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Eric: The road falls away

Time slips away from you.

Time slips away from you and around you and past you. There was a storm here, a few days ago -- a Nor'easter, they called it, which seems weird since the same storm dumped snow on the Midwest before it reached us, but what the heck. Weds and I went driving last night, with an intention to go down south to Manchester. On the way, we found closed roads because the water, running down hills, had undercut and collapsed the roads.

Being enterprising folks, we circled around and tried to go another way. That way led down a road where there were collapsed sides, and we finally came to a point where there was absolutely no way to move forward. A river had sprung up, cut the road down the middle for a good three hundred feet, and then vanished, leaving only the clear signs of water and an abject lack of passable roadway.

Wednesday stepped out of the car and moved off to a safe distance, to tell me when to stop the car as I slowly backed up, moved forward, backed up and inched around to go back the way we came. The reason for this was simple: the ditch on one side of the car was now a good twelve feet deep, and if I inadvertently backed over it the car would have been swallowed up and very possibly rendered undrivable. Which would have been inconvenient. Also, the car might have fallen backwards, landed on the roof, and potentially done me a mischief. Which would have been painful.

Slow and steady got the car turned around, and we drove back up the road, deciding that there was nothing in Manchester worth adrenalin. As we drove back, slowly, we came upon a wild turkey, running down the center of the road in a certain degree of panic. We tried to get a picture of it, but it got into the woods and hid from direct view of us. Which, given that a turkey doesn't know the difference between a camera and a rifle and doesn't know that Thanksgiving won't be for seven more months shows admirable wisdom on his part.

We came back home, driving into town and going out for dinner at the Wolfe's Tavern. The place was practically deserted -- there may have been two other couples in the whole place, and the bar section was empty except for one guy watching Bill O'Reilly speaking on the Virginia Tech shootings. I watched about ten seconds as we headed to the salad bar. It was restrained and respectful -- two words I don't normally associate with Mr. O'Reilly. And I considered how ruined roadways and the weather were unpleasant, but far worse things had been happening in the world.

This is a Sarah Vowell attitude -- one best laid out in her book The Partly Cloudy Patriot -- she goes to the sites of American tragedy and generally has a lot of fun at them. She thinks it's a way she gains perspective. Yeah, it's a bummer that the movie was sold out, but at least she's not being slowly crushed to death under the weight of stones because she's being accused as a witch. They Might Be Giants did a song about it called "It Could Be Worse" on the audiobook version of the book, and it's now my ringtone for when work calls me. Yeah, it's 11 at night and someone's calling to tell me I have to shlep across the street and reboot a few servers and get things working, but at least we're not being forced to march two thousand, two hundred miles in a forced relocation where four thousand of our number died of disease, fatigue, starvation or dehydration, ultimately being forced to live in Oklahoma.

Yeah, there was a bad storm. And as it turns out, routes not just to Manchester and Concord but to Maine, to Rochester, to Portsmouth and to Conway were closed yesterday, some just washed away. But it's not like a madman loaded a couple of nine millimeters and started killing people on my school's campus. Wolfeboro might be an island today, but no one died and we have plenty of toilet paper and twinkies. Perspective is a good thing to have, here.

Reactions to the tragedy have been varied but predictable. Some people are calling for stricter security on our college campuses. Some people are calling for stricter gun control laws. And the blaring of 24 hour news channels which are providing live, up to the minute reports on an event that ended yesterday with horror and death but which is not now ongoing will only magnify the tragedy and make it all the more tragic through reactions. Now, I'm a liberal, and I have a solid set of opinions on gun control laws and on the culture of firearms that's emerged in this country, but as with Columbine before it Virginia Tech does not change that opinion. Nor does it validate it. We are discussing the actions of a madman, doing something unthinkable on a campus where people live. There is little to be done to prevent the actions of madmen, because they have all the time in the world to plan for the things you haven't prepared for. This man would have caused mayhem, horror and death one way or another. Perhaps stricter controls or security would have saved some lives. Or perhaps it would have caused the madman to build crude incendiary devices instead and potentially killed more. We cannot predict the actions of madmen, and we must not overreact when they happen. We must consider the pain, the horror, and what legitimate lessons can be learned from tragedy. We must do so soberly, away from the passions that tragedy evoke. And as we learn more about why Cho Seung-Hui went on a murderous rampage at the college he had attended for years, we must try to learn what we can to identify where the system did fail, without surrendering ourselves to fear of what unknown things might happen. That way leads to xenophobia, to armed guards on college campuses, to a police state being locked down further, and to no promise that someone else won't kill a bunch of kids somewhere else anyway. We have defined much of the Twenty-First Century as a reaction to horror and terror, and few today would claim those reactions ended up being wise or correct. This time, we have to learn from those mistakes and horrors the same as we must learn from the tragedy in Virginia.

