Monday, April 16, 2007

The Virginia Tech Shootings

First, my deepest sympathies go out the students and staff at Virginia Tech University. At this point, about the only thing that’s appeared in the news was that a gunman (for whatever reason, the reports only mention one) managed to shoot and kill thirty one people in a single morning rampage. They haven’t released his/her name nor has anything been said about a possible motive other than the FBI’s statement that there is nothing to suggest that this was a terrorist act of any kind. Given that it appears to have been a single shooter and reports that the police were collecting a large number of expended shells from the scene of the crime, I have to assume that an automatic weapon of some sort was involved.

Inevitably, the press asked the White House how the incident affects the Administration’s stance on gun control. Acting White House Press Secretary, Dana Perino, responded that “The president believes that there is a right to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed.”

I take the latter to mean that it’s all right to have guns, but not to shoot anyone else with them. At a logical level, it’s sensible enough though it’s a bit like saying “Possession of heroin should be legal as long as you don’t use it, sell it, or give it to anyone who might.”

I think it was Poe who insisted that you should never put a gun on the mantelpiece in a story unless it’s going to go off at some point and play some role in the plot.

I would assume that the White House’s initial take on the shootings was not especially well prepared. I imagine they’ve been busy lately with the Attorney General’s testimony before congress tomorrow, the weekend bombings and Al Sadr’s symbolic withdrawal of his cabinet ministers from the government in Iraq, and doing the compassionate conservative thing by making sympathetic phone calls to former vice-presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby. Despite
Dick Cheney’s claim that he hasn’t spoken to his good friend
and former far fight hand man
, Lewis Libby, since the indictment or the verdict, I’m assuming they care about him at least as much as they care about supporting our troops even when they’re in VA hospitals.

I’m just not sure why an Adminstration that has been so unconcerned about the first and fourth amendments or the rule of law appears to consider the second amendment so sacrosanct. The last time I checked the preamble of the Constitution it said “We the people” not “We the people and their automatic weapons.” On the other hand, why would I expect a White House that’s allowed so many to die in a war based on a lie not to respond by saying, “Terrible tragedy, but we’re not going to restrict anyone’s right to bear arms. That would really be wrong.”

When I used to visit high poverty schools, I was always amazed by the security precautions. During the school day, despite the fire marshals, high schools often only allowed people to come in and out of a single door of the building. At the door, all visitors walked through a metal detector and in general there were policemen in and around the school. Oddly, almost every high profile mass shooting that I’ve heard of in America happened somewhere outside what we called the “ghetto” a couple decades ago.

Over the last few months, it’s become so commonplace to hear about marketplace bombings in Iraq that kill 48 people at a time, that the number thirty one just doesn’t seem that horrifying to me at a visceral level. When Charles Whitman opened fire from the tower at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966, people talked for months about the fact that he killed sixteen people that day. My guess is that we’ve become so desensitized by the near daily casualty reports in Iraq that this incident may fall from the public consciousness in a matter of weeks. For instance it’s been weeks since I heard anyone mention the school shootings in Amish country (also a heavily-armed lone gunman) and Wisconsin that happened in the same week just a few months ago.

The mantra in our culture for more than a generation has been “Guns don’t kill people, people do.”

Actually it’s people with guns who do it and all too frequently it turns out to be certifiably crazy people who were allowed to accumulate staggering quantities of weapons who killed people with their guns. I know the whole “Guns yes, crimes with guns no” business falls right in line with the paradigm of “individual responsibility” that has dominated the rhetoric of America politics far too long.

It runs something like this:
1) Poverty is a problem of not wanting to work hard enough or take risks.
2) Teenage pregnancy is an issue of having the will to avoid sex and using your mind and spirit to control your body at the time when the body is clearly its most hormonal.
3) Drugs and other addictions are a matter of “Just saying no.”
4) Even consumer and employee safety are thought to be matters of “Educate yourself” or better yet start your own business.
5) Mayhem with automatic weapons naturally is just a function of people breaking the law and why should we punish those who enjoy collecting assault weapons to maybe hunt the editors of national hunting magazines.

It’s time for our culture to talk about sustainability in all senses. My vision of this is a bit different from the White House’s notion of “Individual Accountability” for anyone who doesn't have the money or the power to buy their way out. I still say, if that were the case shouldn’t the Constitution have started “I the people to serve my own interests and the mysterious powers of the invisible hand.”

I believe sane societies and people don’t just look out for themselves. Sane people look out for each other. Sane people understand that no human being is rational 24/7 or even necessarily capable of controlling his/her actions in a thoughtful manner. Teenagers are not uniformly virtuous. Some people are more chemically and psychologically susceptible to drugs, alcohol, and food than others. Some adults get angry faster than they can control. It doesn’t make them bad people or necessarily unworthy. It does mean that we should set up our communities in ways that minimize these temptations instead of maximizing the profit that can be made off of them.

Bottom line, there were thirty-one people, most of them very young, all of them law abiding in Blacksburg, Virginia this morning who had rights too, rights that the White House somehow neglected to mention this morning.

I am deeply sorry for the victims in Blacksburg. I am livid about having an administration that pretends to care when these tragedies happen, but really does nothing about it when the day is done. Just ask the people of New Orleans. Baghdad is not the only place America needs an exit plan.



At 4/16/2007 10:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in the rural & remote Eastern Shore of Maryland and shot a lot of cans with various firearms. I can tell you why I would never have a gun as an adult. They're too damn easy to shoot. There's a loud noise and a kick (huge for a 30 ought 6, less for a 22) and something falls over.

I once shot a sparrow with a BB gun mainly out of an ignorant curiosity when I was 8-ish. My horror at its dying and its little fast terrified heart and how its eyes went dull when its heart stopped probably made me the militant pacifist I am today. I begged for it to live. Me and the little bird and the terrible bleak dust I knelt in holding it flopped lifeless in my hand while I wept helplessly.

It's too easy to shoot things.

At 4/17/2007 09:30:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

It's too easy to shoot things indeed and it's way too hard to protect them.
We keep improving our technology for destroying things and keep neglecting the technology of culture, interpersonal skills, and self-awareness.

At 4/17/2007 10:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The shootings have led you to summarize all that's wrong with our current administration in a way that blends together very well.

As the comedian Jake Johansson said, "Guns don't kill people; bullets do.". Seriously though, I do like your analogy with drugs.

I despise hunting or killing of any animals, and guns make it too easy to kill as pogblog said. In terms of us having the right to defend ourselves against the government, I don't think any of us stand a chance against the best-armed military in the history of the planet. So then self-defense is the only reason to have a gun, but that often leads to the gun-owner getting shot when the thief has to fight for his/her own life.

(Sorry for the disjointed rambling. It's late.)

At 4/18/2007 09:40:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

you know Jake Johanson used to live and work here in Northern California. He was a regular in San Francisco comedy clubs just before he broke through nationally.
I've heard that some material just doesn't work in certain regions of the country ie gun jokes or gun control jokes.

My take on the second amendment is that it says the right to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged, so that's why I keep a muzzle loaded musket with balls and powder in our bedroom.

btw....your comment was perfectly coherent to me. Thanks as always for taking the time to come by.

At 4/19/2007 02:03:00 AM, Blogger Dale said...

Thanks for writing this Chancelucky. Your commenters make excellent points too. When I saw the coverage and then snippets of the president's speech, I just thought what the eff is he doing on? He personifies senseless tragedy.

At 4/19/2007 02:53:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

you at least have the solace of knowing that he's not your President.
As someone pointed out, he took 4 days to get to New Orleans, but this time he managed to catch the red eye or something when it was college kids and college professors.


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