Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Okay, I'll Talk About Virginia Tech

So far, I'm probably not as up to date as the rest of you, but I think I'll give some opinions based on what I know.

First: Gun control. We all know that this sort of thing keeps coming up. I think that if you're going to debate about it, be sure to reference actual numbers. This morning on NPR, I heard two handguns (one semi-automatic with extended clips and a .22 caliber) were involved. Could restricting/banning handguns have an overall benefit for society? Does handgun possession prevent enough crime to offset its convenience for criminals? Would restrictions on ammunition and large clips help? I don't know. I want to hear empirical discussion, not some extremist NRA member holding up a shotgun or whatever, saying "from my cold, dead hands!"

Second: Which part of society is to blame (if any)? This is the real sticky wicket, and before we even knew anything, we've had people spouting off about it being caused by evolution, atheism, violent videogames, not having "American" DNA, and so on. I can imagine Communism's going to get thrown in since the guy was Asian. Since he was considered a "misfit," I think we can expect the same nerdophobia that followed Columbine. Let's wait until we hear a bit more, then we can figure out his motives, okay?

12 comments:

King Aardvark said...

While the idea of arming almost everybody as a deterent can certainly be defended for things like theft, etc, it doesn't follow that it would help for situations like this one or Columbine. In these cases, the shooter(s) know that a) they are going to commit suicide at the end of the rampage or b) that chances are good the cops are going to take them out eventually. If they know it's likely that a room of students will probably have a dozen students with guns, so what? The shooter isn't expecting to survive; he just wants to take out as many people as possible. It probably doesn't matter to him that, instead of killing 30 people, he'll probably only kill 10 before another student gets him.

As for blame, I agree with you that we certainly don't have the information about motive yet. I'm content to wait.

xiangtao said...

It probably doesn't matter to him that, instead of killing 30 people, he'll probably only kill 10 before another student gets him.

Probably not, but I bet that it matters to the extra 20 students that don't get killed.

Infophile said...

(I said much the same thing on this issue on another forum, I trust you won't mind if I cross-post it.)

On the issue of gun control, one thing we have to remember is why the Second Amendment is there in the first. The primary reason at the time was that the government wasn't powerful enough to create a standing army to protect the nation, so they needed civilian militias to fill in the gap. Hence why the amendment states that the freedom to "bear arms and form militias shall not be infringed." Over time, that became no longer the case, and the government's army became more than sufficient.

So, why wasn't it taken off the books? We can't say for sure of course, but there are many who believe that some of the founding fathers (particularly Jefferson) believed that a time might come when the US government got too corrupt, and another revolution was needed. For that, the citizens needed a half-decent chance to be able to arm themselves against the government, hence why the amendment remained.

With the collosal power-grabs of the Bush administration in recent years, we're closer to this point than ever before, but we're not at it, and I doubt we'll get there this time around. The people realized what was going on in time, and voted a Democratic congress in, which would prevent any further power grabs. This does serve as a wake-up call though, that we have to be vigilant. We have to keep an eye on the government to make sure they don't try to take over. And when they do, it's our job to vote them out. If we're too late on that, then that's when we'll be thankful we have the Second Amendment.

So, even in the face of tragedies like these, my response to claims that we should repeal the Second Amendment generally amounts to, "Let's elect a government we're sure we can trust first, then we'll talk about giving up our defense against them."

Tom Foss said...

My only problem with that reasoning is that if such a conflict ever occurred, the government would win. We already accept that the government has access to some weapons that we don't (nuclear weapons, tanks, flamethrowers) mainly based on how incredibly dangerous they are. Now, look at how bad this massacre was, and imagine if instead of two handguns, it had been an assault rifle.

I'm all for gun control when it's guns that are clearly useless for home protection, hunting, and personal use. Once you get into AK-47s and the like, the only use you're going to have is "killing other people."

Now, I'm all for civilian militias. And I'm all for civilian militias owning high-powered rifles. So, my proposition (and I ought to blog about this) is as follows: you want your high-powered firearms? Start a militia. Register your militia, have some meeting place that is not a private residence, go through a training procedure, and get licensed. Own whatever crazy weapons you want (within some reason), but they have to be kept at the militia-house, and only registered, licensed, trained members can have access.

I can hear some of the objections, that the government would know where your militia is, that you shouldn't have to get training or licensing, and it's crap. The government already knows where anyone with a legally-bought assault weapon lives, already knows where the militias are. And with anything where you actively put other people's lives at risk, from driving to practicing medicine to practicing CPR to being an educator, you have to go through a training and licensing period. Why would guns be different?

The Second Amendment allows specifically for a well-regulated militia. Fine, then. Get regulated.

Just Al said...

