Virginia Tech and Elsewhere

For the moment, the murderous spree at Virginia Tech University has virtually eclipsed all other news. The headlines scream, as if echoing the screams of those victimized by this incomprehensible tragedy. As the details continue to emerge, many questions are being asked. How could this have happened? How could one person have inflicted so much harm? What would possess someone to commit such atrocities? What went wrong? What triggered this rampage? Could anything have been done to prevent or limit the unparalleled scope of this tragedy? Why did this happen? WHY?

Some answers will be found. Others will linger and then dissipate, like the acrid smell of gunpowder. Before long, other calamities and horrors will demand attention. Some of these will be mildly reminiscent of the Virginia Tech slayings. It is worth noting that firearms account for nearly 30,000 deaths annually in the United States. In 2004, the last year for which statistics are available (per the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control), 11,624 Americans were shot and killed by someone. Ironically, that averages out to roughly 32 a day. Yesterday, there were other homicides in addition to the 32 at Virginia Tech. The victims of these less noticed but no less notable tragedies also leave family and friends behind. They will also be mourned and missed. Their deaths also raise questions and demand answers. Thus, in fairness, here is a sampling of news items you may have missed:

• Teen Blown Away at B’klyn Eatery (Brooklyn, New York)

• Kroger employee fatally shot (Indianapolis, Indiana)

• Elderly woman found shot dead on porch in apparent murder-suicide (Sugarcreek Township, Ohio)

• Man celebrating birthday shot to death (Dallas, Texas)

• Double Shooting Leaves 1 Dead In Arlington (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

• Man shot to death in Gaffney apartment (Gaffney, South Carolina)

• Man shot, killed Monday afternoon (Flint, Michigan)

• Man fatally shot in South Richmond (Richmond, Virginia)

If you are outraged by the unrelenting gun violence that plagues this nation, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has an electronic petition that you may sign here.

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12 thoughts on “Virginia Tech and Elsewhere

  1. Thanks for putting this issue in context. My wife, who reads the news, tells me that some members of Congress are already warning the American public not to rush to judgment and that stricter gun control legislation will be very difficult to pass. President Bush, I understand, tried to console a grieving nation with words to the effect that Virginia Tech’s gun violence victims were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. How ironic, that our Commander in Chief finds it rational to spend billions of dollars and lose thousands of American lives in a military campaign to eliminate weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and yet finds himself at a loss for words, and will, to get handguns, rifles, and semi-automatic firearms off America’s streets. Your link to the Brady Campaign inspired me to research Maine’s gun laws and compose a letter to my elected officials. Thanks again.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful feedback, Jonathan, and for taking the initiative and time to craft a letter to your local officials articulating your concerns and recommendations. You are setting a fine example as both a citizen and social worker.

  3. While searching for “triggers” to this mayhem, how about examining the “side effects” of the anti-depressants prescribed for this troubled young man?

  4. Gosh, Kiersten. I wish I were as certain as you that this will get media attention. Given the Net Neutrality issue, the Post Office post, and the corporate ownership of virtually all mass media, I wouldn’t be surprised if Big Pharma told the newsboys to bury any possible connection.

    Guess I’m a bit cynical. But when the circles of power converge, then control gets easier & easier.

    OK, got to run. I have an appointment to get fitted for a tin-foil hat.

  5. Silly math and sillier conclusion are difficult to dismiss. 48,000 Americans die each year in automobile accidents…do we ban automobiles. Perhaps 12,000 Americans die each year in household accidents; shall we ban home repairs? Most of those 32,000 gunshot deaths, I suspect, if the data is correct, can be looked at in many ways, not the least of which is geographic and socio-economic and largely urban. I suspect that the isolated statistical populations that fall out, will leave the preponderance of the remaining people of the U.S. with a remarkably safe population in most circumstances, certainly safer than 80% of the world.

    As I recall, during World War II, more than 29,000 people died EVERY DAY! and most of that as the result of gun control nations: the first move by Hitler was to confiscate all private weapons. The Japanese population was gun free. All of Hitler’s allies were gun free until they had a chance to help Herr Hitler on his terms. The Communists of the old USSR controlled all the guns, of course.

    I recall those marvelous critics of U.S. “violence” that include the aforementioned Germans (12 million deaths); Italians (can we spell fascists, Mafia vendettas, rape of Ethiopia and Libya), French (Vichy France, Algeria), Japan (hmmm, Nanking, Death Marches).

    Finally, one should remember that the U.S. population is now a bloated 300 Million-plus!! Working the numbers, 32,000 is about 1/10,000 of the U.S. population. If we isolate most of that 32,000 to where the shootings occur (75%), we are left with 8,000 “mainline” shootings in the remaining population, the odds are 1/40,000 or so. This certainly speaks for a safe population.

