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19 April 2007

There are no easy answers to gun violence

When a tragedy like what happened at Virginia Tech occurs (well, any violence directed against innocents is a tragedy, really), people naturally want to look for ways to curtail the threat in the future.  Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to gun violence in the US.

33 people died at Virginia Tech on Monday, from guns.  But guns are neither the only nor even the most efficient way to kill, particularly when premeditation is at work.  In 1994 something like 800,000 Hutus were slaughtered in the Rwandan genocide, and almost all of that was done with machetes.  Almost 200 people were killed yesterday in Iraq, by someone using car bombs.  Timothy McVeigh killed 168 with fertilizer and deisel fuel on this day a dozen years ago.

Guns do kill - something like 12,000 homicides and an additional 6,000 accidents/suicides each year here in the US.  My father was one of those people in 1969, and my step-brother a little more than a decade ago.  You never really get over that kind of personal tragedy, as I mention here.

But cars also kill.  About 30,000 Americans a year, if memory serves.  And again, I have a very personal connection to this:  about 18 months after my dad was killed, my mom died in a car accident.  But because it wasn't an act of violence, it is somehow easier to accept that.  Which is curious, because we do seem to accept that level of death in our country (and others) relatively easily.

People are violent.  It is part of who we are.  Now in the UK guns are almost completely outlawed - yet gun violence is once again becoming a problem in some areas.  In an effort to control the results of violent behaviour, the UK is now increasingly becoming a nanny-state, outlawing the carrying of pointed knives, limiting their sale even for home use, forcing pubs to shift from glass bottles and drinking vessels to plastic ones because the others were being used to bash and cut others in pub brawls . . . you get the idea.

As I mention in that blog post cited above, I hate the facile arguments on both sides:  that getting rid of all guns would solve the problem; and that if only someone with a legal CCW had been there they could have stopped Cho earlier.  The best you can say is that it is possible that stricter gun control (even to extending to effective bans) might have stopped Cho from being able to murder so many so easily . . . or that someone legally armed on campus might have been able to stop Cho once he started shooting.  No, there is a lot of slop there on both sides - no one knows the answer to 'what if?'

For me it comes down to a couple of different deciding factors.  We have over 200 million guns in this country, something like 80 million handguns.  So, getting rid of them isn't a practical answer for at least a generation.  And prohibiting them will basically mean that you are telling criminals that they can count on law-abiding citzens being disarmed.  Which means you either accept the increased power advantage of criminals, or you move towards an increasingly police-heavy state, with all of the implications that carries.

Further, the 2nd Amendment was put there for a reason:  to control the worst instincts of wanna-be tyrants.  The founders understood that humans being what we are, you needed to control the worst instincts of those who would rule rather than govern.  They built checks & balances into the Constitution between the different branches of government - but knew that the real check and balance had to go further - had to go all the way down to the individual citizen.  In preserving the right to keep and bear arms, they made sure that there was a final option available to curb dictatorship.  Granted, my pistols and rifles will not stand up in a full-fledged firefight to modern military weapons - but that isn't the point.  You only have to look at Iraq to see the effectiveness of small arms and improvised explosives to see what a population can do in resisting a military force.  That alone changes the calculus of anyone - foreign or domestic - who thinks that they would like to impose their will on the American public by arms.

Lastly, having the option of carrying a concealed weapon legally means that you have more possible courses of action open to you when things go south.  No, I would not claim that I would have been able to draw my weapon and stop Cho before he killed anyone.  That's just macho posturing, generally made by people with little or no experience of what combat is like.  But I carry a 9mm pistol - the same caliber weapon he used to kill most of the 32 he murdered.  I might have had a chance, if everything had gone just right.  Maybe only a small chance - but that would have been more of a chance than the poor bastards who didn't have that option open to them had.

Yeah, there are no easy or simple answers to the problem of gun violence in the US.  I am willing to consider possible solutions - but we have to consider the entire issue completely and make a rational decision, not one based on the immediate emotions following such a horror.

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