The death toll in the Virginia massacre now stands at 32. Even if it stayed at this figure, it ranks as the worst of a long and sickening series of such incidents.
The UK too has had its deranged killers turning guns on ordinary men, women and even tiny children - Hungerford and Dunblane are the horrors that spring to mind. The response to these, especially Dunblane, was such abject horror that the UK government under John Major introduced some of the world's most stringent gun control legislation. That does not make a repetition impossible, but probably far less likely: mercifully there has been no further massacres, even if illegally-held hand guns proliferate in inner cities, but that is a different kind of crime, ie the targeted killings of individuals rather than indiscriminate slaughter. That does not make it any less reprehensible - it's still the taking of life- but there's a greater horror to being gunned down by a complete stranger than by someone whom one is deemed to have crossed in the past, especially if in the pursuit of crime (often drugs-related).
This is what I have previously called a 'piton post'. This is the first purchase on a difficult subject. I posted the following earlier this evening to the Telegraph's "Your View" which poses the question "Why are there so many shootings in America ? "
"We've been here before, and sadly we'll be here again. Why ? Because Americans are too self-indulgent to take on board what is obvious to the rest of the world - namely that weapons of "self-defence" become the means for revenge and mass execution in the wrong hands.
Now where will it happens next time, one wonders ? Maybe in the States of those congressmen and senators who consistently vote against gun control legislation ?"
Already the weasel words have appeared on this thread, the dissembling, the attempts to shift blame. Tomorrow, I will pull these comments out the thread, and attempt a sane and rational reply to this sickening propaganda - much of which I suspect to be orchestrated.
Let's just start with that old chesnut.
"It's not the gun that kills. It's the person who fires it".
Incorrect. It's the gun that kills. That's why the gun is called a "weapon". Place that weapon in the hands of a deranged individual and it becomes what is called " a lethal weapon". All that is required of the user is to load, point and fire. Do that repeatedly with other human beings in the line of fire, and you have what is known as a "massacre". It's hardly rocket science, is it ?
"When you outlaw guns, only the outlaws will have guns"
Following Dunblane, the UK outlawed most guns, but did something very smart and unexpected. It allowed the police and armed forces to keep their weapons. This dispensation was granted because the police and armed forces are what are known as "the forces of law and order". Now who else but us clever Brits would have thought of doing that ? We're kind of funny like that, restricting lethal weapons to individuals who are trained and disciplined, wear a uniform, undergo regular medical tests etc etc.
It's not just guns that kill. Are you going to ban knives and baseball bats as well ?
If someone goes berserk in a public place wielding a knife or baseball bat, I like to think I would have a go. I'd grab whatever was available - a chair say- and use it defensively to get in close, and then offensively, to disable the nutter. But if he was using a firearm, I'd do the same as everyone else - armed police included - which is to hit the deck and try to stay out of the line of fire, on the assumption, correct or otherwise, that a bullet can be lethal at 100 yards or more.
They banned guns in the UK, and what happened ? - shootings increased ! Your gun control had the opposite effect to the one intended.
I wish I had £5 for every time I've seen that bit of puerile nonsense. The UK's draconian gun control legislation was a response to Dunblane, Hungerford and other multiple shootings that were carried out with weapons legally owned. Their owners were people who had previously been considered to be mentally sound, but who suddenly flipped, and then turned themselves into killing machines. There is only one rational response to that, which is to make it harder for ordinary citizens to own guns. That does not prevent the criminal fraternity, or drug cartels, or inner city gangs from obtaining illegal weapons. But they tend to be used mainly for internecine warfare, for criminal holdups etc which, although a blot on civilized society, do not have the same ability to shock as the kind of revolting mass slaughter we saw yesterday.
Even the summary "execution" of one bunch of hoods by another, as in the St.Valentine's Day Massacre, induces a strong sense of revulsion. Substitute bright young university students, full of hopes and dreams for the future, for those Chicago gangsters and one's sense of indignation and outrage goes offscale.
We bare (sic) the right for the simple reason that if for any reason a radical faction were to gain control of this great nation, the U.S., then the populace would have the duty to rise up and resist.
Oh yes ? And what about the Armed Forces ? Whose side are they on when you descend on the White House to turf out the bunch you so despise ? Better make sure they are on yours. But if they, then your services are not required, and you can put your Smith and Wesson back under your pillow, and continue lying awake, waiting for sounds in the back yard.
But here's another question to ponder: how come other counties manage to rid themselves of police states, totalitarian regimes and oddball dictators etc without their waiters, filling station attendants, shopworkers etc having to become instant Rambos for the duration ? Are you not aware of the various revolutions that have occurred around the world in recent years, with few if any shots being fired, that have succeeded either by peaceful means - public protests, general strikes, or by the military staging a quick clinical coup, and installing a provisional government ?