On gun control: It's been pretty clearly established that the ready accessibility of guns leads to a significant number of violent crimes, mostly of the emotional distress type. Guns are an incontrovertible argument: "Oh, yeah?" [Bang!]

Without such as an option, one must resort to lesser weapons, all of which increase the chance of the argument not being as convincing (i.e., getting the shit kicked out of oneself).

Guns as a defense against guns isn't really a valid concept, as can be told by the number of police officers (who are trained to recognize and respond to hazardous situations) that get shot each year. What it actually leads to is "the criminal" shooting first and without warning. Most gun-wielders are not actually thinking about the situation in the first place - they're reacting emotionally.

Which brings us to shooting sprees and related situations. While we'd like to see these as preventable, the bald truth is, psychological aberrations aren't really something you can plan for, and thinking that any particular actions (like more guards in the schools) will prevent them in the future is fatuous. When someone tips over the edge, they'll use whatever method is available - bombs, vehicular attacks, poisoning, and so on.

There is a difference between spur-of-the-moment violence and premeditated violence, and this is an important distinction to make when considering legislation or safety issues. No handguns may mean the reduction of most violent street crimes and in-home deaths (both purposeful and accidental). Whether it would have prevented VaTech is up for grabs - the killer may simply have slashed his victims, or set fire to several buildings, or (as happened right here at home) driven his car into a crowd. Or, the subsequent planning might have been enough time for cooler thoughts to prevail, or enough clues to be left behind that someone could have acted to prevent it all.

We'll probably never know, and that's largely the point. Some things just happen - some people just crack. Treating it as a symptom of society in general is almost certainly highly inaccurate and pointless. I don't want to be interpreted as saying such occurrences are insignificant, but we do need to see them as aberrations, and not the breakdown of society.

Another thing to remember: We have a distinct police force in this country not only due to crime, but due to vigilantism as well. Before that, we had an armed populace. Trials? Rights? Umm, no, all too often, a rope and a handy tree. Wrong guy? Oh well...

Second Amendment rights: Times are distinctly different from when these were written. As Tom Foss says, the government has GAU-8 30mm cannons mounted on jet aircraft - even the contents of an LA gun shop ain't gonna keep them in line, y'know? Realism is an important consideration, and hiding behind an arcane concept is just stupid.

Dunc said...

We have to keep an eye on the government to make sure they don't try to take over. And when they do, it's our job to vote them out. If we're too late on that, then that's when we'll be thankful we have the Second Amendment.

Can I just point out that most families in Iraq own at least one gun, and that they're not having the greatest success against the US government at the moment?

There is no way that a civil militia armed with individual firearms can stand against the might of the most formidable military force in history. If the government is so far gone that insurrection is the only recourse, then they're not going to hesitate about putting that insurrection down with whatever means they feel necessary, up to and including tactical nuclear weapons.

King Aardvark said...

Good point. My point is that it's not a deterrent, and as Just Al points out, "guns against guns" to actually stop a shooter earlier is sketchy at best.

Bourgeois_Rage said...

Tom Foss:
My only problem with that reasoning is that if such a conflict ever occurred, the government would win. We already accept that the government has access to some weapons that we don't (nuclear weapons, tanks, flamethrowers) mainly based on how incredibly dangerous they are.

My only problem with this is that you assume that the entire military would side with the corrupt government. If there is a popular uprising, many of the generals and troops would probably also be on the side of the people, thus bringing their weapons.

Berlzebub said...

just al said:
Second Amendment rights: Times are distinctly different from when these were written. As Tom Foss says, the government has GAU-8 30mm cannons mounted on jet aircraft - even the contents of an LA gun shop ain't gonna keep them in line, y'know? Realism is an important consideration, and hiding behind an arcane concept is just stupid.

dunc said:
...If the government is so far gone that insurrection is the only recourse, then they're not going to hesitate about putting that insurrection down with whatever means they feel necessary, up to and including tactical nuclear weapons.

Okay, first let me say, I'm an anarchist. So, what I say has some bias to my point of view. Then again, everyones does.

Both of the statements above are why I was against the assault weapons ban. Granted, I have no interest in owning or using a nuclear bomb (and even if I did, I couldn't afford one). However, the Second Amendment was added because the War for Independence was fresh in their memories, and because they had not yet established a standing army. Jefferson also wanted the people to have a way to defend themselves against a corrupt government.
(Unfortunately, I'm at work, and don't have the references in front of me. I'll look them up, later, if you like.)

Like me, it seems that Jefferson wasn't trusting of any government. It seems that the only people who want power are only interested in the power itself. Not in using it for the greater good. There are a few, probably, but don't ask me to name them. So, I was too young to have any say at the time, but I think loosing the option of being able to own the same firearms as the military was a blow to our ability to stand up to our government.

