It doesn’t have to happen here

The senseless and tragic massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech yesterday underscores what the comic Eddie Izzard has said about guns and violence:

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and monkeys do too (if they have a gun).

Or as I put it myself in this entry:

Firearms make it much, much easier to kill people.

This largely preventable massacre underscores what should be obvious, if so many of us were not blinded by our obsession with firearms: guns have their place in the field of combat, and perhaps on the hunting range, but they have no place in the rest of society.

Our acceptance of the gun culture and our willingness to nods our heads like morons to NRA pablum trivializes the fundamental thing that is unique about guns: they allow for large numbers of people to be killed easily. This alleged mass murderer, Cho Seung-Hui, would have doubtless killed many fewer people had he been armed with a butcher knife instead of a Glock 9mm pistol and a .22 caliber handgun, both of which he could easily procure in my gun crazy state of Virginia.

According to The Washington Post, Seung-Hui was apparently a neighbor of mine from nearby Centreville, Virginia. Police say he killed himself as they surrounded him. Regardless of who committed this crime, by making it so easy for him to acquire lethal weapons society is indirectly complicit. As construed by the courts, gun ownership is a right, not a privilege. This incident, the largest single mass murder of its kind in United States history, is the latest outrageous example of why Americans need to stop worshiping their firearms.

Perhaps this incident will spur us to action. A similar 1996 incident in Dunblane, Scotland made the British realize that most such atrocities could be prevented. In that incident, Thomas Hamilton killed 17 people and himself with a gun. He injured 12 others as well. As a direct result the British passed stringent gun control laws. At least in Great Britain, similar incidents have not recurred. The British learned from the incident. Will we?

I would like to think so, but history is against me. Somehow I expect that after all the crying, funerals and compulsory speeches expressing outrage are over that we will choose gun rights over gun violence once again. Congress doesn’t care. In fact, we have Congress trying to overturn the District of Columbia’s gun ban. In addition a federal appeals court recently overturned the District’s 21 year gun ban. (The District is appealing the ruling to a higher court.) Perhaps gun advocates think that when we are all carrying loaded pistols like during those Wild West days we will all be safer. I do not buy this argument. Westerners carried firearms everywhere they went in the West because they were not safe. Is this the sort of society we aspire to live in? Do we want to send our kids to school with a loaded pistol so they can defend themselves if they get in a firefight? Or do we want to feel safer from gun violence in our community by restricting the possession and use of firearms?

This incident could not teach a clearer lesson: easy accessibility to guns contributes to the deaths of tens of thousands of us every year. Sadly, it is only when massacres happen that it draws our attention. We need a culture that considers gun ownership socially unacceptable. Clearly, death by firearms is not an abstraction and kills many of us every day. Just like smoking, this kind of death is largely preventable. Unlike smoking though, which is an activity you choose to do to yourself, you will not choose to have someone kill you with a firearm.

This incident should have one small silver lining: it should facilitate the end of our gun culture. I am not shy to speak up with my friends and neighbors about the need for society to tightly regulate firearms. I realize my quest is a bit quixotic, but perhaps this incident will finally change the dynamics. I encourage you to do your part and speak up loudly. Tell your neighbors and friends that you think it should be illegal to store firearms in our communities. Tell them that while you agree that the vast majority of gun owners are honorable that nonetheless the possession of these weapons in our communities sends the wrong messages. It makes the use of guns in commission of a crime far more likely. (Here is another egregious local example that turns my stomach. The assailant in this case was a former student of the high school my daughter attends and his wacky father was obsessed with firearms.) Guns should be as difficult to acquire as dynamite. We need a zero tolerance policy for guns in our communities. Hunters should be licensed to use guns only in designated areas. Guns should be required to be transported in locked containers. Guns should be stored in community armories when not needed. We should encourage neighborhoods to become gun free communities.

As with addressing global warming, no campaign like this will succeed overnight. It must build up a head of steam before real progress can be made. It succeeds when pressure builds from the grass roots. It is time to start talking with our neighbors. I encourage you to tell them in quite emotional and emphatic terms that we must to much more to prevent gun violence. Possession of guns in the community should be a shameful thing. We need to carry this message emphatically to our representatives and tell them that enough is enough.