The waters recede slowly, but the damage is left in their wake. I have no idea when the roads connecting my town to the rest of the world will be repaired. It's not like my town is the only one to have damage done in what was after all a pretty major storm. There is much to be discussed -- I've been away for a little while, and as I said at the top of the essay, time has a habit of slipping away from you, like water. I'll try to be better, and more here. I'll try to comment on things left uncommented on. I'll try to add something to the dialogue or the day.

But if I miss it, I won't overly stress. It could always be worse. This is minor in comparison to so many things in life.

Be good to each other and to everyone you meet.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at April 17, 2007 11:20 AM


Comment from: Mr Myth [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 17, 2007 12:19 PM

Well said.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 17, 2007 12:31 PM

As a note, the town has plenty of twinkies. Our own household is twinkie free by choice.

Comment from: quixoto [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 17, 2007 1:04 PM

Decidedly un-snarky, but characteristically insightful
I've only been looking at your website for 3 days now, so it's so nice to see an intelligent "blogger" personage use his powers for good over evil. You, sir, give the internet a good name.

Comment from: brasswatchman [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 17, 2007 4:33 PM

Well said. I am a little concerned, however, that sober reflection may be cut short by the limited collective attention span of the American public.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 17, 2007 6:06 PM

One does not become an adult wild turkey by taking chances on the gun/camera issue.

The one thing that bothers me is that the media (and consequently, most of the people who take in the media) haven't learned a very simple truth about madmen and tragedies. I saw the various talking heads on cable refer to the events at Virginia Tech as "inhuman," "monstrous," and even "demonic." However, these events were all too human in scope. They seem to want to remove the perpetrator from humanity, almost as an assurance that it couldn't happen from a fellow human being.

Sadly, refusing to acknowledge that potential in a person doesn't make that potential go away. It merely makes it more difficult to find a way to prevent and mitigate future problems.

Comment from: kirabug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 17, 2007 6:09 PM

The news in Philly is running itself in circles, first a report on the NJ Governor Corzine's recovery from a car accident where he wasn't wearing a seatbelt, then an update on the rivers that are starting to recede and the roads reopening and the basements draining, then an update on Virginia Tech, then the weather and traffic and around we go again.

Although the storm up there may seem like small potatoes compared to the sh**storm in Virginia Tech, I hope the water recedes and the roads are repaired and the folks whose lives were altered up there get the attention they need, as much as the students and families in VT get what they need.

And I'm glad you and Weds are ok. :)

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 17, 2007 9:08 PM

Kris Overstreet was the first I saw to touch on our indefensibility against madmen.

Comment from: Polychrome [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 17, 2007 9:21 PM

An enlightened and reasonable opinion.
You should know better than to post such things on the internet.

Comment from: Alexandra Erin [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 17, 2007 10:11 PM

The aftershock-wave of bomb and gun threats that swept the country hit pretty close to home, in the form of a bomb threat closing down the post office where my roommate (and close friend) works. It was fairly surreal, even knowing that it was likely bogus (as far as I know now, it was) and that she would be safely out on the streets at the moment the call came in, to hear about it on the radio.

Given that tomorrow is as close to "Columbine Day" as it will be to yesterday, I think we're in for a bit more craziness.

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 18, 2007 12:14 AM

First of all, Turn Around, Don't Drown. Sorry, that's the weatherman in me kicking in.

