20 April 2007

Virginia Tech Shootings, my first, last, and only post on the subject

There has been a lot of electrons expended on the subject of the shootings at Virginia Tech on the 16th. I’ve got a few things to point out. Hopefully I’ll avoid a little of the hysteria.

First, let me up front say that the shootings were clearly the act of a highly disturbed mind. There were a plethora of warning signals, to be sure. The individual was a creepy, strange loner whose writings were so disturbing to his creative writing professor (who probably has read some really freaky stuff in her time) that he was recommended to the school shrink. Lots of text has been written on this kid´s alleged warning signs.

There have been some who have said that the school officials should have seen this coming and done something about our shooter before he became a shooter. That’s stupid and a typical trick of attempting to fix blame on the closest Deep Pocket (as a public school, that’s the Virginia Taxpayer who will pay the costs). Professors are paid to teach classes, not act as shrinks, substitute parents, cops, or anything else. Face it, there are a lot of disturbed kids at any given college campus, and an almost non-existent fraction kill anyone (other than themselves) much less 30+ classmates.

Where the school did screw up is in the area of the gap between the discovery of two corpses with gunshot wounds in a co-ed dorm and the 50+ shootings in the classroom building. In defense of the school, it was apparently a domestic disturbance (based on the information available at 0730) and those don’t typically turn into mass, indiscriminate shootings. Thousands of people get killed in domestic disturbances each year, and a negligible percentage of those killers go on to kill anyone else, much less lots of others.

There is, to be fair, no method of reliably alerting the entire campus to the existence of a shooter on campus. This isn’t an elementary school where the principal can get on the Public Address system and talk to everyone in the building. The only method I can think of would be to have announced it on all local radio and TV stations (on no notice, that’s a lot easier said than done) as well as having a campus-wide loudspeaker system. Second, precisely what would they have said? Remember, there were two dead and no one really knew WHY. All they knew was that the two were killed in a dorm. Some have said the administration should have cancelled classes—which would have guaranteed that if the killer was after a list of folks, he would have known to look for them in their dorm rooms. It’s easy to say that since we know NOW that the shooter decided to go into a classroom building and shoot everyone he came across, that would have been his plan from the beginning. Without more information, the administration had no good plan that couldn’t have been defeated by a smart, capable shooter. And if the shooter is a student at a first-rate institution like VPI, he’s probably not an idiot.

There is a lot of talk from foreigners and home-grown hoplophobic fools trying to pin this crime on America’s “gun culture” and the relative ease of acquiring firearms in this country.
First, the guy was South Korean. Granted that he was a resident of the US and had been for years. I’m unclear on how long ago it was that he moved to the US. But if we are going to blame “gun culture” then we have to admit that this fellow wasn’t fully integrated into American culture to begin with. Second, I have to question whether or not the United States has a “gun culture” at all. As near as I can tell, we have several variations thereof, running the gamut from ethnic urban criminal gun culture to Texan. Emphasis varies in each category—and it is undemonstrated that this individual was raised in any of them. Mass media-wise, there is a demonstrable hostility to firearm ownership shown by media and governmental elites—to include many “police chiefs” (read: politicians who supervise police departments).

Second, if the United State’s gun culture is to blame, how do we explain this sort of event in Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, or Germany? In Japan there was a mass school stabbing with 8 deaths perpetrated with a kitchen knife because it is that difficult to get a gun in Japan.

Further, how do we explain school killings like the massacre perpetrated in 1927 with bombs?

