Tuesday, April 17, 2007

More Proof Gun Control Is A Red Herring

In the wake of the deadliest school shooting in US (and one would assume world) history comes the news that the killer in the bloodiest U.S. gun massacre has been identified as a 23-year-old undergraduate English major at Virginia Tech whose creative writing was so troubling that the university referred him to counselling.

"He was reported to be getting increasingly violent and erratic in the days before the deadly rampage."

Television news is reporting he'd also set fire in a dormitory recently.

This is a clear example of a situation where a troubled person showed evidence of disturbing behaviour over a period of time and, other than the teacher who referred him for counseling, the standard response was the one we've mastered: Do nothing. Just ignore it. Someone's having problems but they'll go away. Nothing will come of it, what are the odds?

Although my post last night was really just an extended comment in response to Kevin Wignall's excellent post at Contemporary Nomad, I stand by it, and Kevin's musings. Although we now know the shooter to be an adult the speculation about how we're dealing with the youth of today is critical. You don't wake up one day and say, "Couldn't get the new stereo installed in the car today so I guess I'll go kill some people." The evidence of gun purchasing going back to March and the behaviour of the shooter over a prolonged period of time were all warning signs.

Signs people ignored.

I think the reason so many people focus on gun control is because it's an impersonal thing that doesn't require them to actually give a damn about anyone else or pay attention to people hurting around them. It lets them off the hook and allows them to continue doing what they do best - nothing.

Don't get me wrong. I don't own a gun. Yes, I know how to fire one. Yes, I grew up in a house filled with them. Kevin's military trained. But we have also lost a close relative to a bullet and I'm well aware of what a gun can do.

I'm also well aware that tougher gun laws wouldn't have made a difference in that case. It isn't until we understand the root that we can start finding answers, and it would be trite and short-sighted to suggest the roots are universal and absolute in all cases, but in the majority of these cases it goes well beyond whether you have access to guns or not.

And in this case the real question isn't how this man got guns. It's how so many people failed to recognize his increasingly unstable behaviour and intervene.


Anonymous said...

Why the warning signs weren't picked up is certainly the important question.

Another one, as Kevin identified, is how an individual got to the point that the warning signs even existed: why he felt the need to do it. You don't need to take a gun out of someone's hand; you need to stop them having the will or desire to use it in such a manner.

Unfortunately, that's easier said than done - and probably impossible. How many factors are there to take into account, and what can you do about them?

Politically-speaking, 'gun control' does seem a bit of a red herring (although I'd advocate it more strongly for the Government), but I'm not totally convinced it's wrong in principle. Pretty obviously, if we had the chance, we'd control that guy's guns this week. And they're not allowed in certain areas, and so on. So everybody is for gun control, really, but only in targeted ways that don't put them out. If those ways don't seem to be working then maybe new ways should be tried. It seems defeatist to say "they'll get hold of them anyway", although it might be true. (I live in the UK, and one of my family was shot when I was younger). Most of the other arguments by the gun lobby sound to me like "But I don't want that!", or variations that boil down the same. Which is fair enough, I guess: priorities, and all.

But it shouldn't then be surprising when the inevitable psychopath gets hold of the inevitable gun. If you don't or can't stop that conjunction somewhere along the line, then what do you expect? Which is why the warning signs issue is probably the only practical way to go. Which is sad, in all honesty.

On a related note, I read one comment elsewhere along the lines of "if other kids in the college had guns, they might have stopped him". How wise.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I'm for reasonable gun control. By that, I mean that I recognize that some people have need of guns. I wish we had one we could take with us when we go hiking in K country. Ever been in the wild and encountered a grizzly? Then tell me you've never felt the need for a gun.

And even then it's a delusion if all you have is a 9 mm, because you'll have the hit the head - the fur's too thick to make much of a dent.

I just think people put a lot of energy on gun control (and more psychological testing, a national red-flag system would be appropriate - in Virginia only rules seem to be you buy one gun at a time, a month apart. This guy reportedly bought one gun in March, and another last week) when it won't stop these incidents. If a person has been driven to this point they will find another way - evidence is this guy was planning this for some time. If not guns then bombs.

They can say things like 'schools are no gun zones' all they want - until they put metal detectors on every door they can't ensure that. Schools here, it wouldn't be hard to get a gun inside at all. When you work in a school, as I have, you think about all of this stuff. We don't have guards who will come to our rescue. You realize you have to be proactive as much as possible.

And in this case people will be asking a lot of questions for a long time, about why only one person even tried to intervene when there were warning signs.