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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2007-04-16 12:21
Subject: Virginia Tech Shootings
Security: Public
Tags:guns, politics
I wasn't going to post about the Virginia Tech shootings. Long time readers of this blog know my passionate views on widespread private gun ownership. To put it simply, if you believe widespread private ownership of firearms is a public good, then you have to accept the consequences of that availability. Dead children, for example. Pray it is never your child trapped in a classroom.

However, the White House today said, in part, "The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms." Nice to see your Republican Party has its priorities straight. Wouldn't want to draw a connection between availability of firearms and firearms deaths or anything now, would we?

Two of the most idiotic counterarguments I get on this subject, near and dear to Second Amendment conservatives, seem apropos today. One is that assertion that an armed society is a polite society. Iraq is a heavily armed society, and no one but John McCain could possible interpret it as polite in the intended sense of that saying. The other is the oft repeated statement that angry people will find a way to hurt others, and why should law abiding gun owners be punished?

Other than firearms, could one angry, disturbed person kill thirty other people by any reasonable means without being stopped?

I hope you enjoy your Second Amendment rights, people. Thirty kids died in Virginia today for you. In a rational society, that would not have happened.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-04-16 19:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh goodness. I am very sorry for what has happened, and very, very glad you are safe. Keep us posted if you can.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-04-16 19:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You may well be right, but addressing the symptom couldn't possibly hurt. I mean, a reduction in the firearms death rate would be a good thing, right?
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Johnny Eponymous
User: johnnyeponymous
Date: 2007-04-16 19:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm all for private gun ownership, but I'm also all the way for gun control. Yes, I believe people should be allowed to own guns for hunting and sport and so on, but I also like community holding of weapons where you have to store the gun with the local police/public safety and retrieve it while leaving info as to where it will be taken and returned. It's a much better concept than what we've got now. Guns in the home make it too easy for tragedies like this to happen. It's also more in line with the true intent of the Second Amendment.

Yes, if someone wants to kill a bunch of people, they just have to lie and take their guns elsewhere once they've picked them up, but the ability of any average person to keep a gun at home without any sort of check is negligent.
Chris
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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2007-04-16 20:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
hunting weapons are used in an insignificant number of murders, compared to say... pistols. Similarly, accidents with rifles are usually hunting accidents, rather than "toddeler thinks it is a toy and shoots self" as with pistols.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
russ: quo vadis
User: goulo
Date: 2007-04-16 20:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:quo vadis
Hmm, not to mention a little thing called 9/11, and the Oklahoma City Federal Building.
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Autopope
User: autopope
Date: 2007-04-16 20:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Other than firearms, could one angry, disturbed person kill thirty other people by any reasonable means without being stopped?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. (36 dead from a single car bomb in Karbala over the weekend; and that's not exactly difficult to set up.)

My take on it -- as a British citizen, used to a much tighter gun control regime than the one you're calling for -- is that banning guns doesn't prevent violence; it just drives it in different directions. Nor does it magically make guns go away (or my sister wouldn't have been woken up a couple of months ago by the Tactical Firearms Unit surrounding the house next door in the wake of a shooting -- using a silenced automatic). Yes, strict background checks are a good thing (you want to make it harder for convicted violent criminals and people with diagnosed personality disorders to get their hands on guns). So are regulations on how firearms are stored; in the UK prior to the outright ban on handguns, if you had a license to own one at home -- not the same as a license to own one at a firing range -- storage in a safe was mandatory, unloaded, with a separate lockable store for ammunition, specifically to prevent toddlers from playing with them, and that seems mostly reasonable to me.

But your real problem isn't the guns, or even the mass shootings like this one -- it's the cultural background that makes for a violent, macho society in which socially dysfunctional males periodically run amok and take out their rage on the people around them.

Banning guns is not going to fix that problem any more than putting a sticking plaster on a fractured femur. Wrong solution, wrong problem. (See also Switzerland and Israel, where despite near-universal ownership of military-grade automatic weapons, the frequency of this type of incident is much lower.)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-04-16 20:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Fewer guns = fewer firearms death. Very simple math. The rest is subject to debate.
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Ulrika
User: akirlu
Date: 2007-04-16 20:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As Michael Moore points out, in Bowling for Columbine, Canadians actually have plenty comprarable private availability of firearms, without comparable incidences of gun violence. And then there's Switzerland. The notion of an armed society being necessarily polite is a piece of nonsense. So is the notion that the guns are the problem.

When I was living in Orange County, an angry estranged father took his car and plowed through the fence into the playground of a day care center. Multiple deaths and major injuries resulted. If he'd had a Hummer he could have done significantly more damage. A couple of years after I moved away from OC, an angry and unbalanced former grocery store clerk took a Japanese sword in to the Albertsons I used to shop in and managed to kill four people before the police shot and killed him. I'm thinking quick police response was key there.