Third, the issue is not the weapon. The issue is a personality so damaged that he could kill two people—apparently on impulse. Then he spent two hours working the details of how to execute a plan to murder more--something he had been planning for a long time based on the information sent to the media, and secured the chains and ammunition necessary to execute it. Then, over the next thirty minutes he slaughtered 30 people, shot 20 more he likely expected to die. I suggest that the issue is the person. You can use what ever word your theology permits. I point to sin—or evil, to use another Politically Incorrect term. This man was so badly disconnected from his fellow human beings that he was mentally capable of going through this sequence. The focus on the weapon he used is a red herring. Had he not had a gun, he would have run amok with a baseball bat, or a knife, or a pitchfork, or a fire ax, etc, etc, etc. People who are incapable of seeing sin (because their epistemological views do not include that term) MUST focus on the weapon. Without seeing the sin, there is nothing to make this comprehensible.

Blaming the pistol is a bit of superstitious animism. It’s pre-scientific, pre-logical, and pre-Christian. There are no motivating spirits inhabiting weapons by their very nature. While any person is free by both Natural Law and the Constitution to hold what ever pagan beliefs they choose and hold them as they please, I am not interested in their hypocritical sermonizing nor do I believe that their theology should have anything to do with what I do with my body. And believe me; my self-defense is all about what I do with my body.

The animism shows up in the stupidity of the arguments of this crowd and their opposites on the pro-gun side. I’m even-handed here. Animism is not restricted to the gun controllers. The pro-gunners tend to frame their arguments fairly similarly. “If only someone in that building had a handgun.” The counter to that is “giving guns to everyone will lead to disaster.” The former is imprecisely phrased, the latter is a strawman. Let us examine them in detail.

The majority of the killings appear to have been (based on media reports) committed with a 9mm pistol. Most of these weapons have a 15 round magazine, plus or minus a few. That means he ran through at least four magazines of ammunition to generate 50+ casualties. Given the high number of fatalities and the generally pathetic quality of the 9mm round, it is highly likely (in my mind) that he hit with at least twice that many rounds. Let’s suggest that he hit with 50% of his shots, which is generous. That’s 200 rounds, fired over the space of something like a half an hour. That is 14 magazines. 13 times, he dropped a magazine and inserted a new one. There is no evidence to suggest that he was an experienced shooter, so I doubt he practiced quick-changing magazines. There were 13 times an aggressive person with nothing but his bare hands could have taken away that pistol and fed it to the little freak muzzle-first.

In the course of a half an hour, there were, logically speaking, numerous opportunities for a person to blindside the shooter, attack him with a knife or blunt object, and take the weapon away from him. An untrained person moving through a building alone with a single semi-automatic handgun of dubious stopping power is not God Almighty. Yet he seems to have had things pretty much to himself. Some students apparently complied with his demands to kneel on the floor so he could shoot them in a methodical fashion. The only known examples of heroism consisted in bracing doors so others could escape. While I understand that a gentleman of advanced years isn’t going to leap into hand to hand with a student, there were plenty of physically fit young males in the building capable of fighting back. No one did. A handgun would NOT have helped the situation because it would not provide what was most necessary, which was a mind capable of grasping the situation and acting with decisive violence.

A handgun is a tool. As such, it is only as good as the user. A stapler does not staple paper together. A hammer does not drive nails. And a chainsaw neither cuts down trees nor dismembers stunt doubles. These things are tools, and allow a human being to do these things. A handgun without a mind being it is a paperweight.

I submit that there were, statistically speaking, almost certainly Conceal Carry holders in the building who, in deference to a stupid policy, left their firearms at home. What they also left at home was their testicular fortitude, and ability to assess the situation from a tactical situation and act based on what they had rather than what they wish they had. They became slaves of the gun-fetishist mindset and turned their backs on the thousands of years our ancestors have been killing both food and threats without firearms.

The pro-gun lobby often forgets, when arguing for greater gun ownership and firearm education and so forth that having a gun is tertiary. Knowing how to use a gun is secondary. Having a (forgive my Army-ism here) a warrior ethos is primary. If you aren’t willing and psychologically able to use that handgun in defense of your life or another’s life, don’t spend the money on it. And a warrior will use whatever comes to his hands. We are not our tools. Our tools are not us.

You are not your fucking khakis, as they say in Fight Club.