Of the two network news channels my parent's house receives (I am so glad they do not have cable or satellite television) the most thoughtful comments came from Lou Dobbs of CNN fame, of all things. He mentioned why such amongst such outrage and wailing aren't there similar reactions to 1,400 deaths on college campuses each year due to binge drinking and higher numbers of rapes and attacks that occur on campus each year. Such discussions should be happening after we wade through the inevitable discussions about gun control in our country.

And as for the student, I can empathize with that anger. There are a lot more people like him that needs just one more defeat or one more incident that anyone else might consider to be trival to cause him to snap. I'm sure he had a lot of pressures to do well. Possibly from his parents, possibly from everyone. The most interesting thing was that he had channeled his vitriol through his literary playwriting, and it scared one of his professors enough to try to tell authorities that "Hey, maybe this guy ought to be really watched." I wonder if she even suggested to him to try to get counseling.

It's been a really weird fortnight, where the English language has been demonstrating its power, from the Imus slip-up to the subsequent backlash upon rap and hip-hop lyrics and now a South Korean English student who could not simply keep his rage and contempt limited to his writings. Does that make you feel emboldened or do you tremble at the power of words and their connotations?

Speaking of writing, I heard an conversation on a radio show last Saturday. They had spoken to Kurt Vonnegut years before his death, and he was asked what could be the scariest horror movie he could write about, he replied, "Why, that's easy: C students at Yale." Maybe that should be frustrated C-students at Yale with weapons and feeling like he's got nothing to lose.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 18, 2007 12:51 AM

The most interesting thing was that he had channeled his vitriol through his literary playwriting, and it scared one of his professors enough to try to tell authorities that "Hey, maybe this guy ought to be really watched." I wonder if she even suggested to him to try to get counseling.

According to reports, she did indeed refer him to counseling, strongly encouraged him to accept it, and recommended it to his adviser and the school as well.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 18, 2007 1:03 AM

I just read the Kris Overstreet post Paul linked to. I did a lot of head-nodding as I did so.

Comment from: quiller [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 18, 2007 1:17 AM

One of my early thoughts on this thing was, I wonder if this will lead to some gun control legislation. This was followed by wishing that instead of politicians inacting knee-jerk reactive legislation, it would be so much better if they actually decided to inact legislation based on careful analysis of the evidence for and against controls on firearms. If we ever find a form of government where that sort of thing actually happens we might have people who disliked the government for things they've done in specific, but liked it in general instead of the other way around.

And I also thought it would come out that he played violent video games and this would be brought up despite the fact that a vast majority of guys his age do the same (and don't go on killing sprees in general).

Yeah, my immediate reaction was proactive cynicism.

I also got a bit annoyed at some expert on campus security stuff who kept referring to the children on a morning talk show today. I think it was because they were used to talking about security in high schools or something, but it kind of bugged me when the main topic of discussion was about a campus where the majority of students have reached their adult milestone. Particularly when students works fine anywhere she used it. And when these "kids" are the same age as many of those fighting overseas.

So yeah, cynicism and a constant state of mild annoyance at just about everything around this.

Comment from: Kaychsea [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 18, 2007 8:14 AM

I just read the Kris Overstreet post Paul linked to, but I did a lot of head-scratching as I did so.

Caveats up front, I'm not American and don't live there. I'm a Brit.

The bit that confused me most was this attitude of "it only happens every five years or so." WTF! It happens twice a decade and this is a good thing?

The Brady Act piece in the commentaries is a bit of a smoke and mirrors moment as well. Firstly as far as I can see, the Act stops people with criminal records buying guns from licensed stores, but if I'm wrong please let me know. So guns they borrow, steal or just had before 1993 are completely unaffected by this? From what I remember at the time it was originally enacted to stop hot heads leaving the bar, going into a gunstore and coming back to lend their argument about the '54 Dodgers a little more weight of the leaden variety.

Coming from a culture where guns are not readily available but still has gun crime, I really don't understand what this emotional bond that America has with its munitions. I can understand rural folks wanting to go hunting, but how bad a shot do you have to be to go looking for rabbits with a 50 cal heavy machine gun?