6 responses to “It doesn’t have to happen here”

  1. (for some reason by paragraphs get lost posting here, so I apologize in advance for the fact that it’s one big blob…)

    I recently read your article “It Doesn’t Have to Happen Here” and would like to share another perspective.

    Before I get too far into this, I would like to state how much I enjoy reading your articles. I exchanged email with you in the past regarding the “Religion ala carte” article. Your articles are interesting and thought provoking. You provide quality reading for our culture.

    On most occasions I agree with your view on issues, however on this one I have a slightly different perspective.

    First, I don’t believe there is any one solution for gun control that will solve the problems we experience in the United States, as well as countries abroad. The anti-gun people don’t have it right, and neither does the NRA. The best we can do, at least in the immediate future, is to better manage the situation not eliminate the problems.

    Second, you and I could each find examples of situations supporting our respective points of view. We could also find statistical evidence to support one side or the other. I recently read where the change in handgun laws in the UK (as you mentioned) have not decreased the amount of gun related deaths. Another example is how the city of Kennesaw, Georgia passed an ordinance in 1982 that requires every head of household to maintain a firearm with ammunition. (,_Georgia). I heard on CNN (during the VA Tech incident) that there have been 3 shooting deaths in Kennesaw since 1982. Point being we can find data to support either cause so let’s avoid a statistical debate. I hear way too much of that on the radio.

    Finally, I will share some facts about myself. I grew up in a small town in northwestern Pennsylvania. I am the one of 5 children – two of natural birth, two adopted, and one foster child. My father graduated from college, served in the navy, and was a lifelong white collar manager of a tubing plant. My mother stayed home, raised the kids, and babysat.

    From the time my brothers and I were old enough my father taught us how to hunt. In the town where I grew up deer hunting was so popular they closed the schools on opening day. My grandfather hunted, as did my cousins. Thanksgiving for us was not just the traditional day where my family got together with aunts, uncles, and cousins to feast. It was also the day we spent hunting rabbit together.

    We had guns in the house as long as I can remember. There was a cabinet built into the wall in the basement. Over the years it contained shotguns for rabbit and bird hunting as well as rifles for deer hunting. I treasured the first rifle that was handed down to me – a Japanese 7.7mm mauser brought back from WWII.

    We were taught from a very young age how to respect firearms. If I wanted to shoot the gun, I simply had to ask my father. He was glad to take us to a safe location to practice. He constantly reinforced gun safety and the responsibility associated with handing firearms.

    I didn’t turn into some gun wielding maniac. I never shot anyone in my four years at college, nor did either of my brothers. I have purchased my own guns since I was 25. About five years ago I purchased a 9MM handgun. I took a concealed weapons course and possess a license to carry a concealed weapon.

    I have 4 children of my own which have I have raised in a house with firearms stored in a locked gun case. Though they don’t share my passion for hunting they have been taught firearm safety. So far none have them have shot anyone.

    The point in all this history is having a gun didn’t make me shoot someone. I had the means at my disposal and have never used it though I have had my share of situations where I would have liked to!

    In addition to teaching me proper firearm safety, my parents also taught me a lot of others things – morals, family values, compassion, responsibility, and the Presbyterian doctrine. Though I have abandoned the Christian brainwashing (as was discussed in our previous conversations), I never abandoned the teachings of good and evil, right and wrong, which my parents instilled in me.

    This is where the failure exists. Not the handgun. It’s the lack of values instilled in people. It’s the unreasonable expectations of what we are “owed” in life. I get the feeling that there are more people in the US who believe they are owed something and will do whatever necessary to get it than there are people who are truly unselfish and dedicate themselves to nurturing a more human society. Idealistic? Maybe. Regardless, those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action to make this a better society.

