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Virginia is, if memory serves, one of the states that had a particularly malevolently horrible 2004 national election, one marked by substantial Republican chicanery and vicious suppression of the minority vote, so the last thing on earth that I could ever have imagined myself doing was cheering for Virginia's Republican governor, Tim Kaine. But Tuesday afternoon I not only cheered out loud over something he said, I was so glad he said it that I was waving my fist over my head and very nearly jumped out of my chair. And it wasn't just what he said, but how he said it; I wish I could find a way to show it to you. But at the end of the Tuesday press conference, some sleazebag in the audience, knowing how pro-gun Kaine is, tossed him what he probably thought was a softball question, namely, did the governor think that some of the deaths could have been averted if Virginia Polytechnic students had been allowed to carry concealed firearms on campus? Instead of the reaction the so-called "reporter" was expecting, what happened was that governor Kaine's face twisted up as if he had bitten into a bug. And with disgust dripping from his voice, he said something to the effect that the only response he had to anybody who would try to use this tragedy to make any kind of a point about gun control was "total loathing."

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:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.
No other outcome is even vaguely humanly possible. Frankly, if he had any impulse to fight the Rampaging Killer rather than to jump out a window or bar the door, John Q. Student would have been safer and just as effective if he had used his bare hands.

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.


( 83 comments — Leave a comment )
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Apr. 18th, 2007 05:22 am (UTC)
Thank you for the very nice essay. I'm sorry if it hurt you to write it.

I don't think it's useful to argue tactics or ballistics with you. Instead I'm going to write about I felt when I first heard about the Virginia Tech shooting.

I wanted to do something, as pointless as that is from three thousand miles and six hours down the timeline. If I were "there" -- and I have a greater-than-average chance of being there -- I'd very definitely want to do something, and cheerfully accept that a higher-than-average risk of being killed goes with the territory. I'll add that I'm painfully aware, as someone who does a lot of training, that someone I train is much more likely to be there than I am. So when I train others, it is with the idea that I don't want other people including my trainees to get killed. Never bring more victims to the incident.

Firearms are a last ditch piece of emergency equipment used in the effort to prevent a greater evil by causing a great evil. "Guns" in the gun control sense are an iconic symbol of individual power, both in defense from criminals and in an increasingly paternalistic relationship with a centralized bureaucracy. The two subjects really have nothing to do with each other, and I feel humbled by your essay in that regard.

Still, part of me stubbornly wants to believe that an off-duty police officer, citizen CCW holder, corrections guard, etc. could have made a difference if they were locked in with the shooter at Virginia Tech. Even if they failed. Even if they died, and died in such a way that even more people died. Even though these outcomes (failure = death, failure = more deaths) are as real as the keyboard I am typing on.

I feel helpless. I know that the people who suffered through that day felt helpless too. Students, responders, specialists, parents, staff and administrators, the general public. All did the best they could with what they had. It didn't change a damn thing.

So the fantasy of not-helplessness is compelling. Even though all the responding police had firearms, and felt no less helpless for it. CCW, as politically impossible as it is to get such a permit in California (unless you're Dianne Feinstein -- yes, she has one and has been known to carry, the hypocrite!) carries with it the illusion that one could Do Something. The very same hero's fantasy that I warn my students against.

I need to do some hard thinking about CCW, and I won't burden you further by doing it here. I do think it has substantial social value, but I have to admit to myself that I may be letting my prejudices run ahead of the facts.

Again, thank you.
Apr. 18th, 2007 11:56 am (UTC)
About the time I turned 12, I started to carry weapons. I carried weapons cause I had moved to a new place, and was not well recieved. I feard constantly for my safety. I was oftentimes assaulted.

By the time I was 14, I was carrying everywhere, even school. The abuse never ended, cause I never pulled the weapons. The abuse was not life threatening. But, that was about to change.

One day, while riding home on my bicycle. I noticed that I was being followed by one of the local bullies. Turns out, he decided that it would be fun to hurt me. I raced for my life. At some point, I realized that I would not make it home before being overtaken. So, I stopped and jumped off my bicycle ready to defend myself. He stopped and jumped off his bicycle and pulled a weapon. In response, I pulled mine. Seeing my weapon, he got back on his bicycle and fled.

Having that weapon saved my life that day.

Yes, they were NOT firearms that we had. And there IS more to the story than that. But, that does not change the fact that I saved myself because I was armed.

Today, I have 56 NON firearm weapons. They vary from a simple knife, to a Chakram, to a pair of sai's, to swords, to naganata's, and just about everything in between. I can use them all proficiently. I also have 2 pistols. a .22, and a 9mm. Both of which, I can ALSO use proficiently. I AM liscensed to carry and do so almost every time I leave the house.

