to think through what would have happened if some armed student had tried to use his own handgun to overpower Seung Cho. So let's roll back the clock to Monday morning, or roll it forward to the next school shooting, and pit Rampaging Killer against some hypothetical John Q. Student, both of them armed with handguns. It's 9:45 on a Monday morning, and it has slowly dawned on John that that banging noise down the hall isn't construction, but some guy with a gun and a ton of ammunition working his way from classroom to classroom. Or maybe John gets a text message on his phone from someone who tells him that there's a pistol-wielding maniac in a bullet-proof vest full of ammo heading his way. John, being a responsible type, draws his weapon, pulls the firing pin out of his wallet and resets it, removes the safety, chambers a round, and somehow miraculously gets this all done in time to draw a careful bead on the door, waiting for Rampaging Killer to enter. We will even give him the unlikely credit for having thought to look for the flak jacket and the gun, so he doesn't accidentally shoot any of his fellow students who are fleeing from the shooter into this room. So the door bangs open, and John Q. Student sees a flak jacket and a gun, and then one of only three possible things happens:
- Remember that John Q. Student has not just spent the whole morning practicing shooting at real human beings. On the contrary, shooting at an actual human being is something that he's never done before. In fact, the odds against his having ever fired a pistol at any moving target are astronomical. Also, we know that John Q. Student has at least some humanitarian impulse, at least some urge to not shoot at people. I say this because, frankly, if he's been carrying this gun with him everywhere he goes for long enough that he happened to have it on him when he needed it, if he didn't have that hesitation to shoot another person, he would have shot somebody by now and would be in jail, not in a classroom waiting for Rampaging Killer. So I flatly guarantee you that he shoots late, and that he jerks the weapon when he shoots as his body reflexively tries to stop him from shooting someone, and the round goes completely wild. How can I guarantee this? Because this situation has come up over and over again since the invention of the gun, and it is what everybody except for a few combat veterans has done, the first time that they've fired a gun at a criminal. And that's if he fires the gun at all. In example after example, we have seen that what John Q. Student is much more likely to do is the stupidest thing he could possibly do: shout "drop the weapon" or yell "stop or I'll shoot" or fire a warning shot, wanting to give Rampaging Killer a chance to surrender. All that this achieves is to tell Rampaging Killer, now a practiced shooter, exactly where to aim. If Rampaging Killer hadn't made up his mind whether or not to shoot up this particular room, he does now, starting with emptying his clip at John and thereby gunning down everybody between John and the wall behind him, and everybody for three feet on either side.
- Or else, when John Q. Student sees a flak jacket and a gun come through that door, he's thought of this possibility. Or maybe he's a combat veteran himself. So knowing better than to try to get Rampaging Killer to not shoot, he immediately opens fire the instant he has a target, and let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he shoots improbably accurately. Only guess what? More doors were banged open by the SWAT team, who covered more of the building looking for Rampaging Killer, than were banged open by Rampaging Killer. So the odds are that John Q. Student shoots Officer Friendly, and now we have at least one more corpse. And at least one more killer.
- Or else maybe this particular John Q. Student is a combat veteran, and an Olympic quality pistol shot, and has faster reflexes than your average Olympic athlete and thinks faster and more clearly than any college aged student you've ever met in your life or that you ever will. So in the 1/10th of a second between when the flak jacket and gun crash through that door and when he would need to pull the trigger, he recognizes Officer Friendly's police uniform, and therefore holds his fire. Officer Friendly makes his combat entry into the room, sweeping his weapon across it in a practiced move, knowing that if Rampaging Killer is in the room and waiting for him then he absolutely must get a shot into Rampaging Killer fast or he's going to die. Officer Friendly sees John Q. Student's gun barrel, mistakes John Q. Student for Rampaging Killer, and empties an assault rifle into the area where John Q. Student is sitting, killing John, everybody within 3 feet either side of him, and everybody behind him for at least two rooms. Alas, Rampaging Killer was two floors away. Now we have an entire roomful of more victims.
And to again draw the parallel to Iraq, I've read that virtually every adult male Iraqi owns an assault rifle, and has since long before Saddam was overthrown. If "more guns" are the solution to school violence, then why are the Iraqis having at least one Virginia-Tech-sized school massacre every month?
So What Are the Politicians Supposed to Do? Voters in a democracy are prone to an obnoxious fault: when something truly awful happens, they demand that every elected official do something about it, right now. It doesn't matter whether or not there is anything that elected official can do that would be at all useful. All that matters is that the voters see every politician prove that he or she cares about the same things the voters care about by doing something, however futile or counter-productive. So in a way, while it's sick and tragic and pointless and futile and stupid and inhumane to the families of the victims that we're having a gun control argument now, I suppose it is sadly inevitable. So what do I think the politicians should do to prevent the next massacre like the one at Virginia Tech instead of arguing about gun control? Nothing. Let's face facts. One third of the nation is mentally ill. Of that hundred million people, there are probably at least 10,000 who are sick, twisted loners who are total losers with their preferred sex, prone to stalkerish behavior, and altogether too fond of really sick violent imagery. Heck, I've known at least two of them personally. Every eight years or so, one of those 10,000 people goes off. And there is still no way to predict which of those 10,000 people are going to go off, and no way to coral or herd or manage or contain or even disarm those 10,000 sickos without setting even more of them off than already go off.
Learn elementary first aid, practice building evacuations, live a good and loving and full life, and if you have dependents pay your life insurance. Not because every eight years or so you have a one in 10,000,000 chance of being the victim of a rampaging mass murderer, but because you run a much higher probability of at least once in your life of being involved in some kind of random disaster, whether from dangerous weather, or other natural disaster, or a building fire, or an act of war, or any of a long long list of things that can go wrong in this life. Sometimes death just comes at random. Sometimes there just isn't anything useful we can do about that other than to do what you political carrion eaters aren't allowing us to quietly do instead of getting dragged into your pointless argument, and that's to comfort the survivors and rebuild.