Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Spectre of the Gun

Blogging is almost by definition a solitary activity: one monkey, one typewriter. But bloggers have some sort of natural herding instinct. Whenever given the opportunity, bloggers will, to use Douglas Adams's term, "sass" each other (sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). I have met quite a few fellow bloggers in my time - some before I knew they were bloggers, some before they started blogging. I've met with blogger / writer / radio personality Adam Felber and myriad regular commentors from his site, some of whom are themselves bloggers, and I've met twice with a gathering of local bloggers in Wilkes-Barre.

Still, the earliest bloggers I ever read were from other countries. For years I have tried to convince them to visit America. They have expressed no interest in it, partly for obvious logistical and personal reasons - not everyone sees the fun in dropping everything and flying off to some faraway country at great expense to stay with total strangers. But there's another reason: they see America as a land filled with heavily-armed homicidal lunatics.

This is a pretty common perception. From the earliest days our film and television entertainment have been full of heroes and villains who kill each other with sociopathic casualness. Our news reports show that this isn't just a violent fantasy. In Ireland, a single shooting anywhere in the country will make the national news, while here in America we'd call a single shooting a slow night in Wilkes-Barre. (To be fair, Irish auto accidents probably make up the imbalance, and drunken bar brawls are a national pastime. That's no stereotype, it's a fact of life there.)

Incidents like Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech don't help this image. The shooter and many of his victims are part of the same generation as the murderers and victims at Columbine High School, which happened eight years ago tomorrow. These are just two of many mass-shooting incidents which have earned America a reputation for gun violence.*

And it's not just the mass shootings. Gun violence is commonplace. As big cities export both crime and criminals to surrounding areas, armed robberies have become a daily occurrence even in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Guns are easy to get - just a few weeks ago Virginia gun-shop owners were holding sarcastic gun sale rallies in defiance of actions being taken by New York City to stop the flow of firearms from gun shops in Virginia and other states that have relatively lax background checks and waiting periods.

I know people who have guns. Hell, I've fired guns myself - I was a particularly good shot with a .22 pistol, the same caliber weapon as one of the two used in the Virginia Tech massacre. A .22 is something I've always considered a "polite" weapon: it is small, relatively unpowerful, and fires a small projectile - basically a high-velocity pellet. (Well, a very large pellet.) It is very difficult to kill someone accidentally with a .22, as opposed to other, much more powerful weapons which are designed to do maximum damage. Many of the people killed at Virginia Tech were killed with .22 slugs. Individual, precise, purposeful murders.

I know people who have guns. I know people who have guns who I do not think should have guns. But there is no reporting system in place, no regulation system in place where I can say "I believe this person is potentially mentally unstable and might, under the right conditions, someday use this weapon to commit murder." The law says they have a right to bear arms, and no situation exists that would preclude that right. Yet.

There are some who say that the answer is an armed populace, that if every student at Virginia Tech had been carrying a weapon this massacre could have been stopped almost as soon as it started. I say this is bullshit. I don't know what the solution is here - and maybe there isn't a solution at all - but I don't believe that having everyone carry a gun will have a net negative effect on gun violence.

And so we go on. We go on hoping that the next Tim McVeigh will not park a rental truck full of high explosives in front of our office building. We go on hoping that someone will not fly a jet into a skyscraper, will not put poison in our Tylenol, will not kidnap, rape, and murder our kids. We go on hoping that our next visit to a liquor store will not end with us dead on the floor, that our friends who work in convenience stores will not be murdered for the sake of a few bucks. We go on hoping that some heavily armed lunatic or some random bullet will not have an opportunity to dictate how we spend the remainder of our lives.

I don't know where I'm going with this. Maybe nowhere. This guy did this stuff, it's over. If there is any justice in the universe his name will be forgotten and the memories of his victims will live on. The rest of us have to live with what has happened and go on.

And maybe someday, this will be a country that my friends won't be afraid to visit.

*America is not unique in this. Australia's Port Arthur massacre in 1996 claimed 35 lives - two more than the Virginia Tech massacre.

Title reference: It's an episode of Star Trek (The Original Series).


Domestic Zookeeper said...

" It is very difficult to kill someone accidentally with a .22, as opposed to other, much more powerful weapons which are designed to do maximum damage. "

Sorry to disagree here, my friend. But a .22 is just as deadly as any other 'more powerful' gun.

I grew up with guns in the house, loaded and unloaded. But I was well educated about them from an early age. With the help of my father, I fired a .22 rifle out on the family farm when I was 4 years old - but I'm not the homicidal, suicidal maniac. I kill paper plates - not people.

I don't believe that guns should be outlawed - but a psych screening would be a lot more useful than the "10-day waiting period" that California instituted before buying a gun. To quote the bumper stickers: "Guns don't kill people, People kill people."

I've heard that when they took the guns away from Australia, their crime rate escallated (sp) to an exponential number.

Of course, while I'm talking about psych screenings, I am also a firm believer that people should pass an IQ test before being allowed to breed. =)


whimsicalnbrainpan said...

There are no easy answers and like you pointed out at the end of your post, killing is just as easily acomplished with many weapons other than a gun.

I agree with Zookeeper I think poeple should have to get a licence to breed.

Gort said...

You're right about our image in the rest of the world. When I lived in England one of the first questions I would get was "How many guns do you own?"

tiffany said...

well, now i'm crying.
i'm one of those loonies who thinks that if no one had a gun, no one would need a gun. sure, they'd have knives...hell, some people would use spoons if they had to...but guns, clearly, do the most damage.
(airplanes piloted by suicide bombers aside, of course.) it doesn't matter what kind of gun it is...guns are made to kill things, end of story.
i hate them.
i've never seen one, and i hope i never do.

if someone told me that all guns would be immediatley disappeared from the planet, i would happily eat grass and dirt for the rest of my (probably pretty short) life.

tiffany said...

p.s. people do kill people, but a person with a gun can kill a lot more people than a person without one.
it's a difficult situation.
as strongly as i feel about this, i wouldn't argure for a complete dissolution of the 2nd amendment.
but, isn't there a happy medium?