And, yes, I pull the pistol to the right a little when I squeeze the trigger. Also, every beat of my heart makes that pistol jump while I am aiming. I also cant track and so I have to lead my target. But, you see, I know all of this. And, I compensate for it all accordingly. And, (wether you believe it or not), I dont miss. My Academy "Firearms Honors" can attest to that.

I never look for a fight. But, I have been brutally tought that a fight can come looking for me. What you have me do? Sit like a lamb to the slaughter? HOPE that he does not pick the room I happen to be in? Listen in horror as people are dying and do nothing?

Just because you have more faith in the criminal, than those that would stand up to them, doesent make you right. It saddens me how there might be a person that read your post, that might die, because you took away their courage to defend themselves.

I for one would rather take my chances. And die fighting. Rahter than die huddled in a ball in a corner wimpering...
(no subject) - bradhicks - Apr. 18th, 2007 12:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
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question - kimchalister - Apr. 18th, 2007 04:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Apr. 18th, 2007 05:23 am (UTC)
[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<i<john,>') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]

<i<John, being a responsible type, draws his weapon, <b>pulls the firing pin out of his wallet</b> and resets it, </i>

Since when is removing the firing pin from a holstered weapon standard practice? Is this some Virginia thing I'm not familiar with?
Apr. 18th, 2007 12:49 pm (UTC)
It's not standard practice, I grant, but it's something I've heard suggested by firearms safety instructors. For a weapon that's going to be worn concealed, banged around quite a bit, and that you risk having taken away from you if someone gets the drop on you, removing the firing pin prevents accidental discharge if the weapon's safety gets bumped, and prevents the weapon from being turned against you. As Perich's arguments show, almost never is it in the concealed weapon carrier's interest to actually fire the weapon, because most encounters with criminals end the second you draw the weapon.
Apr. 18th, 2007 06:29 am (UTC)
Umm, firing pin?
As the commenter above implied, a gun is not a grenade.

Actchally, I like grenades (pomegranates) their juice is quite yummy and nutritious.

All the best, Justthisguy.
Apr. 18th, 2007 06:53 am (UTC)
Apr. 18th, 2007 06:53 am (UTC)
*shrugs* I haven't said anything to anyone about it for the reasons you discuss in your last post, but I do have a perspective on this issue. Personally, I think either more or fewer guns would have made a difference. I am not saying that either would have necessarily prevented or even mitigated this disaster, though.

In fact, on the side of "fewer guns" I pretty much agree with you.

On the side of "more guns"...I think your argument is faulty. You assume that the people with guns are in the minority. If that weren't the case, any killer trying to randomly start shooting the place up would get outnumbered and taken down in short order. That's my understanding of things at least; I must admit I've not really researched it thoroughly.

Of course, one point you make is very valid and is one of several reasons I don't advocate such a course too strongly -- these kinds of massacres still happen in Iraq. But why are explosives the favored method? Partly because anyone trying to commit mass murder with a gun is just going to get shot down, I would guess.

In the end, I think a lot of people really do believe, for whatever reason, that their pet policy would, must, make siutations like this better. That is, after all, one of the reasons people have strong political opinions -- because they believe that the changes they seek would be real improvements. I think most people could do with a little more patience before they begin picking this event apart for things to use in support of their positions...but I choose to believe that even those that engage in this practice do so with generally good intentions.
Apr. 18th, 2007 07:15 am (UTC)
There are things in the world that are essentially apolitical, and people react to trauma in a variety of ways that have nothing to do with 'political carrion eaters'.

Sometimes one of the greatest gifts we can offer to victims is the effort to do what we can to see that others do not have to suffer as they have. And, sometimes that simple notion does become twisted into an ugly thing, and you can be certain it will (already has) in this case so I empathize with your aggravation.

Apr. 18th, 2007 11:28 am (UTC)
Empirical evidence suggests that armed students are at least capable, if not guaranteed, of stopping a shooter.
Apr. 18th, 2007 12:09 pm (UTC)
It looks like only one of those was an armed student, and the only one firing in that set of examples was the police officer. (That said, my roommate was talking yesterday about another case in West Virginia – he might have confused it with the Virginia one, admittedly.)

That does raise a question, however: what fraction of the time do these lunatics stop when someone points a gun at them? I don't recall any reports on the number of guns carried by victims.
(no subject) - perich - Apr. 18th, 2007 12:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lots42 - Apr. 19th, 2007 01:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - perich - Apr. 19th, 2007 02:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 18th, 2007 12:24 pm (UTC)
Iraqis have had a Virginia-Tech-sized school massacre at least once a month for the last four years.

That was what I didn't want to point out yesterday.
Apr. 18th, 2007 01:16 pm (UTC)
I'm more concerned about the fact that Cho was on antidepressants. Is there a possibility that made worse whatever was wrong with him? Obviously he had "money issues."

Has there been any evidence that Cho owned any videogames, violent or otherwise? If not, have people like Dr. Phil apologized for their immediate assumptions (personally, shooting fake "meansters" is cathartic, rather than provocative, but everyone is different)?