Who's to say that a ragtag assortment of gun-toting vigilantes are not lying in wait right now, at various secret locations dotted throughout the Appalachians, seeking any pretext to take over, and who once installed at the White House (in their dreams) , would announce that since they represent the true will of the people, they are there to stay.
Update: Tuesday 11:45 Toby Harnden has just posted to his Telly blog on this topic. Here's my tuppenceworth, under the title "Taking aim at the gun lobby" which appeared within seconds of submitting:
"I put up a new post on my blog yesterday under the indelicate title: "Compendium of crap arguments used by the gun lobby". So far, I've taken just 4 of the intelligence-insulting debating points that get trotted out after each of these massacres, and tried to give them short shrift. But if the comments appearing on "Your View" (currently standing at 182) are anything to go by, several more will need addressing before the day is out.
One suspects that America's love affair with guns is finally beginning to wane, given the all-too-prevalent philosophy of "Love thy neighbor, until he gets on your nerves, in which case you go downtown, buy a gun, shoot the b*stard - and all the other neighbors too while you're about it".
Second contribution to the Harnden thread:
Title: Diversions from the point at issue
Why this constant attempt to muddy the waters, by reference to explosives or knives?
Making bombs requires knowledge, commitment, taking risks with one's own life. As such it is the weapon of the terrorist, which seems an apt desciption of Timothy McVeigh. He had a political grudge.
But Hungerford, Dunblane, Columbine and now Virginia were the work of people whose grudge was against neighbours, fellow students etc and for whom the possession of weapons made it absurdly easy for them to go on their killing sprees.
There was an instance of someone going berserk with a machete at a Wolverhampton school, in which the teacher and several children were grievously wounded. But mercifully no one died, and the assailant was finally disarmed - not something one can readily do when firearms are involved.
The UK's stringent gun control legistation was a response to nutters intent on indiscriminate slaughter. It was never imagined that it would curb the activity of terrorists, gun-toting gang members, or the smash-and-grab criminal fraternity. Attempts by the gun lobby to claim that increases in those fringe activities involving illegally owned weapons, ones that don't generally involve multiple killings, are proof that gun control in the UK has failed, are an attempt to distract from the success of the legislation: so far there have been no further Dunblane/Virginia type massacres on UK soil.
I think Robert Fraser has me confused with someone else. I am not a Marxist, nor am I wildly enthusiastic about the EU (but feel that if it didn't exist, something similar would have to be invented).
I lived and worked in the USA for 2 years.The Kent State campus killings occurred while I was there - but that was the so-called disciplined National Guard doing the shooting. If that's how the forces of law and order behave when armed, is it any wonder that private citizens think so little about arming themselves to the teeth, and turning themselves into killing machines ?
Colin Berry at 17 Apr 2007 11:51
Third contribution to Harnden thread
Title: Save the tears for later
Toby, in his post, hinted at the dilemma one faces when each new shooting spree occurs: how long do we restrict ourselves to expressions of grief before cutting to the chase ? Don Hughes is adamant that talk of the causes and remedies is premature: we should wear our black armbands for a week before addressing the underlying issues.
Well, you can count me out, not through any disrespect for the dead, or to those who are suddenly bereaved (my heart goes out to them) but out of respect for the bereaved-to-be.
Because while otherwise sane and rational people come to this and other sites, saying that guns, and their free availability, are here to stay in US society, and that obscenities like Virginia are the price one pays for Americans' atavistic need to possess a firearm, then future bloodbaths such as occurred yesterday are assured.
Meanwhile, we Brits and Europeans are forced to watch these frightful images on our screens with monotonous regulariity, to empathise with people who have seen their sons and daughters lives snuffed out in an instant, and when we come to our home grown blogs such as this to express our indignation and outrage, what happens ? Stateside apologists for the blood-soaked status quo insult our intelligence by trotting out the same old drivel, the same recycled evasive or mudslinging claptrap, probably cadged from some dog-eared NRA manual that appeared in the mailbox at the time of the last elections for Congress or Senate, and has been sitting on the mantelpiece ever since, to be dusted off on occasions such as this.
I would like to express my deep respect for all future victims of US style massacres, perpetrated by disturbed individuals firing off indiscriminately with weapons easily purchased, and legally owned.
So next time there's a Virginia-style masssacre, I shall feel free to pick up this argument where we left off, with no decent period of mourning, and preface my remarks with this sentence, in quotation marks, dated 17th April 2007.
Anyone care to guess how long we wait for the next one, how many victims, and how many folk pop up on blogs with trite remarks like "Look, it's not the gun that kills, bla bla bla .... ? ".