The thesis that nobody can save you from a nutter is pretty much on the line, but why go out of your way to make them so much more efficient when they do blow?

Comment from: Farvana [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 18, 2007 10:14 AM


The idea isn't to prevent guns from getting into the hands of the wrong people. Would it be nice if it were possible? Yes. The Brady Act makes it harder, which is alright by me.

The right to bear arms is one of those oft-overlooked but heavily defended rights. It's a last resort, a final option when all other efforts by the populace to convince the government to heed the people.

For instance, I know of at least five people who would take up arms if we were to set up concentration camps ala WWII for the Muslims. I'd be right there besides them.

It's a balancing act; unfortunately, most people won't see the merits of one side or the other of the arguement.

I don't think it's very related to the shootings, though.

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 18, 2007 10:16 AM

Kaychsea: Yeah, the Brady Bill is a bit like closing the barn door after the horses have escaped...but at least closing the barn door keeps people from stealing your other stuff. In other words, minor measures may be preferable to none at all.

As for our gun love, think of it as a cultural appendix. It was good for something once, but probably isn't anymore. But we still have it, and sometimes it'll burst.

Comment from: iconoclast [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 18, 2007 10:21 AM

Yea, the link between guns and freedom in the average American mindset seems to be a duality: on the one hand, Americans remember their 3rd grade history classes in which an armed revolution gave the US a chance to form. On the other, they look at gun-control, and some support it, and some actively oppose it.

Something to be remembered: the right to bear arms should probably be interpreted pretty widely, as most of the rest of the Constitution and Bill of Rights is. They didn't use the term "Right to bear single-shot muskets in a militia organization" for a reason; but I don't think they intended for people to just be carrying on their person everywhere either. Farvana got it right: It is meant to be a last resort, the way to form a new government if the current one became too corrupt and controlling. In spirit, such an armed revolution would be akin to the original American Revolution.

I'm undecided on gun-control. I believe that they should be kept out of the hands of those who can't control them or be trusted to use them only in an emergency (read, minors without supervision, the mentally ill, criminals), yet I do believe that we shouldn't give up our rights to have them for that last resort. Some day it may come down to that.

Comment from: Kaychsea [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 18, 2007 10:32 AM

The comments on the Brady Act were more on Overstreet's use of the fact that there was little change in the gun crime stats before and after. The sheer volume of guns in the US makes access fairly trivial for "the criminal element" to get their mitts on them,. It will and cannot stop events like VT occurring because of the nature of the offender.

If the fact that the country is swimming in a sea of firearms is not relevant to the fact that 33 people are dead, what is? If he had gone down illicit channels to get his gun, would he have known how? I certainly didn't when I was at university. If he had walked into the classrooms wielding a knife or sword would the figures of injured, let alone dead, got into double figures?

I didn't say before but I have used both small bore and shotguns for game shooting. I have competed at club level in both, but I have no urge to keep on under my bed "just in case".

Comment from: Kris@WLP [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 18, 2007 11:50 AM

To respond to some comments:

My points on the Brady Bill, the Virginia Tech campus weapons ban, etc. weren't aimed so much at preventing massacres as they were at the political reaction- already well under way. When things like this happen, there is an overwhelming urge to Do Something- and both the gun-grabbers on one side and gun-nuts like myself on the other are jumping on this event to push their own proposed "solution."

Yes, thirty people every five years is GOOD- in that it's not THREE HUNDRED, or three thousand, or that many per year, or per month. It could be better, but it's pretty good. To put it in perspective: John Stossel of ABC News composed a list of "What Kills People" (leaving out deliberate murders) in 1985. Presuming gone-postals kill thirty every five years, that comes out to six per year. By comparison, 64 are killed by lightning per year; 51 die from scalds from hot tap water per year; 25 suffocate in plastic bags per year; six people die from playing baseball per year. It's dreadful and terrifying when it happens, but your risk of death from a madman is about the same as your risk of death from being hit in the skull by a line drive.

