Monday, April 16, 2007

Virginia Tech Killings -- a Minority View

With the grace of the Amish students as they faced their killer in Paradise, Pennsylvania last October, a courageous young Mennonite writer blogs a powerful message inspired by this morning's tragedy in Virginia.

America worships the gun. Today, 33 more were sacrificed on the altar of our devotion to the gun. Specifically to semi automatic handguns. There are already dozens of articles from disciples arguing that the massacre today at Virginia tech could have been avoided if some of the students had been carrying guns so they could shoot the killer before he killed them. We trust the gun more than we trust God.

The brutal reality of our gun fetish is that selling guns and ammo is highly profitable. But it is not simply the fact that the market values short term earnings from gun sales more than the social, cultural, political and long term economic damage that gun violence does to our society. More importantly, the gun industry long ago learned to effectively invest their short term earnings into the social, political and cultural sphere. Their investments in the NRA, especially since 1977 years have returned 10 fold and the results are a culture in which gun ownership is intimately connected with the values of self-sufficiency, responsibility and security that so many Americans identify with. We’ll call these frontier values.

As much as we’d like to wish that the new Democratic congress would seize on this moment to pass some common sense gun laws, the reality is that many of the new members of Congress were partly by actively courting those with frontier values. Unless their constituency shows signs of disconnecting handguns from frontier values, any vote for limiting the sales of hand guns will be doomed.

There follows a reasonable incremental plan to make guns as disagreeable to our culture as smoking, following much the same step-by-step process.

It takes character and courage at a moment like this to speak out for a principle which is certain to be unpopular. I know. I've been there before and I am there once again, in agreement with an unpopular point of view.

Information about the shooter is still not released. Preliminary reports suggest that it was a deranged man, clearly with a character disorder, whose criminal behavior may have been triggered by a relationship gone wrong. One eye-witness of the first killing (of a student and a dormitory resident assistant who intervened) said he was in possession of two handguns. We will have to wait to know more details.

I am reminded of the news report last year that took a look at Intermittent Explosive Disorder. What we call "road rage" or "going postal" are examples. It is an accident of acronyms that Improvised Explosive Device is also called "IED."
Or maybe not.

April 18 addition...

While we're at it, this post is a good place to point out that the tragedy at Virginia Tech is not the most deadly school tragedy in US history. That kind of hype may sell more papers, but it's not accurate.

In 1927 a terrible event in Michigan was by all accounts far worse, not only because it killed more students and left more surviving casualties, but because the perpetrator was a member of the school board and probably spent up to a year preparing his evil scheme. No need for me to go into the detail here, but Wikipedia has a fascinating article worth reading.

As the days go by I think my last link above is also worth a closer look. It seems the perpetrator at VT was a student whose behavior and writing carried warning signs that were not fully appreciated. I'm looking forward to learn if he fits a PTSD profile. We'll see.

Also, illustrating how small our world is, half a dozen people where I work are well-acquainted with Virginia Tech and that area of the state. At this point none is aware of knowing any victims. At least one blogroll contact is also connected by acquaintance and is relieved to know his friend is not among the victims.

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