Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The real lesson of Virginia Tech

In the face of a tragedy as monumental in both its scope and senselessness, it is only human to want to think that it could have been prevented. At this point, I am hearing more of that from the left. Doesn't this support a call for more gun control? But what - other than the total elimination of firearms - would have helped? There was nothing about the killer or the gun that he bought that was in anyway extraordinary.

While eliminating the private ownership of firearms might make us safer, it strikes me as impossible. There are too many guns in circulation.

Someone, we hear, should have reached out to Cho and helped him. But someone tried. We have generally abandoned the notion of involuntary commitment and mental health treatment in the absence of a crime or the most unambiguous demonstration of imminent harm. It was seen as a civil rights issue. Should we reverse course?

The most fatuous statement is probably from Sen. Barack Obama who somehow managed to equate mass murder with outsourcing. While I'll blog more on his statement in Milwaukee later, Obama takes the concept of violence, equates it with things that he does not like and then argues that we are a "violent country" that cannot see the way in which we are connected to each other. We are left to conclude that this is what we get.

Although we could debate whether the US overemphasizes individuality over the collective, this is just thumbsucking.

On the right, we are going to hear calls for expanded concealed carry and it is certainly possible that, had someone in Norris Hall been armed, the death toll would have been lower. But the likelihood that someone will happen to have a gun at the time and place when a rare event like this takes place is too remote to influence policy. If concealed carry is a good idea, it is not because it will prevent mass murder.

The reality is that, on this side of the fall, we cannot live in a world without danger or evil. There will always be sorrow.

And there will always be, as we see in Blacksburg, great love and heroism in the face of that sorrow.


Anonymous said...

To paraphrase "if CCW a good idea and would it have prevented or minimized the death toll?" I would answer yes to both questions. A bill was defeated earlier this yesr that would have allowed citizens to carry concealed on campus and it's a pretty good assumption that there was at least 1 CCW licensed person on the scene that could have "could have" made a difference. That being said should "all" citizens be given the right to carry "yes", should every citizen carry "no".
Keep in mind that "when seconds count, the police are just minutes away."

Anonymous said...

And that tragedies will occur in our lives that we have no control over or be able to find a reason as to why it happened. Sometimes "why" can't be answered.

Anonymous said...

Obama sticking his nose into it to try and score some political points is rather offensive to me.

People mourning their loss are asking why but I don't believe gun control is the answer they're looking for. They're in emotional turmoil and to try and get them worked up even more is beyond sensible.

Anonymous said...

Deploy the straw men. There is a lot of room for ideas between total ban on one hand, and this guy's ability to waltz into a store and walk out with a handgun.

Anyone who wants to have a serious policy conversation about how the frequency of this sort of thing can be minimized has to talk about the regulation of guns, especially handguns. All guns start on the legit market; unlike dope there is no illicit manufacturing source.

Anyway, it is unhelpful that whenever we have an event like this, the ideologues committed to more guns at any cost make the argument that more guns leads to less violence. Can any thoughful human being actually believe that it would be a good thing if guns were common on college campuses?

Rick Esenberg said...


There are certainly many other steps, but which one of them would have helped. This guy couldn't just go into a shop and "waltz out" with a gun. He was subject to a background check. What in his background should have rendered him ineligible? That he was once suicidal? That he was referred to counseling? That there were two incidents of unwanted contact with female students? Apparently there was some type of temporary detention order based on concern for his own safety. Is that it? if so, is he debarred forever? Should we require psychological examinations for those who wish to purchase firearms? And even if we do, how will that affect the substantial secondary market in firearms.

It seems implausible that any practical form of regulation could have prevented this.

Anonymous said...

You may well be right that no specific regulation would have directly prevented this particular massacre. But, for example, some states have required someone who wants a handgun to apply for a permit and have some reason besides "I wanna handgun" in order to purchase. Or, make certain guns, handguns in particular too expensive for most who want them on impulse or in order to do wrong. These are just notions; my point is that there are policies that could reduce the use of handguns for unlawful violence.

But, you and I might find common ground in the notion that whenever disaster strikes, its not always helpful to enact a bunch of laws that may or may not have prevented it.

There is a seed of a meaningful argument here. There are those, I suppose, who simply believe that the unlawful gun violence we see is a reasonable price to pay for the "right" to own a gun. I don't feel that way and I am confident that most don't either. But, its an argument.


Anonymous said...

I think more laws for gun control would work about as well as more laws against murder.

Isn't Iraq a good example of how hard it is to know and control people that commit murder?

Anonymous said...

The link makes no mention of Obama.

Anonymous said...

I think we should send the victim's families a letter saying that "if only" their son or daughter had the foresight to break a bad law they could have prevented the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

We could try listening to teachers, and making administrators who never have been in a classroom listen to them, too. At least three faculty members at Virginia Tech raised issues about this student and took extraordinary steps for the sake of other students, but we still wait to hear what administrators really did about it. One of the teachers, a world-famous writer, had to threaten to quit to get anything done at all, and only for one of her classes rather than a campus.

I have dealt with students as worrisome as this one. One student held my class hostage, was taken and away and released, and came right back at me. He turned out to have a long history of mental problems. Another student stalked me and posted threats against me. He turned out to be a convicted felon.