    Something went horribly wrong at some point with Cho Seung-Hui and his upbringing. I have no idea how his parents raised him. I don’t know what values were instilled in him (or attempted to be installed in him). I don’t know if he was born with flaws in his physical and mental makeup. We do know from reports that people recognized there were issues with him that needed to be addressed and authorities needed to be aware of. His mental state was flawed. His beliefs were flawed, or warped, or just completely wrong.

    If it wasn’t a handgun, sooner of later Cho Seung-Hui was going to explode. He could have used a variety of other tools to cause the death of students. The ingredients for home made bombs are pretty readily available (e.g. Timothy McVeigh/Oklahoma City). A Molotov cocktail thrown in the classroom would have had some pretty damaging effect.

    Though I don’t advocate all that he presents in his article ( ), Ted Nugent makes an interesting point about how we should (and shouldn’t) respond to issues like VA tech:
    “No one was foolish enough to debate Ryder truck regulations or ammonia nitrate restrictions or a “cult of agriculture fertilizer” following the unabashed evil of Timothy McVeigh’s heinous crime against America on that fateful day in Oklahoma City. No one faulted kitchen utensils or other hardware of choice after Jeffrey Dahmer was caught drugging, mutilating, raping, murdering and cannibalizing his victims. Nobody wanted “steak knife control” as they autopsied the dead nurses in Chicago, Illinois, as Richard Speck went on trial for mass murder.“

    I acknowledge your point how handguns (and automatic weapons for that matter) make killing easier – “Firearms make it much, much easier to kill people.“ However, firearms are also a great equalizer. I’m 5’10, 170 pounds. I would have no chance to defend myself or my family from the attack of a 6’5”, 250 pound man. A man that size could rape my wife while holding me by the throat as I lay on the bed next to her witness to the horrific event. With the handgun I have a chance. Even if he were to have a handgun, he is at no more advantage.

    You are suggesting enforcing more control on firearms. I respond with the point that evil men will continue to do evil regardless of the tools at their disposal. Bare hands, rope, knife, ice pick, axe, flammable liquid, handgun, rifle, shotgun, automatic weapon, bomb, rocket launcher, army tank – it doesn’t matter. Removing guns won’t stop the evil from committing evil and will only empower them further against the good natured law abiding citizens like myself.

    The crimes we see and hear reported by news channels each and everyday remind us how morally and ethically bankrupt our society has become. The solution is not to send everyone to church…but something needs to change. In the mean time, please don’t deprive me of the means to protect myself and potentially the lives of others.

    I don’t believe that we should recreate the “Wild West” and have everyone carry handguns. (Of course there is debate as to how much of that view is Hollywood and how much is real, but I digress). I do believe that there are many undocumented situations where someone in the right place at the right time carrying a firearm has foiled a crime before it started.

    I cannot avoid adding one other point; as long as there is religion, there will be war and death. As long as people are passionate about one thing or another, human life will be taken. The ongoing situation in the Middle East is a perfect example. The ignorant, illogical, irrational belief in some omnipotent being allegedly governing our daily lives has been as justification to kill millions. Greed and selfishness are not far behind as far as motivators are concerned.

    Thanks for listening.


  2. Matt,

    Those are very good and respectful comments, and the kind I like. Yes, I did generalize a bit. I do that from time to time to hammer in a point. And yes I agree that 99% of firearm owners are law abiding and understand how guns can be misused.

    Should we take more precautions about the 1%? It’s a tradeoff of personal freedom vs. the needs of society. My basic points on gun control is not so much about values, since I think they have been reasonably constant over time, but that this is a consequence of the natural density of a burgeoning population AND not changing laws to address this fact. Put more people in the same space and more accidents and arguments are a natural consequence. Police will tell you that these incidents occur disproportionately in denser neighborhoods: apartment complexes, townhouse communities, etc.

    It’s like not learning from burning your hand on a stove. We have neighborhood associations because we are living closer together and want to maintain property values. In time it will be obvious that particularly in denser communities we will have to find ways to get them out altogether.

    Like global warming though it is not something you can do in one place. That’s why gun control in DC hasn’t worked. All you have to do is drive across the DC line and buy all the guns you want. We must change the culture and this incident should inform us the time to start is now.