What the pro-gun lobby means to say (but forgets to explicate when arguing at the bumper-sticker level) is that handgun ownership, combined with training, allows those psychologically capable of doing so to protect the rest of you. Not all folks with the right mindset are professional Soldiers or Law Enforcement Officers, and no Soldier or LEO is on-duty 24/7. Concealed carry allows the easiest method of controlled violence to be deployed immediately when a situation calls for it. That may be simply to show the weapon to the aggressor and let him know that he needs to find somewhere else to be. It all depends on the situation.

As for the argument that giving handguns to everyone will lead to disaster, the argument is simply fallacious because it assumes that anyone (excepting loons, and the pro-gun crowd has them) is arguing that everyone should have guns. Most people should not carry guns. See above argument—if you are not willing or able to use a gun to kill without hesitation should the situation call for it, you should not carry a gun. All that will accomplish is to get the gun taken away and used on you. However, those with a CHL are a self-selected bunch on a couple levels. They decided to go through the hassle of the paperwork and classes to get a CHL. They presumably care enough about it to learn at least the basics. They may not have the ability to use a weapon. But you never know until you’ve been in a situation where killing a fellow human being was the legal and moral thing to do.

Granted, I have argued in the past that anyone who can’t commit violence in the first person should not have the right to use their franchise to send me to commit violence at a great remove, and hence should not be permitted to vote. But that’s an argument for another day, and I don’t really believe that intellectually. It’s just a gut feeling.

The issue I have with the formula (no weapons, period) adopted by the school is not that it makes it "impossible" to defend yourself against an attacker. The issue is that a firearm is a magnificent tool, supremely suited to allowing those who are small, weak, or otherwise less physically capable to defend themselves from larger or stronger persons. It is a huge advantage, and handing that advantage to the attacker while withholding it from the defender is immoral.

But this was not the single point of failure. There were failures aplenty in that building. No good, objective analysis of the situation will ever be carried out. First, there were no good objective observers, second all analysis will be slanted for political purposes. Finally, it would be considered speaking poorly of the dead, who will aquire the roseate "hero" glow after a week or three. There were a few genuine heros, but most were not. They were victims, sheep slaughtered by a wolf. But that´s one of the diseases of American society, the inability to differentiate between heros and victims. No wonder we have too many of the latter and not enough of the former.


Blogger Yuri said...

Well I don't believe in sin, nor do I believe that the gun in to blame.

I do have a lot of sympathy for a man so hurt and damaged that he could do what he did. Does the fact that I think he was "broken" mean that I would have been any less likely to use deadly force to stop him?

Not at all, but I am always afraid when we label a man as evil we remove our own moral responsibility to him. He was a man. His own pain and death should draw as much sympathy as those deaths he caused.

Just imagine how twisted from yourself you would have to be to do something like that--and that is where he lived.

PS Emigrated to the states when he was 8.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Graneee Sezz said...

Thank you.

May I link?

1:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was wondering what your analysis of this event would be. Some of your points were discussed around our dinner table...the need for heroism and the guts to do something.

I'm afraid I might have too much testicular fortitude,:) and not a cool enough head. I would never trust myself with a gun for that reason. So, when people are issued a CHL, are they also tested on their ability to remain calm?

4:20 AM  
Blogger Just A Decurion said...

Granee: Feel free.

Yuri: Sin is tragic by definition because it is a human being, created in the image of the Divine and acting in the manner of the Evil One. But it is sin, and putting pink tutu on it and calling it ballerina doesn't change it.

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an ex-soldier, I must say, that is as clear and concise a way of pointing out the logical gaps in both pro- and anti-gun rhetoric as I have ever seen. Well said

12:25 PM  
Blogger dracphelan said...

I do have to wonder how spiritually connected the shooter was to others. I know that in junior high and some of high school, I was pretty bad off. The only thing that truly stopped me from doing something stupid was the spiritual ties I had with my family.

1:11 AM  

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