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.]