(For other comparison: on average roughly eighteen thousand people are killed by firearms every year in the USA. That's less than half the number killed in auto wrecks- and of that number, about two-thirds are criminals shooting OTHER criminals in gang turf wars or drive-bys. Put another way: with about 1 billion firearms in circulation in the USA, only about 0.0015% of them are used to kill another human being each year.)

No, Kaychsea, the prevalence of firearms- which aren't quite as easy or as cheap to get as you think- didn't determine the fate of the victims at Virginia Tech. The killer did that. The Unabomber, the Olympic Park bomber, and the Oklahoma City bombers proved that you don't need guns to kill- nor are guns the most efficient means to run up a body count.

Nor, incidentally, do I think that this particular killer could have been pre-empted. We hear about how his writings scared a teacher enough to recommend psychiatric intervention and even pre-emptive imprisonment. My question: what would this teacher think of George Romero, or certain of Roger Corman's later straight-to-video slasher flicks? Most people with morbid imaginations don't express them in violence, and most loners or misanthropes don't go on killing sprees. It would be wrong for us to lock up everyone of that sort on mere suspicion. (Especially since, were we to do so, we'd lose Randy Milholland to the Potential Nutter Concentration Camps.)

There are a lot of potential solutions which are going to be proposed- gun bans, gun freedoms, mandatory psych screening, forced social activities, etc. For the most part these are going to be based not on the actual risks involved (low) or the effectiveness of the proposed cures (debatable at best), but on the sensationalism of Monday's acts. Whatever your views on the subject- and Eric and I are on opposite sides on the gun aspect- we need to stop and evaluate risk and fix objectively rather than rush to, oh, tie on a tourniquet when the most that's needed is a Band-Aid.

Oh, and Quiller? There was a memo sent around. Childhood now ends at thirty. Didn't you hear? }:-{D

Comment from: Kaychsea [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 18, 2007 12:37 PM

So I would be wrong in saying that the only reason you would be denied a firearm from a gunstore would be if you had a felony conviction or weren't prepared to wait five days?

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 18, 2007 1:35 PM

If he had walked into the classrooms wielding a knife or sword would the figures of injured, let alone dead, got into double figures?

Also yesterday, it is worth noting, an incendiary device was detonated in a supposedly safe area in Baghdad. It killed four point five times as many people as died in Virginia. To my knowledge, not one bullet was fired as part of this massacre where triple digits died.

The reason I separated the debate about gun control from my thesis is because it's not germane to my thesis. This man hardly needed two handguns to kill thirty-two people. Focusing on the process instead of the symptoms leads to a false sense of security in the best case.

As a side note? Japan has one of the strongest gun control laws on the planet. Handguns are entirely banned in Japan. But that didn't prevent a madman, angry over the City of Nagasaki failing to reimburse damage to his car in a public construction site, from shooting and killing Nagasaki's mayor, yesterday. Having that gun was an illegal act, but he still had it and he still used it.

As Kris mentioned in his response, he and I don't necessarily agree about gun control. What we do agree about is the fact that gun control in and of itself wouldn't have stopped a mass murder at Virginia Tech. We can't even say that it would have reduced the number of victims. Cho Seung-Hui simmered for a long time and -- we're beginning to work out -- spent a significant amount of time working out his plan for what he was going to do. In that kind of situation, cutting off one avenue of armament won't necessarily save any lives -- they'll just change his thinking.

Gun control is a good topic of debate -- a very good one. And my views aren't cut and dried about it. (I think the issue is a cultural one, not an ownership one, for example. Canada has almost as many firearms per capita as we do -- they just don't kill each other with them at nearly the same rate. That's a question of culture, not legality or ownership.) However, gun control is not the discussion we should be having -- and any discussion we have right now will invoke the bloodied corpses of students and faculty, and reasoned discussion is very difficult if not impossible under those circumstances.

Thus my thesis: having the debate in the shadow of this tragic massacre does us no good, because we can't have it rationally and the debate is not germane to what happened here.

Comment from: Dralothien [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 18, 2007 5:28 PM

This is my first time to comment on a post here, although I have been reading steadily for nearly 3 years now.

I think that Eric is right about it being difficult, if not impossible, to have any form of rational discussion in the aftermath of such a catastrophe. However, I feel like I must contribute my two-cents to this discussion.