The only advantage we have is that our sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers serve in our military. We can only hope that cooler heads prevail if someone decides to use a nuclear warhead on U.S. soil to quell and uprising. However, if it comes to the point that it's even being considered, both sides have already lost.

tom foss said:
Now, I'm all for civilian militias. And I'm all for civilian militias owning high-powered rifles. So, my proposition (and I ought to blog about this) is as follows: you want your high-powered firearms? Start a militia.

That becomes a slippery slope. Define "high-powered". A .22 caliber has an effective range of about a mile and a half. However, the accurate range is only about 100-150 yards, and that's with a good rifle. A .50 caliber has a much longer range and greater accuracy. As far as the exact stats, I have a ballpark figure, but it's been a while since I thought about it. So, I won't say it here.

Regardless, I have three "high-powered" rifles. A bolt action in .243 Winchester, a falling block action in .243 Winchester, and a semi-auto in .223 (5.56mm NATO). All of them are useful for hunting, and all of them are legal. You may question the semi-auto, but I do quite a bit of varmint hunting (at least I used to). A rapid follow up shot is handy when trying to get rid of a family of groundhogs. The holes that groundhogs dig cause cattle to break their legs, and cost the farmers money. Plus, groundhog is quite tasty. I've never killed anything I didn't eat, except for a dog who was on our land and tried to bite someone. However, there were other reasons for doing that.

I'm sorry if this comment is rambling, but it's early, and I'm having to do it and work at the same time. So, feel free to pick it apart, and I'll respond as best I can, when I can.

-Berlzebub

Dikkii said...

We had gun control imposed upon us in Australia about ten years ago after the Port Arthur Massacre.

Evidence suggests that gun deaths have reduced markedly after the ban on semi-automatic weapons was introduced, although, it should be noted that gun deaths in Autralia prior to the bans was pretty low anyway, so this might be a difficult comparison to make.

Also, we don't have a contitutional right to bear arms. And the gun lobby here is very small - mostly farmers who seem to think that you need semi-automatics to go pig shooting.

Tom Foss said...

bourgeois_rage: My only problem with this is that you assume that the entire military would side with the corrupt government. If there is a popular uprising, many of the generals and troops would probably also be on the side of the people, thus bringing their weapons.

How many of those generals and troops are going to have access to jets, tanks, and the other toys that the government has? How long will such access last? Fuel isn't infinite, and I'm willing to bet that the government isn't just going to hand out jet fuel or electrical power to regions and people who have gone rogue.

berlezebub: That becomes a slippery slope. Define "high-powered".

No more so than any other law. I don't know enough about guns to go into details, but I think once you start talking "fully automatic" and "armor-piercing," that's a good rule of thumb. I'm vaguely a socialist anarchist, so I understand your point, but the whole conceit of society is that we have to give up some freedoms to ensure order. If every David Koresh or Jim Jones had access to a tactical nuclear weapon, if every Fred Phelps and Tim McVeigh had an arsenal of grenade launchers, then there wouldn't be freedoms to protect.

I can't say I necessarily agree with Just Al's "times are different" argument. The same rhetoric is used by the fascists and neocons to suggest that maybe we should give up the First, Fourth, and other Amendments, and that's not something I can stand behind. I do, however, think that there is something of a hierarchy of weapons: there are some which can be reasonably entrusted to most people; there are some which can't be trusted to individuals, and the individuals, through their government, give them up; there are some which can't be trusted to governments, and so the governments, through global collaboration, give them up. We may quibble on what falls where and into what divisions, but not only can I see someone reasonably arguing that any individual ought to have access to any weapon, but I can't see how "the right to bear arms" is any less a slippery slope than "restricting high-powered assault weapons."

Just Al said...

I suppose it's inevitable that the discussion is going to focus on gun control, though I'd prefer not to let it devolve into just that...

Okay, guilt assuaged, I see the Second Amendment rights remaining up until they actually get in the way (or fail to garner enough PAC support for politicians). We're talking about a concept of the government providing recourse against itself if it starts to deny rights. Quite simply (and historically), the first right it will deny is the recourse itself, and it can do so by force if needed.

My point was simply that, while we as the public demanded our handguns, the government progressed far beyond such puny weapons, and we now see that the phrasing should perhaps have included something about "equitable arms" or some such. But as it stands now, the arms we bear will not suffice for the original intentions of the amendment, and all they serve to do is increase violent crime.

Should there be some other kind of governmental control? Almost certainly. Do we stand a chance in hell of implementing them if needed? Almost certainly not. What controls the government, any government, is an infrastructure that requires cooperation of its citizens, so that subjugation will cause collapse, and thus loss of power for those in control. The "right to bear arms" is simply a facade of control in the hands of the public. Hopefully, it isn't actually enough to keep people happy should the real subjugation commence. If it hasn't already...

Just being my cheery self today ;-)