Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech: more than twice as bad as Columbine

33 people died today at Virginia Tech in the worst mass shooting in US history.

President Bush says he's praying for them, which I'm sure will help a whole lot.

Others are saying they find it 'incomprehensible' and don't understand why it happened. Students and their parents are channelling their grief and shock into anger at the college administration for not sending them emails telling them to stay away from the campus immediately the first shots were fired.

So deeply ingrained is a sense of the so-called 'right to bear arms', so powerful is the gun lobby and so deep in denial the many Americans who can't see the connection between the country's gun culture and the fact that this kind of mass shooting happens periodically, that any real change in the gun laws across the US seems unlikely ever to take place. In which case, the massacres will continue and Americans will continue to be astonished by them.

In the last month I've read two extremely successful and widely-read American novels about mass killings: Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes and Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin. In one, the teenage boy with the gun shoots an assortment of his classmates at school because they've been bullying him since he was a little kid. In the other, the teenage boy with the crossbow shoots an assortment of his classmates at school (do you see a pattern emerging here?) because he was Born Bad and his Bad Mother made him Even Worse.

Neither Picoult nor Shriver puts much, if any, emphasis on the possibility that a weapons-happy culture might be part of the mix.

There are very few things for which I will remember John Howard fondly, but his action on gun control in the wake of the Port Arthur shootings is one of them. Gun nuts and other denialists criticised this on the grounds that, or so they claimed, it didn't reduce the number of illegal firearms in the country, but whether or not that is true (and how could anyone tell, for presumably if they are illegal then there is no way of counting them), it also had the effect of reinforcing a public culture in Australia that was already mostly anti-firearm and soberly aware of the dangers of keeping weapons lying around the house.

"In the next part of the hall a sort of bottleneck had developed. Men were lingering over a particular glass case as if spellbound. I squeezed through, but it was only another spread of handguns. Were they better, cheaper, made by someone more famous? It was as baffling to me as if these men had been contemplating relics of some god whose name I didn't even know."

-- Helen Garner, 'At the Gun Show'

"I was Maxine's date on Friday for Alpha Omega Epsilon (engineering sorority) formals. She had German class this morning in Norris -- one of the classes where a lot of people were shot -- and she never came back from it. No one knows where she is. Her mother has called all of the hospitals in the area, and nothing."

-- Aciel on LiveJournal
[UPDATE, Wednesday 1.10 pm: Today's Crikey bulletin links to a Virginia Tech list of casualties. Listed among those confirmed dead: Maxine Turner, Senior, Chemical Engineering.]


lucy tartan said...

I agree. Praying is alright if that's what you like to do when you feel unhappy but somehow I expect a little more action from a person with so much power. Asking for supernatural help is an insult when there is a course of practical action obviously worth trying.

I was on campus when Brett Horrocks, who I knew from tutorials, killed one person and wounded another at La Trobe in 1999. How much worse it might have been if he'd had access to the types of guns people can get in the US or the arms Martin Bryant had.

Living in Canberra said...

Whats really scary is that many in the US are blaming the campus' policy of no-guns for the massacre. They say if other students had been armed they could have stopped the shooter. Yeah, right, gunfight at the VT Corral. Solves all the problems with guns.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Yes, the I find the praying business absolutely infuriating. If they'd pass a few sane laws, they wouldn't be needing the Almighty's help in the first place.

Christine Keeler at Larvatus Prodeo was saying earlier that it was only a matter of time before the like of Malkin and Coulter found a way to blame "liberals". But I, being very unimaginative, couldn't see how they could possibly do it. Silly me. Just goes to show how deep the Wild West fantasies still run.

Imagine how many more deaths there might have been if other students had been armed as well.

meggie said...

I read your blog, & felt I was in some weird timewarp. Prayers???
I would like to swear, but wont.
Later when the TV was turned on, I couldnt believe it was all true!

meli said...

they like their guns over there. my friend from idaho falls says they have more guns in his town than in most small countries. and when his very nice mayor made motions towards gun reform, he was nearly ousted and had to revoke his comments...

Ampersand Duck said...

You're right (of course!), it feels really dirty to be grateful to the Howard for something; I am, but I'm not going to dwell upon it at election time.

Poor buggers.

Francis Xavier Holden said...


zoot said...

And as some dreadful snark has pointed out, this level of violence sends shockwaves across the US whilst it would be just another news update in Baghdad.

Link said...

It is a totally different culture in the US, where some citizens don't feel safe unless they're carrying guns. Whereas in Australia to the contrary, myself and many others I suspect, feel completely unsafe if anyone is carrying a gun.

Its quite a simple equation. If there were no guns, nobody would get shot.

Anonymous said...

Now wait for the copycats. Lucy Sussex

Link said...

'Outlawing' guns completely is met with absolute incredulity by the gun-totin' lobby, who claim that they need guns to shoot wild animals. Yeah, right. In my world shooting animals for recreational purposes would also be outlawed.

We all know what they really want guns for, to protect themselves from other people with guns and to give themselves a threatening demeanour which for some strange reason makes them feel 'proud'.

Cowards want guns.

Ariel said...

100% agree. I was thinking the same thing about Howard's post-Port Arthur actions recently, after spending some time in the US and being struck by the weird prevalence of the gun culture there. For example, a sign outside a hamburger joint (or similar) in Brooklyn that read 'Shoot Hoops, Not Guns'. (It needed to be SAID?)

If it's hard to obtain guns, it'll be harder to shoot people. Surely, common sense?

lucy tartan said...

It's the ubiquity of the gun culture you mention Ariel, IMO as much as the actual easy availability of guns. Same as any other consumer object, if they weren't in front of the nose all the time they would not be thought of so readily.

Miss Tickle said...

I guess they're praying that everyone else is law-abiding.

Ariel said...

Absolutely, Lucy. They're everyday objects.

QuietStorm said...

As far as gun culture in the US goes, it scares me when it takes just over 24 hours for Shakesville bloggers to clock up 50-odd responses to someone asking how many people had known someone injured or killed by guns. And it's terrifying how many of those respondents mentioned three or four different people they knew having been shot.

Brooks Garrett said...

Please do a research paper entitled, "Gun Toters Kill, Criminals Don't". In it, I would love to see some documentation of the mass shootings that occur where gun "toters" congregate, I.E. Shooting ranges, Gun Shows, Gun Stores, Pawn Shops that retail guns.

Now please contrast with the cases of shootings in schools. Do you see a pattern? Places where criminals know guns will be present do not commit crimes in those areas. Where victims are disarmed by legislation, we see the most death. It doesn't matter how you slice it, gun deter crime. if a criminal has reason to suspect he will meet resistance, he will not commit the crime.

Please google Trolley Park, Ruby's Diner, and Appalachian State Law School. You will see plainly that guns did not lead to a "shoot-out" but instead lead to a safe resolution to a deadly situation.

You also have to consider who will obey laws prohibiting weapons. As a concealed carry permit holder, I will not carry my weapon into areas banned by law (Schools, Churches, Public Events, Fairs, etc). As a law abiding citizen I obey the laws of my society. Were I criminal intent on murder, I doubt the thought of a "Gun Free zone" would even enter my mind.

What we need is comprehensive gun reform. Law abiding citizens should be able to exercise their second amendment rights just as so many can exercise the other 9 rights! At the same time, criminals guilty of committing crimes while armed should be punished by more than a mere misdemeanor.

Please feel free to respond or even engage me in open debate by email or blog brooksgarrett -[at]- gmail [dot] com