Thirty people dead is a lot to manage without a gun, but frankly, it's a lot of dead people to manage *with* a gun, too. Your average nut shooter kills far fewer. If I were looking to do similar damage without being stopped, I'd probably use a city bus in a crowded pedestrian zone, or a few gallons of gasoline in a Sparkletts bottle with a rag wick set off in an auditorium.

More exotically, if the location were sufficiently populated, and I had a good position, I could probably manage to kill 30 people with a 30-lb hunting bow. I admit I'd want a quiver of more than 30 arrows to do it with.
Pouring bleach and ammonia together in a poorly ventilated space, or into a major air intake, has the advantage of being quiet enough to walk away from to do again elsewhere.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-04-16 20:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You are such a writer. I've been thinking many of the same thoughts in the plot part of my brain.

However, guns are still the easiest, with the possible exception of vehicular homicide. Archery and bladework require dedicated practice. Gas, poisons or explosives required dedicated prep work and a fair amount of sophistication. Beatings take a long time. Guns are the magic finger, the "oh yeah? screw you then!" of homicide. No risk to the shooter, very emotionally satisfying depending on what state you're in, and trivially simple to operate.

I'd settle for fewer firearms deaths as a start.
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gvdub: food
User: gvdub
Date: 2007-04-16 20:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:food
I've always found myself conflicted on firearms issues. Growing up on a farm, a gun was just another tool, and like any other tool, you were expected to learn proper use and care before you were turned loose with it. There were .22 varmint rifles and a couple of shotguns (I used to help keep the rat population down in the henhouses with a .410 gauge shotgun). On the other hand, growing up in a Quaker family, the testimony for peace and non-violent behavior was always with me. Conflicts should be resolved by other means than physical or emotional coercion. I still haven't fully resolved this one, as there are times that a screwdriver or a hammer simply won't do.

When you come down to it, the problem is not with the tool itself, but with the mythos and cultural baggage that this particular set of tools has come to carry. We're taught, from an early age, that this is the problem solver, that this is the "equalizer", that it's a tough guy's best friend in a tight place. We're shown endless movies where decisive action and the judicious application of a little lead save the day (because "flash! bang!" makes for better imagery than "Let's talk."), and shown them until we've become jaded to the imagery. Go watch Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" today and remember that it was considered graphically, shockingly violent when it was released. By today's standards it's pretty tame. We're also taught that we can have anything we want, when we want it, and that we should want it all now (and if we don't have it or want it, we're somehow less than those who do). Add those two together, and you could come to the conclusion that if you don't get what you want or life isn't going 100% your way, you should just shoot somebody.

The genie's so long out of the bottle, that he not only took the horse out of the barn and locked the door behind, but we've forgotten that we had a horse in the first place. Guns are such a pervasive part of U.S. society that nothing short of draconian police-state measures could even begin to get them under control (and I have my doubts that even that would work) unless we work first to change societal attitudes and perceptions, much the way that societal attitudes about tobacco have been changed over the past 40 or so years.

An armed society is a fearful, twitchy society.
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When life gives you lemmings...: Bucky the human
User: danjite
Date: 2007-04-17 00:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Bucky the human
Well said- I was going to write about the "sexification" of the gun in US society, but you covered it well.

Guns are part of the USian culture and there to stay. They are part of the culture here in Thailand, too, and the per capita murder rate is higher than there- but here, all the murder is personal or political- which makes for less fear and twitchiness, somehow.
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David Reagan
User: coolmajaka
Date: 2007-04-16 20:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
While individuals with guns can be irresponsible to downright predatory, an unarmed populace has no protection from an oppresive government. Stalin and Mao killed millions of unarmed civilians, so on the balance, I prefer a well armed society that has the right and ability to protect itself.

And as the drug war proves, if we live in an open and free society, and I can't imagine any other kind I would want to live in, then making something illegal does very little to prevent people from acquiring said items.

It also bears mentioning that the greatest massacre perpetrated by an American didn't use guns, but instead involved a rented U-Haul, fertilizer, and fuel oil, which resulted in 168 deaths (if memory serves) in OK city. I'm honestly surprised we don't see this more often.

It seems the gun-related mass killing is an American one, tracing its roots back to Whitman in the UT Tower. (Though I guess you could even go back to the Valentine's Day massacre). In Switzerland nearly everyone has an M16 in their closet, but we don't see these kinds of events. In Brazil, where they have strong anti-gun laws, there are still 38,000 gun deaths every years, as compared to 30,000 gun-related murder/suicides/accidents in the US, but very few of the variety we had today.

Do I have an answer -- nope. Do I abhor these kinds of events -- absolutely. Do I think taking people's guns away is the answer -- no as well.