  3. I visited your web site today to see what you may have posted about the recent supreme court ruling on handguns in DC.

    It led me to review the conversation you and I had about gun control after the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech. It was an enjoyable experience to review your points and mine. 🙂 It was interesting to apply our respective thoughts against some of the points made regarding the Supreme Court decision. As expected, our respective point of view and recommendations cannot solve the situation now any more than it could a year ago.

    Two key points about our discussion came to mind:

    One thing we did not discuss is the difference in upbringing and perspective from a person like me raised in rural Pennsylvania and someone (maybe like yourself) raised in the big city like DC. The more I debate the issue with people the more I realize how much of an impact your place of origin has and, as important, whether you were raised with guns in the house or not. In simplest terms, people who were raised with a gun(s) in the house tend to see it perfectly natural to possess one. Those who didn’t find it dangerous, offensive, unnecessary, and the root cause to violence and death related to handguns.

    I have guns (two rifles, two shotguns, and one handgun). I own a concealed weapon permit but rarely carry. Due to my inherent non-violent nature I am a very low risk to use my handgun to kill someone.

    On the other hand (and please forgive the stereotyping) a black 17 year old male raised in a poor black neighborhood where crime and violence are common is going to behave in an evil manor for his own gain using whatever means possible. Yes, I acknowledge that the ease of access to a deadly weapon such as a handgun makes the 17 year old’s opportunities to kill much easier. But in this example the inherent nature of the male and his intentions are the cause of the problem not the tool that he (and his gang members) choose to use to enforce their wishes.

    We are not going to solve the violent nature of these cultures by removing handguns. They will be violent without them, and kill without them. Even if every state were to create a law which makes it illegal to buy and possess a firearm it would not solve the problem. Criminals would either acquire handguns illegal (as I suspect they do every day) or find an alternative method to assert their will.

    On a related note, I support thorough background checks and waiting periods for firearms. And I have a tough time understanding why someone needs a rocket launcher or an AK-47. But, the rocket launcher is rarely in the news where it was used to kill another human being in civilized areas (non-war zones).

    I TOTALLY agree with your point about the effects of increasing population density. I purposefully purchased a piece of property (2 acres) to provide a cushion between myself and my neighbors (whom I happen to get along with quite well). When I look at subdivisions with 3500+ sq ft houses and 20 feet separating one house from another, I cringe. Human beings are not intended to live in those conditions…not without consequences that we read about in the papers everyday.

    As always, thanks for “insightful” articles. They are much more interesting to read than CNN or MSBC. 😉


  4. Matt, actually I live in Northern Virginia and have never lived in Washington, D.C. My father was raised there, however. To the best of my knowledge no one in his family owned a gun (they lived in a row house), nor on my mother’s side (she was a resident of Bay City, Michigan). As for myself, my formative years were principally in and around Endwell, New York in a rather typical suburban neighborhood. I am sure some of my neighbors had guns and some were hunters. However, I never saw any of my neighbors with guns, so it was largely an unknown experience for me.

    The dynamics of oil prices will move us to live closer together. It makes sense that the more people are in each other’s faces, the more likely they are to have conflicts. Adding guns to the mixture raises the likelihood they will be use. The Supreme Court granted us the freedom to have guns. If history is any guide, they will cause a lot of homicides. A few will be burglars, but the vast majority will be people we know and get into an argument with and let escalate.


  5. How do you reconcile the fact that most of these mass shootings, like at Virginia Tech, occur in ‘gun free’ zones? Will you admit that if someone there had had a gun the massacre could have been avoided? That’s the weak link of the gun control argument: you’re trying to find a gun law that criminals will obey. By their very nature as criminals, that’s not going to happen. As you yourself said “Firearms make it much, much easier to kill people.” That’s true but it’s also true that “Firearms make it much, much easier to kill people with firearms who want to kill you.”


  6. By your logic then we would all be much safer if we packed a firearm. The logic of the Wild West though would suggest otherwise.

    Europe has very strict gun control laws and homicides caused by guns are very rare. Should we discount their experience?


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