While gun control would not have prevented this incident would the outlawing of certain kinds of ammo and weapons have resulted in fewer deaths?

I think we're going to see more people "snap" as "the American Way of Life" continues to go down the drain. In our current political and economic environment the human capacity to imagine, dwell and rationalize is a liability.
Apr. 18th, 2007 01:42 pm (UTC)
Are you planning on outlawing gasoline as well? And diesel fuel, ammonium nitrate fertilizer, or both? And ammonia cleaners and iodine solution? And machetes and kitchen knives? The deadly weapon here is the rampaging killer, not his tools.

I don't know that any one cause makes people snap, or that any change in the culture is going to make more of them snap, because people have snapped at a more or less constant rate since the dawn of recorded history. That's why I insist on calling this a random tragedy. Like earthquakes and tornadoes and accidental building fires, it's just something that happens in life.
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the washington post - minidoc - Apr. 18th, 2007 03:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Apr. 18th, 2007 01:33 pm (UTC)
Personally, I had to explain to people for years why and how I could belong to the ACLU, NOW and the NRA. I answered that I believed in all of the Constitutional liberties, not just the ones lauded by my side of the ideological fence. I don't own a gun, never have, and probably never will - but I stand up for my fellow citizen's right to own and use one, so long as s/he doesn't feel inclined to use it on innocent bystanders. I resigned my NRA membership in the early/mid-1990s when they went after the CDC, but that doesn't stop my innate conviction that gun ownership is a right - horribly politicized on all sides, yet nevertheless essential, if only as a symbol.

And yeah, Brad - I agree that the constant politicization of tragedy sickens me... but then, what else is new? It's certainly not a uniquely American trait; back when those earthquakes ravaged Iran, radical Muslims spread the idea that the US, Israel or both had employed "earthquake bombs" to kill Allah's faithful children. The grotesque manipulation of death and horror for political means is as old a trick as politics itself.
Apr. 18th, 2007 01:45 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Apr. 18th, 2007 01:52 pm (UTC)
thank you. thank you so much for this. it is how i feel but you put it in much better words. I am so tired of people seeing a tradgedy and then having to find and place blame on everything but what went wrong in the first place. Mainly that if this guy had been known to be violent and dysfunctional perhaps someone should have gotten HIM help before this. but no people woudl rather blame guns(lack of or to many of), video games and music for the flaws of the world failing to realise or remember people have been killing people for a really long time and sometimes people are not well and that overall society itself is kinda sick. at least the one we are in right now.
Apr. 18th, 2007 02:14 pm (UTC)
The guy's screenwriting teacher said that only one other time in her entire 20-some-year career has she been as scared that one of her students was going to go off on people as she was about this guy, and that she spent heroic amounts of effort trying to get him into counseling, and when that failed to get the school to evict him, and when that failed to get the cops to do something.

May I point out, quietly, that this means that even as low as her false-alarm rate is, she would have ruined the education and career of at least one guy who still hasn't hurt anyone in order to stop the one out of two of them that did? And is she sure that her attempts to protect herself from this guy weren't one of the things that set him off, that convinced him the whole school was against him?

I sympathize, belatedly, with the feeling that we ought to be able to identify the dangerous crazies and do something about them before they pop. But remember the numbers at the end of my article, above. By the DSM-IV criteria, 1/3rd of us are mentally ill. Probably at least 10,000 of them in the same way that this guy was. And over a lifetime, maybe as many as 10 or 12 of those 10,000 guys are ever going to hurt anyone. What can you justify doing to 999 harmless but scary-seeming people in order to catch the 1 out of a 1000 who not only seems scary but actually is? And what effect will whatever it is you think we ought to be doing have on some number of the 999 out of a 1000 such guys who never was going to hurt anyone until we started messing with them?
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Apr. 18th, 2007 01:57 pm (UTC)
Also i am sure that someone at some point has pointed you to this site and such but this all reminds me of a rant here that goes well with this essay
the rant titled Guns
Apr. 18th, 2007 02:14 pm (UTC)
Bulletproof windows and doors in schools and offices. Won't stop it but might minimize the number of people harmed when someone goes on a mass shooting spree.
Apr. 18th, 2007 02:18 pm (UTC)
If the windows and doors had been that sturdy, fewer of the students would have been able to break out and escape.

UT Austin just recently implemented a system, I see, where one of the possible signals out of the disaster warning system means "evacuate if you can, and if you can't then take cover" and where campus security has an automated system to send text message alerts to every student with a text-message-capable phone who signs up for the service. Those things strike me as worth doing ... but not just for this particular type of disaster, but for disasters in general, for everything from building fires to toxic spills to incoming tornadoes.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Apr. 18th, 2007 08:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 18th, 2007 02:25 pm (UTC)
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