Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Culture of Guns

The latest incident of a murderous student rampaging through a school with guns occurred in Red Lake, Minnesota. When it was over, there were 10 people dead, including the student himself and his grandfather.

Sadly, it was a pretty typical situation. The student was an alienated, antisocial loner with a Nazi fascination. There were lots of warning signs. He spent unsupervised time on the internet, often reading and commenting on neo-Nazi sites. He obsessed on violence of all kinds. He dressed and acted weirdly. Apparently, of all the people who knew how odd he was, including his own family, no one did anything about it.

And he was fascinated with guns, as are so many Americans, some on the dangerous fringes of society. In the aftermath of this incident, as in all similar incidents, there will be new cries for more restrictions on the availability of guns. However, the National Rifle Association has been quick to point out that more strict gun control would have made little difference on that day when that student decided to grab as many guns as he could get his hands on and start killing people. According to an AP report, the NRA said:

Gun control restrictions would not have prevented a troubled teenager from killing nine people and himself Monday at Red Lake High School and at his grandfather's home, the NRA's first vice president, Sandra S. Froman, told The Associated Press.

"No gun law, no policy that you could implement now or that was already implemented I think could possibly prevent someone so intent on destruction," said Froman, a Tucson attorney who is expected to be elected NRA president next month in Houston.

What does the NRA propose as a possible solution? According to Ms. Froman,

"All options should be considered to help prevent rampages like the Minnesota school shooting that took 10 lives, including discussions about whether guns should be available to teachers."

That's right. Not only should citizens have free and easy access to guns of all kinds, maybe teachers should be armed, too.

The NRA is dead wrong. It could be that the comprehensive gun control I've advocated before won't stop the next deranged person who feels moved to grab some guns and murder people. It might not even stop the ones that will happen next year or five years from now. But when guns--and particularly handguns--are no longer easily available to average citizens it will be much less likely that such deadly incidents can happen.

It can be argued that all or most of the guns available to this murderous student were obtained from his grandfather, a police officer. True. However, with police officers properly trained to secure their weapons, and with only one weapon permitted to this officer when he was off-duty, there would have been less likelihood of this incident happening or of the results being so deadly.

The idea of school teachers carrying guns to protect themselves from students carrying guns is ludicrous. If our schools are this dangerous, I can support having armed and trained police officers or security guards on duty in schools. The security guard killed by this student was not armed, and it's likely that the guard could have killed the student early in the incident and prevented other deaths. But teachers with guns on their hips or in their desk drawers? No. That's a prescription for more unnecessary gun deaths, either from accidents or mistakes.

The real problem we face in the United States is the culture of guns. Banning handguns for all but a few trained and licensed people and restricting long guns is the easier part of the solution. The more difficult part is changing our culture. We simply must get beyond our childish fascination with guns, and we must not permit the minority represented by the NRA to so intimidate politicians as to make solutions impossible.

And by the way, contrary to what gun nuts and the NRA believe, there is nothing in the Second Amendment that prevents us from doing what is necessary. As I wrote in Gun Control,

Do Americans have the right "to keep and bear arms?" Or was that right intended to be restricted to "a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State?" The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says both. But what does it really mean? No one knows, although advocates claim that one phrase or another supports their cause. The reason there has been so little litigation directly challenging the Second Amendment and so few court decisions is that both sides are afraid to definitively test its meaning. What's more important is that both law and judicial precedent establish that restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms are constitutional. That means gun control is a matter of public policy and law.


Anonymous Kevin said...

First of all, I agree with you about the NRA's stance and with your interpretation of the 2nd amendment. A hearty ditto all around.

What caught my attention in this particular case is something that I have seen many times before. Here in Oregon we have more than our fair share of NeoNazi whackjobs. They are walking, talking examples of ignorance. They laud a leader (Hitler) and an ideology that would have flatly rejected the overwhelming majority of them because they're not Aryans. Indeed, some, like this Native American kid, more than likely would have met a similiar fate to that of the Jews, Gypsies and other assorted ethnic groups deemed unfit to inhabit an Aryan-controlled world.

The complete disconnect never ceases to amaze me. But, at the same time I suppose it really underscores the profound emotional problems inherent in individuals who are drawn to the Nazi ideology.

12:55 PM, March 27, 2005  
Blogger Conservation Terms said...

I heard. Sad. I think that if you murder someone, you have an underlying mental problem. Murder is wrong. War is a different story. But murder, that is insane, literaly.

5:15 PM, March 27, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Great post, Tom.

People are going to be coming up with all sorts of ways they think people should react to this but in the end, if the people around him who noticed how troubled he was did something about it, we wouldn't even need to be discussing this.

12:11 AM, March 28, 2005  
Blogger invadesoda said...

If it's true that the Second Amendment doesn't guarantee the right to bear arms to ordinary citizens,
I hope the Iraqi constitution is written a little more plainly.

11:48 AM, March 28, 2005  
Blogger Craig said...

I think a suicide-mass murder of this sort has to be regarded as an effort in some sense to make a statement, one that in this case may already be painfully clear to those in whose care the shooter was placed. And it may never be apprehensible to non-Indian outsiders. My guess, though, is that it involves at least three generations and perhaps the eugenics at issue weren't being practiced by Hitler or Germans. Schooling invariably involves some form of social engineering, often with racial or genetic predilections that may or may not be explicit. The place for senseless random violence would have been a McDonalds in downtown Minneapolis. Targetting a particular classroom in a school from which one has been barred suggests at least some disagreement over priorities.

6:18 AM, March 29, 2005  

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