In both cases, I was told by administrators that I was the problem, because I wanted both students made to stay away from my classes, from my students, and from me. (In both cases, memos about this and threats posted against me were put in my personnel files and brought up against me later, as well.)

And this happened right here. Maybe the students that I was trying to keep safe were your children.

That the campus also downplayed the first two killings at Virginia Tech as "only domestic violence" also is telling about a lot of things we can do in society to take seriously those who report problems in the making, before we have to arm teachers and students or resort to other means.

Look first to who was trying to prevent what happened at Virginia Tech, and ask if they needed a gun to do so. They just needed to be heard and heeded seriously.

Rick Esenberg said...

I have fixed the link on the reference to Sen. Obama.

Actually, handguns are pretty expensive. This one cost $ 571.

Anonymous said...

I want to know more about the "domestic violence" conclusion. If you have two people lying dead and no gun around, then obviously a third person was involved. Not enough information has been released to determine whether or not this was a logical conclusion on the part of those investigating the first two deaths. It is possible that the killer had a third gun which was left with the first two victims.

Anonymous said...

I think that if all citizens were legally armed, the death toll would have been seriously minimized. Every high school teacher and college teacher in the state of Wisconsin should be trained and encouraged to wear a sidearm, especially those teaching in dangerous school systems like MPS.

Anonymous said...

I am a teacher, and I gave decades of my life to train as a teacher, not to train to shoot a gun. I never have had a gun, and I will not do so now. I also will not allow hundreds of guns in hundreds of backpacks carried by hundreds of students who are stressed by school, exhausted from working nights to go to school, not eating or sleeping properly . . . whar are you thinking?!

Anyone who thinks that teachers can teach while thinking about hundreds of guns in their classrooms -- or thinking about where our own guns might be buried in our bookbags filled with stacks of student papers, class prep notes, computer disks, flash drives, and more, all while standing in front of hundreds of students, trying to read our notes in A/V-darkened rooms while also juggling PowerPoint remotes, VCR remotes, DVD remotes, computer keyboards, and more . . . all while intensely attepting to communicate concepts and ideas and passion for our subjects . . . and all while also peering out to see if a hand is up to ask a question . . . well, that is an idea from someone who never has done what we do.

While we're busy shooting, who should teach? Campus security experts did not train to teach but trained to know where to put PA speakers to let us know of trouble. Campus police did not train to teach but trained to know when to shoot -- and when not to shoot.

If we don't have enough PA speakers or police -- and we don't -- then it is up to you to invest in education at all levels in this state for sufficient security and police in our schools. Then we all will be able to do what we trained to do.

And it is up to you to support laws that will allow teachers and others in schools to remove those who are not there to learn -- as teachers at Virginia Tech tried to do. And they only had to be armed with their training and experience to know what they saw.

And listening to them did not require anyone to have a gun. It only required that lawyers and psychologists and social workers have brains -- to listen to those who have the training to teach, who have taught thousands of students for decades, and who know what they're doing in the classroom.

You clearly do not.

Dad29 said...

Clayton Cramer has a series of posts on committment for the mentally ill which is interesting and useful.

The shooter evaded a "Do Not Sell" listing on NCIS by accepting voluntary committment. Had it been in-voluntary, he would have been flagged on NCIS and ineligible to purchase a handgun for 5 years.

As to arming students: Federal law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing a handgun. (18 for long-guns.) So HS kiddies will not have handguns.

Further, there is a FEDERAL law requiring 20 years in prison for possession of a firearm during a violent crime. It's irrelevant here, of course, but NRA supported that law and still does.

The question of self-defense will become more and more significant in the discussion of VTech--but it's a larger one than just "carrying guns."

4 or 5 men could have rushed this bozo and taken him down; he was most likely "target-fixated," meaning that he couldn't have killed or wounded more than 1 or 2 in the space of 5 seconds...

Yes, someone could have been killed, but there's a very significant reward for those 'who lay down their life...'

Anonymous said...

So Dad29 blames the college kids for not takin' out the bad guy and others want to flood college campuses with weapons.

what a world.

Anonymous said...

Correct re the federal age minimum, Dad. Btw, I tried to write the post for pertinence, at least in part, to both h.s. and college levels -- although, of course, lots of "college kiddies" are under 21, too. Of course, another complication on college campuses is that many students -- and teachers -- are visitors and not citizens, and not even longtime resident aliens like the student at VTech. I doubt that you want to change the law to have the state arm these foreigners on student or teacher visas, too.

And all that doesn't prevent anyone from coming on college campuses who doesn't belong there. These are not high schools with one building with half a dozen doors to be locked or surveilled. Campuses the size of VTech -- about the size of UWM in terms of enrollment, although VTech has 30 times UWM's acreage -- have dozens and dozens of buildings, for hundreds and hundreds of doors. Classroom building doors usually are unlocked from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. or even midnight, with night classes and studios and late study hours.

And, as at VTech, there often are hundreds of noncampus visitors on any campus anytime for good reason -- high school classes, community members coming to concerts or art shows, prospective students touring with parents, alumni showing kids where they went to school, etc.

It's just not simple, unless we radically alter what a college campuses is to do and and is to be for their own community and their surrounding community. We already have had to lock up high schools and grade schools so much that many polling places have had to be moved, as democracy conflicts with security. That's a sad statement.