Tuesday, April 17, 2007

He Was A Loner

Yes, the Va. Tech gunman was described as a “loner”. This is hardly surprising, since most mass murderers seem to be described that way. The bigger question is how this non-citizen, who had a history of mental problems, who was taking medication for depression, managed to get the kind of weaponry he had. Even if one believes in the absoluteness of Second Amendment rights, they surely cannot extend to non-citizens, and surely shouldn’t extend to those who have mental problems.
I have a friend who graduated from VT a few years ago and when I first heard the news, I wondered how he must have felt. For the rest of us, the names Ambler Johnston Hall and Norris Hall have no real meaning other than the sites of this tragedy. He spent four years of his life there, it’s a very real place to him. Those are buildings and areas he passed through or around on a regular basis, it was home.
Virginia Tech is one of the top universities in the country and now it is faced with rebuilding in a way no university has had to. This obviously has a horrible effect on those directly involved and their families. For the over 20,000 students at VT, it is a nightmare which will be hard to awake from. How do they go to classes in Norris Hall, knowing the carnage that took place there? How safe do any of them feel in their dorms or classrooms, no matter how unlikely a repeat may be? How do their parents react to this – besides the immediate relief that their child is alive, followed, one would expect, by a certain guilt at that very relief, knowing that there are at least 33 other sets of parents who don’t have that feeling? What of the entering class, do they reconsider where they were going? The excitement of getting into a top school surely must now be tempered with the doubts about what that campus will be like when they get there.
Now we will see the overreaction by those whose function in life is to overreact. Pundits will babble about a) the need for greater gun control b) the need for greater campus security c) the violence of video games d) all of the above. Politicians will try to write laws to fix the problem, with no real ability to do so; yet is the nature of our democracy to believe that every problem has a solution, so they will try something, no matter how irrelevant. For if history shows us one thing, it is that if you really want to do violence, if you really want to kill, nothing can stop you. The assassination attempts on multiple Presidents has clearly demonstrated that. Suicide bombings in Israel clearly demonstrate that. You can’t make people go through metal detectors everywhere, every day, and still have a society which feels free and open.
Of course, background checks before getting handguns would be nice. And if the Republicans can stop sucking at the teat of the NRA long enough to restrict the kind of ammunition available, at least some deaths might be prevented. The 19-round cartridges he apparently used were illegal until the last Congress, the previous law had restricted them to ten rounds, but the GOP let that lapse. You may have the right to carry a gun, but no one other than a mass murderer needs that many rounds without reloading.
The news coverage of this event and the aftermath was, of course, wall-to-wall. It merited it, but that kind of coverage reveals a major flaw in the way stories are covered. What you have is an anchor, whichever one is supposed to be on-air at that hour, handling all the presentation, all the questions, all the reactions. This is a terrible way to get information and to organize information. In a more reasonable world, only 45 minutes of the hour would be devoted to this story, with the rest of the time devoted to everything else in the world. However, if you did that, people would change the channel looking for more news about the big story, so that is out of the question, since ratings are everything. The way it’s set up now is awful – you get a series of terrible questions, mostly due to bad assumptions, but often due to the inability to digest and analyze what information is already at hand. The best solution would be to immediately bring in a second anchor, allowing them to take turns analyzing the information themselves as well as batting ideas around with staff. They would be up to speed faster and the expert interviews would be far more revealing and far less infuriating. Hopefully, we’ll never have deal with it again. Realistically, we will.


Blogger sam.gurka5 said...

I'm not entirely comfortable commenting on this posting given the circumstances. With one son in college now, I'm nauseated by the scenes of young, bright, kids whose lives have been taken and whose parents have been subjected to the one thing no parent should ever have to endure: to bury your own child.

Still, I think it is never the wrong time, and maybe exactly the right time, to discuss the elephant in the room. I'm not a big believer in the idea that people become violent by watching, or being exposed to, violence. I've seen no evidence of this and I find it a convenient way to blame the media or Hollywood for the violent acts of a few.

Indeed, children around the world are exposed, more or less, to the same cultural/media influeneces as American kids. In fact, in places like Japan, they probably get more violence in TV and movies than American kids. The only tangible difference American kids and others is their access to guns. It may be true that people kill, and not guns, but if someone like Cho intended to cause mayhem, we certainly make it a hell of a lot easier by allowing him to walk in to a store and buy guns and ammo.

I don't think it is political expediency to bring up this issue today. In fact, it is the appropriate time. This is the only civilized and industrialized country in the world to provide such easy access to guns (as well as capital punishment, but that's for another day) and the prove of the pudding is that, on a per capita basis, we endure these kinds of tragedies far more often than others.

I don't think it is a constitutional question either. There are no absolutes in the Bill of Rights. Free speech is not absolute nor is search and seizure limitations and cruel and unusual punishments. They are there for the court to interpret and mend to the prevailing environment.

I love this country and the ideals upon which it was founded and, for the most part, attemnpts to live but this is yet another day in recent years when I fell ashamed.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Barry Rubinowitz said...

I'm not quite certain what laws should, let alone could, be passed to deal with this. Reinstating the limit on the number of rounds in a cartridge would be nice, yet it would still leave the guns there. Nothing will remove guns from the streets, and indeed, there is some evidence that gun control has no positive effect on crime.
You are right that the Second Amendment is not absolute. More than that, it has been consistently misread and misinterpreted, in ignorance of its history and intent. Yet it is what it is and has a passionate following not likely to take alterations lightly -- and they have guns.

3:20 PM  

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