I can not help but think of the line, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men to do nothing”. Even as difficult as these events are to foresee, let alone prevent, I still can’t help but think that something could (should) have been done to help this guy. But not necessarily by the state, I feel that we as a country, and world, have become too dependant upon the state to provide for us. There were many individuals who were worried about this guy, yet they did nothing. They were content to allow the system to deal with him.

I am not sure what could have been done, but the authorities only have so many options open to them. There has to be another option, one that does not rely upon an already overly-taxed system. I just wish I knew what it was.

It is sad that this young man did this thing, and my thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims.

Comment from: kirabug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 19, 2007 12:56 AM

The sad part is that (at least according to this MSNBC article people had already done quite a bit for this guy... the (coincidental and totally unfortunate) parallel to Milholland's current Scotty storyline is that you can offer to help and offer to help and offer to help and sometimes a person's so far gone that the offers have no meaning anymore.

And with, what? 300 million people in the US? it's bound to happen.

Trying to compare gun control in the UK to gun control in the US (or the US to Canada) very frequently neglects to consider economies of scale.... the whole island is what? about the size of half the original 13 states? Comparing a different country's gun laws makes as much sense as comparing Cuba's relative success/failure at running a Communist nation to the USSR. Even within this country, population densities, cultural differences, local regulations, vary widely from one place to another. What works in one place fails miserably in another.

I think Cho Seung Hui somewhere got lost, in a place inside his skull that no one else ever saw. If there was some way to identify and stop this level of tragedy from occurring he should have been stopped... but we'll also never know how many times it's been stopped by people who took the same steps Cho's professors and neighbors and students took, and this was the rare case where it just didn't take. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of all involved.

Comment from: jco2641 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 19, 2007 8:22 PM

So I would be wrong in saying that the only reason you would be denied a firearm from a gunstore would be if you had a felony conviction or weren't prepared to wait five days?

Yes, partially, and for several different reasons.

Firstly, Virginia has no mandatory waiting period. Some states have one, others do not.

Secondly, even within states that have a waiting period mandated by law, the NICS "instant" check is run at the time of purchase (before the start of the waiting period). This usually takes a 3 or so minute phone call, wherein the gun store person reads off most of the stuff on the form 4473 to an operator, who enters it into a search, and the computer spits back either 'deny' 'proceed' or 'hold.' Hold status requires only a 3 business day wait, with the default being proceed if the FBI does not contact the store to tell them to deny the purchase. But, the ONLY records this system checks are eligibility to own a firearm - either by immigration or citizenship status, or felony conviction.

Thirdly, and really most importantly, a gun store is a private business. Private business owners have the legal right to refuse service to anyone for any reason. Typically, you'll get told to go away if you don't fit the profile of a sane and safe law-abiding citizen. I've personally seen several different suspicious characters asked to leave (and in one case ejected from) a few gun stores.

Comment from: Kaychsea [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 20, 2007 12:06 PM

So not very difficult at all, providing you don't spook the salesman?

Comment from: Merus [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 21, 2007 11:21 AM

I'm guessing no-one else finds it odd that gun control laws are being discussed when there are more guns than adult Americans? America's like the New Zealand of guns.

I've pretty much always held the opinion that gun control laws are a fine thing, but they don't work in the US where 'gun porn' is something that people will say with a straight face and black-market guns are super-easy to acquire. All the eligibility checks in the world will do squat against black-market dealers, and if people think it's easy, or worse, their right to own a gun, then the demand will exist and black-market guns will continue to flourish.

Buybacks themselves don't work either, because there's a large amount of guns, and the amounts they collect are like, a thousand or something? There'd easily be ten times that in each buyback area. If you could trade in your old busted gun for $50, you'd do so, but the gun that people keep saying will keep your family safe? There's a hard moral incentive to hold onto it.

