American in Spain

Gun Laws

April 18, 2007

HandgunI thought I'd write a little bit about how I experienced the news of the "Virginia Tech Massacre", as the media likes to call it now. It noticed that the story was topping Google News on Monday evening, and I read a little about it. On Tuesday morning, I got up early and read some of the comments about it on Slashdot. One of the things that struck me as I was reading the comments was who started the argument about gun laws. It was the pro-gun side of the issue. They immediately preempted with a "If gun laws weren't so strict, and every student in the classrooms was carrying, they would have brought the shooter down immediately, thus saving many lives" argument. The naí¯veté of this viewpoint would be laughable if it weren't so frightening. The two best points that destroy this idea are:

  1. If everyone had a gun, then common arguments with heated tempers would result in death. Everyone that's ever received a bloody nose from a fist would have received a bullet instead. Guns aren't powerful enough to benefit from the "assured mutual destruction" peace that nuclear weapons provide.
  2. We tried that already. It was called the Wild West, and the chaos and personal security was like that of present-day Baghdad. Heroes were made of those that could instill the slightest bit of order.

A lot of the comments were along the lines of, "How could someone feel so hurt/lonely/desperate as to kill innocent people like that?" I found one response to this plea particularly on target, which I will reproduce here:

There are any number of reasons, and they are all very real.

For example, imagine that suddenly your dear and loving parents split apart violently. Your once placid and happy life is sundered apart. Instead of caring, your friends (if you're lucky enough have any) shrug it off. They might have gone through divorce and think it's much ado about nothing or perhaps they simply don't understand.

Meanwhile life only gets worse. It isn't just that no one understands, no one wants to. No one makes the effort to connect and communicate, or not enough people do. You only get to watch as everyone around them appears happy and complacent. They're having fun, playing games, living normal lives and crying about silly things like how their boyfriend dumped them. Boohoo, your soul is only tearing itself apart and no one notices.

The wound festers, and before long you hate everyone and everything. They're is so happy like sheep, ignorant and uncaring about the injustices that go on around them. They don't fucking care, so long as they get to have their stupid, superficial relationships and screw each other while others suffer. They're more than willing to spend $15 a month on some remote child in africa but to actually lift a finger themselves, too hard for the bastards.

Demons all of them. They're talking about you behind your back. They're pointing you out, you're the weirdo. The anti-social ass who chased away all those fuckers who were your "friends". No one wants anything to do with you, or doesn't know you're unclean. You practically don't even exist in the feeble minds of these bitches. Some socially disfigured leper.

Damn those fuckers to hell. You play nice, you're a "primadonna" because you had a nervous breakdown when your parents split. You play rough, and you're a lowlife scumfuck without the sophistication to breed. Fuck'em all and their social games. They'll see. You'll wake them up and they'll see. They'll see themselves for the compassionless, stupid fucks they are. Yeah, it'll be sweet.

Is that how this happened? Probably not. However, it's suprising how quickly good people can go bad when there's no one willing or able to support them.

And this later comment on how to prevent such social situations:

No, its not "their fault" - they're nuts. Still, how do we deal with it? Lock up everyone who might be a threat? That will just alienate the already alienated, or make them hide more diligently until that fatal day when they seek revenge for imagined slights.

No. It means being nicer to people.

To friends, family and complete strangers.

Yes... I said complete strangers. We don't say please and thank you anymore. We don't hold doors for each other. We cut each other off in traffic and give each other the bird. We lie and cheat to get ahead at the work place. We gossip and ruin people's lives. We cut in line in grocery store and we try to rip off our waiter at the restaurant. We focus our lives our possessions and money and we don't give a damn to a man on the street or a kid who has had his world shattered. We say they are "crazy". We say they are "evil" and that it isn't our fault.

But it is our fault. Every single one of us have forgotten about all the other humans out there and we always trump "personal responsibility" on others without even thinking that we haven't even bothered ourselves.

I'm surprised more people don't go crazy in our society on a daily basis with the way we behave.

Everyone is about "ME! ME! ME!" without ever stopping to think about the fact they are hurting everyone else.

And I'm guilty as everyone else... But sometimes I think to myself "Maybe I shouldn't cut off that guy in traffic like that, he might go and snap."

Okay, here come some of my own thoughts on this issue. I'm far from convinced of my position and am just thinking aloud here. I'm assuming that the goal of our discussion is to try to assess what aspects contributed to such an event occurring and to attempt to alter the world in a way that will prevent future occurrences. First, let's take a step back from finger pointing and look at things scientifically. How would a scientist assess causality here? The truth is that causality is near impossible to determine in social matters with so many variables. We're going to have to accept correlation as the best we can get, and then discard correlated factors that we are pretty sure do not have a causal effect. One way to examine the situation would be to compare aspects of the society in which the violence occurred with those of similar societies. How about western Europe? England, Denmark, Spain, France, etc. Let's compare possible related social aspects between the US and these countries...

  • Violent video games? Present in both. Discarded.
  • Lonely people who feel rage towards other apparently normal happy people? Present in both. Discarded.
  • Bullies who torment unpopular kids to the point where they could snap? Present in both. Discarded.
  • Large vehicles and relatively cheap gas prices? Only in US. This could be it.
  • Banned gay marriage? Only in US. This could definitely be it.
  • Laws allowing private citizens to purchase and carry handguns? Only in US. Can't be discarded.
  • A large percentage of the population that believes that a man was born to a virgin 2000 years ago, died, came back to life, flew into the sky, and can hear everyone's most private thoughts? To a greater extent in the US, but not absent in other similar societies. Should be looked at.

This is the kind of thinking that we should be doing with each new suggestion of the "why" behind such a tragedy. Then, each one of the items that is not exactly the same in other societies should be examined further to see if they have any might possibly have any relevance to the situation. Like here, SUVs, gay marriage, and religion can almost certainly be discarded as, although correlated to the rate of single-incident mass gun murder of innocents, not related causally.

It was actually the coverage of the NBC Nightly News (podcasted) that got me thinking along these lines. They mentioned similar incidents over 10 years ago in the UK and Australia which were followed immediately by legislation outlawing handguns. They even pointed out how the cops in the UK don't carry guns. On a side note, it was kind of shocking to me to see officers with holsters in Spain after living in the UK for so many years. If it wasn't certainly the top question he would have prepared to dodge, I would have thought Bush's response to Brian Williams' "So what are we going to do about all these guns?" question (damn that liberal media!), I would have thought he was a clever politician. His response was, "There will be time for political debate about policies later. Right now I want to concentrate on showing support for the victims' loved ones". Brilliant! And scripted.

And all this was before I found out that the shooter purchased his weapons completely legally.

I'm not claiming to have drawn a conclusion that lax gun laws are definitely responsible for what happened on Monday. I'm just suggesting a way to think about it rationally, and to point out that most reasons that you will hear bandied about can be discarded through rational thought, and that gun legislation is a topic that cannot directly be discarded and needs further investigation.