    Finally, in Virginia, a wacko foreign kid, who seems to have hated everyone, committed the deed and destroyed all those lives. If one person on the route of his rampage had a registered handgun and ended that miserable life (as he seems to have wished), who know how many of those innocents would be alive, and how many fewer families would not be feeling the anguish. Our first responsibility, it seems to me, is to protect our own lives and those of our family by any means. To abrogate that responsibility and let the “jerks” determine our safety or lack of same, would be an error.

  6. Donald: “Silly math and sillier conclusion are difficult to dismiss. 48,000 Americans die each year in automobile accidents…do we ban automobiles?” Is it possible this number is lower than it would otherwise be because automobile drivers are required to complete written and practical safety tests and obtain a license and insurance before getting out on the road? And because we allocate a considerable amount of tax dollars to traffic-related law enforcement? Perhaps you are recommending that we repeal these common-sense traffic regulations to better safeguard our liberty?

  7. Good points Jonathan, and as the parent of a flock (or is it gaggle), all of whom drive, I concur with your ideas (with caveats). But equally significant, I think, is the fact that an outrageous percentage of auto related deaths (and I have not included the several hundred thousand injuries sustained) are due to idiots who drink and drive, have no accident insurance, and of late, are not even U.S. citizens. This is a general parallel to the gun issue. I suspect that in the auto case analysis, virtually none of the “good” folks who follow all the rules of safe driving and insurance, deserve what befalls them. Yes, educate and regulate. A several ton vehicle is a potential weapon just as is a hand gun or rifle. In the case of weapons, also educate and regulate and require safety courses, with teeth, and careful scrutiny for cause. But I dare say, nothing will prevent the “bad” folks from getting what they want without any regulation, and we are in a world market of weapon availability. But overall (and I agree that I have a non-urban, rural take on this–my bias), on an individual and immediate basis, we must be responsible for our own security. I was deeply touched by the case of the aged professor, holocaust survivor, Israeli who used his body to block that sick SOB from entering his classroom and died encouraging his students to escape. If only he had had a weapon available or one or more of the students would have improvised, perhaps more would have survived.

  8. I rather liked what the novelist Jane Smiley had to say earlier this week, in a column that was published in the Huffington Post. (The link is here.) In her last paragraph, she wrote:

    Here’s what I think about guns–guns have no other purpose than killing someone or something. All the other murder weapons Americans use, from automobiles to blunt objects, exist for another purpose and sometimes are used to kill. But guns are manufactured and bought to kill. They invite their owners to think about killing, to practice killing, and, eventually, to kill, if not other people, then animals. They are objects of temptation, and every so often, someone comes along who cannot resist the temptation–someone who would not have murdered, or murdered so many, if he did not have a gun, if he were reduced to a knife or a bludgeon or his own strength. I wish that the right wing would admit that, while people kill people and even an “automatic” weapon needs a shooter, people with guns kill more people than people without guns do.

  9. Donald: It sounds like you are recommending, based on the same logic we apply to reduce the risk of harm associated with motor vehicle accidents, that we should strengthen our gun control laws. I would agree.

    At the same time, I think you are pointing out that improved gun control legislation will not be enough to prevent some individuals from using firearms illegally. Of course. But the goal of better gun control legislation is not to eliminate the risk altogether, it’s to reduce it, right?

    “But overall (and I agree that I have a non-urban, rural take on this–my bias), on an individual and immediate basis, we must be responsible for our own security.” I understand why you feel this way. I just wonder what happens when we carry your argument to its logical conclusion. Don’t we end up in a classroom, in a city, in a state in which every one of our neighbors, at every time, is carrying a gun? Is that a world in which we will feel more or less safe?

    You know, I have been dialoguing on this issue for quite a bit over the last few days, and a lot of writers cite Virginia Tech as an example of a tragedy that could have been averted or minimized if some student or faculty member had a gun. After considering David’s last comment, I now find myself asking why none of these writers have mentioned non-lethal approaches to self-protection. Couldn’t someone have subdued Cho with a stun gun or Taser?

  10. Is this really a left-right isssue? Is this a case where someone supposes that leftists wish to be disarmed and rightists wish to be armed? This obviously makes no sense since Mao said, “Change comes from the barrel of a gun,” and Hitler’s first act was to disarm everyone except his own killers. There is no more logical meaning to the statement “People with guns, kill more people than people without guns do,” than there is to the statement, “people with stones, kill more people than people without stones,” or people with spears kill more people than people without spears.” The notion is one of intent and significance, not pseudo-intellectual suplication at the alter of naive pacificism. Good and bad people can have guns, just as good and bad people can have stones or spears. The operational criteria in a philosophical and moral sense is that good people should stop bad people and protect other good people. The moral imperative is not abrogate responsibility in the face of force.

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