As mentioned, I'm all in favour of gun control. Actually, what I'm in favour of is people not dying and some punk being able to turn odds in his favour not by his wit, his arguments, or his fists, but by whether he has a piece of metal that can splatter my brains against the wall or open up my chest so my heart can escape (I mean, it's in a cage, right?). But at the same time, I don't think there is a band-aid solution that will work. You have to change American culture, and while it can be done (Listerine, after all, singlehandedly introduced the idea of bad breath) it's not the quick-fix-and-no-one-has-to-worry-ever-again solution people want right now.

Another thread: they have no idea how to tell apart potential killers from regular peoples. There's surely something we can do around trying to get people to release their rage in healthy ways, like dealing with their issues, or to try and reduce the likelihood that someone will develop into a sociopath, which won't work for every kid but it'd sort of be nice to try.

Comment from: Tangent [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 22, 2007 10:00 AM

It has been a while, hasn't it.

We must avoid a knee-jerk response to gun control, and instead look more into improving our networking in helping these individuals get the help they need in order to stop such massacres again. Because even if Seung-Hui had been denied a gun, even if all the guns were rounded up and destroyed, leaving America a completely gun-less society (which in turn would eventually lead to the destruction of the freedoms that Americans find so near and dear to their hearts, because if a tyrant has opportunity, he will take that chance... and it's human nature to blindly follow orders as a number of psychological studies have shown - the succumbing of an entire nation to blind obedience in World War II showed this, and further studies on a small scale have revealed it wasn't a defect of culture or genetics on a small scale but rather ingrained into human reactions)... even if Seung-Hui couldn't get a gun, it is oh so very easy to take some commonly-found household chemicals, mix them together, and make bombs that could do far worse damage.

Heck, a dozen bombs could be planted without anyone being suspicious. Imagine someone with a super-sized paper cup with a straw in it. He brings it to a trash can and puts it in the can. But the cup didn't hold a soft drink, but rather a cocktail of explosives... and the straw conceals an antenna. The trash can itself becomes a fragmentation device. Do this a dozen times... in a dozen different places... and suddenly you have the potential to wound and kill tens of dozens in one instant.

Put another device near the first on a different frequency, and wait until emergency personnel are trying to tend to the wounded and detonate them as well? And you strike a second blow, this one at the Law Enforcement and those people who try to save lives. (And no, I didn't plan that out. That was just come up with on the fly while typing this.)

We are exceedingly fortunate that Seung-Hui did not do that. He took a gun and sadly, so very sadly went on a rampage, killing over 30 people before taking his own life. But eliminating the guns does not give us our safety. It increases our vulnerability. And it gives those people who are determined to strike out against society the need to plan out their evil, and in doing so very likely hurting many more than what they'd do in their initial spree of violence.

The key isn't banning guns. It's prevention of violence. And the benefits are not just reducing the number of shooting victims, but also instances of child abuse, spouse abuse, street crime, and more.

The hurdles are great. They are perhaps insurmountable. But banning guns is putting a bandage over a severed artery. It barely stems the bleeding. We need to suture the artery to save the life of civilization itself.

Robert A. Howard

Comment from: Sean Duggan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 22, 2007 5:19 PM

Personally, I'm not a gun person. I grew up in Kentucky, with many friends in the NRA, so I hold great respect for responsible gun owners, but they're just not my thing. They're wonderful equalizers - a granny, even one with a black belt, will be be physically overcome by an athletic teenager in a fistfight or a knifefight but she's basically his equal with gun in hand, let alone the benefits of guns to the marginally trained (maybe a week to teach someone enough to not shoot their foot off and to be able to hit a close-range target versus years of melee training). *shrug* Anyhow, my point of view on guns is that the bad guys will always find access to them. Knowing how to use one, knowing when to use one, and if you have children, educating them on what to do with one if found (face it, your kids are going to find your gun no matter how hard you try to lock or hide them away. They should know which end to point away and the concepts of safeties, as well as a healthy respect for why one does not play with guns) is required if you own a gun.

As for the relativity of Eric's original post, I've occasionally used that justification to myself before, "It could be worse. Just think of the poor people in X", but overall, I find that occasionally it's just an excuse and it can definitely go to extremes. "Sure, she broke my heart, looted my savings account, and is asking me to pay child support for the baby sired by my best friend, but at least she didn't shave off my eyebrows"

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