I think you hit the nail on the head -- in a rational society, these things don't happen. But unfortunately, those kinds of societies are rare to nonexistent.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-04-16 20:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Do you find it credible that a populace armed with light weapons could directly take on a modern military force? That's 18th century political theory and military science. Even in Iraq, they're largely relying on military grade firearms and a profusion of high explosives.
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manmela
User: manmela
Date: 2007-04-16 20:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I often hear people say they have a constitutional right to carry arms. As a European this makes little sense to me... they probably have a constitutional right to cover themselves in Jello and dance in the town square saying "I'm the lucky Jello Leprechaun"... doesn't mean that particular constitutional right needs to be exercised either.

As I always say the second amendment also gives people the choice NOT to carry arms
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2007-04-16 20:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:armor
Not to get pedantic, but no; by "constitutional right" people generally mean a right explicitly protected by the Constitution (generally in the Bill of Rights). And our Founding Fathers, alas, neglected to protect our right to cover ourselves in Jello, etc.
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chris_gerrib
User: chris_gerrib
Date: 2007-04-16 20:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I feel your pain, Jay. I really do. What happened today at Virginia Tech was an evil, shameful thing.

I was going to try to avoid posting on this, but I couldn't. I bought my first gun in 1985. My dad bought his first gun in the mid 1950s. My grandfather bought his first gun in the 1930s. (He's the only person of this list who's heard a gun fired in anger. It was a 20 MM anti-aircraft gun in WWIII.)

We've all kept guns since then, and know all kinds of gun-owning people. None of us have robbed a liquor store or shot up a school. Nor do we know anybody who has used a gun illegally. Many gun owners feel that people who say "fewer guns = less gun violence" somehow assume that owning a gun makes you a crazed lunatic. It doesn't.

I'm all for sensible laws to keep guns from nuts, but considering the open society that we live in, I have little faith that they will always work.
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2007-04-16 21:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:armor
The issue isn't whether the people who own guns are crazed lunatics; the issue is whether the crazed lunatics own guns.

There are people with the attitude you describe, but that's only one part of the anti-gun side of the debate, just as the radical militia types are only one part of the pro-gun side of the debate. My problem is the way the pro-gun partisans so often seems to oppose even sensible laws. Why, for example, is it such a problem to have a waiting period before you can get your hands on a gun? Just what is it you need that gun for right this instant? And just how, exactly, do you need an assault rifle to defend your property from intruders, or to hunt deer?

That isn't the mainstream of gun owners, of course -- but they're a very vocal part that makes the passing of sensible laws harder than it ought to be.
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jimvanpelt
User: jimvanpelt
Date: 2007-04-16 21:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This country has made a long running mistake about gun ownership. The number of accidental deaths alone justifies severely limiting the availability of hand guns. Every argument against this sounds to me like paranoid dystopias ("I'm planning on keeping my gun to hold off an evil government, and this right is worth thousands of lives a year in the meantime"), misplaced assignment of fault ("Guns don't kill people, people kill people," which sounds just as stupid to me as "Atom bombs don't kill people, people kill people") or a grevious misapplication of an ambiguous line of the Constitution, as if the Constitution was holy writ and not capable of revision.

It's too bad that the well-publicized tragedy at Virginia Tech (which you know we will be hearing about for weeks now) to bring the gun issue to the forefront again when there are so many needless, tragic gun deaths every year that don't need to happen.

Of course, any law change will not eliminate all gun deaths. But it seems a reasonable goal to try to reduce gun deaths. Jay's right for this country I believe: fewer guns = fewer deaths.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-04-16 22:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Now if the whole country was gun-free zone, the body count would be *much* lower.
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When life gives you lemmings...: AmeriCrisis
User: danjite
Date: 2007-04-17 01:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:AmeriCrisis
As an expat and a frequent traveller, I am often in mixed groups of internationalists.

One of the things that often comes up as a topic is gun violence in America.

A while ago- in a group consisting of USian expats, Brits and New Zealanders, I asked the question: "Do you personally know someone who has been murdered".

Every USian hand went up and no other hands did.

I have since repeated this question in many mixed groups in Thailand, Korea and New Zealand. The only people who ever- ever- respond confirming familiarity with a murder victim have been USians and Thai.

Granted, my sample group has certain skews, but, the sample is what it is.
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David Reagan: graffiti_hippo
User: coolmajaka
Date: 2007-04-17 02:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:graffiti_hippo
Ask someone from Brazil.
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jtdiii
User: jtdiii
Date: 2007-04-17 01:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
With the chemicals, equiment and facilities available on a campus like that, there are several dozen ways for an angry person to take out a few hundred at a pop.

In a rational society the police would have been infesting that campus from about 8:00AM on. That he was able to go unchallenged into another unguarded building several hours later exposes the one thing you forget about the second amendment... The police are under no duty to protect you. When someone finally cracks there is no guarantee that you can rely on anyone other than yourself to defend your own and your family's lives.

Remember the shooting in the Austin diner years ago? The one place in the state the nut would not meet armed resistance was in the one part of the state with strict gun control laws. It is the same on a school campus like this one, there will be no one to shoot back.
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