Fourth contribution to Harnden thread:
Title: An argument that cuts both ways
You had to go back to the 1920s to find your example of massacre-by-dynamite, Karen. There would presumably have been more recent cases if dynamite were available, over the counter, the way that your guns are.
Ipso facto, restrict the sale of guns, as you do dynamite, and the Karens of the 22nd century might have to go back through the archives to 2007 to find when the last mass execution by shop-bought firearms took place.
Update: Wed 18th April, 01:30 The following has just been submitted to Toby Harnden's blog, but will probably not appear until tomorrow morning. It's a response to that vocal all-female US lobby that cruises the Telegraph blogs in search of what it sees as anti-US sentiment. Woe betide anyone who attracts those beady eyes !
"Dear Arlene, Maddie, Mary F et al
Nothing would please me more than deal with all the many points you raise, some relevant, some flippant, but it would end up looking like a legal defence from someone charged with a public order offence (maybe that was the idea !) and be so long as to look somewhat self-indulgent. But how many are still reading this thread anyway, so that exercise is hardly worth the candle (look at the time of posting!)?
So I decided instead to stay constructive, and have just posted the following to the "Your View" thread, in the smug knowledge that the last submission sits at the top of the pile !!!
"There is one disturbing possibility that all Americans need to consider, namely that the real motive in all these shooting sprees was suicide.
Think about it: Hungerford, Dunblane, Columbine, Virginia: in all these tragic incidents, the perpetrators shot themselves BEFORE coming under fire from police marksmen. So who's to say that without the easy availability of hand guns in America (or in Britain until after Dunblane) the perpetrators would have been forced to despatch themselves by other means (overdoses, jumping in front of trains, off tall buildings etc) that do not generally injure others.
But by making available to disturbed people a quick clinical means of suicide, it's hardly surprising that a small proportion decide to precede the act of self-destruction with one for which the gun was actually designed, namely shooting other people.
Gun owners will naturally protest that their weapons are intended for self-defence, not intentional homicide, but the subtlety of that distinction may be lost on a certain type who feels driven to suicide, and is more angry than sad.
Maybe a certain type of suicidee sees the gun as a tool for making society pay a price for bringing them to the point where suicide seems the only escape from their problems of adjustment.
If this analysis is correct, then Columbines and Virginias are inevitable for as long as guns are easily available, especially as each horror tends to spawn copycat versions.
America and other nations with lax gun control are playing a deadly game of Russian roulette with their schoolchildren, students, and other citizens."
Update: Wednesday 09:20: Toby Harnden has a new post ("In the dorm room of a mass murderer"), in which he asks why the warning signs were not spotted and acted upon, given that student's strange behaviour. This has just been sent off:
"There are 300 million people in the US, which means 300 million unique personalities, all trying to make sense of the modern world.
Among them sadly will be those who have given up hope of understanding the world around them, who are contemplating suicide, and are casting around for a means of ending it all.
America's lax gun laws mean they can go out and purchase, with absurd ease, a highly efficient means of self-dispatch - a firearm.
But if they feel so inclined they can also use it take their revenge on a society which they hold responsible for their feeling so worthless.
So if you are looking for warning signs of an imminent massacre, Toby, I would have thought the sight of a college student going into a gunshop and splashing out some $600 dollars would be a reasonable start. What possible use would a student have for a semi-automatic pistol ? It's not as if he was a homeowner, wanting protection for himself or family against intruders.
Why were the university authorities not notified ? Perhaps Americans are more concerned about the human rights of gun owners than they are of citizens who choose not to bear arms - and who have unwisely, perhaps, placed their trust in a flawed system."
Update Wednesday 12:00 midday
Yesterday I signalled that I had said everything I wanted to say on Toby's original Virginia massacre post ( now off the blogroll, and only accessible in his personal folder). However, a somewhat detached, dare one say smug, late posting from "Martin" (surely not the same one I met at the Telly blogger's evening ?) provoked me to respond as follows:
Title: Sickening inevitability
"So Michael's risk of being randomly killed goes from 0.00000000001% to 0.00000000002%.
He seems not to care that the rest of us experience nausea when switching on our TV to watch the world news.
Meanwhile his fellow Americans, like the ones who post to this site, have the cheek to call us hard-nosed and hard-hearted for failing to join in on their post-Diana displays of heart-on-sleeve grieving.
Whereas Diana's death was almost certainly an accident (whatever Dodi's father might think) the 32 deaths in Virginia were entirely forseeable, thanks to America's lax gun laws. It's only a matter of time before we switch on our sets and go through the whole sickening spectacle again of a society playing Russian roulette with its children."
To be continued later today. Comments invited by email: email@example.com
Monday, April 16, 2007
The death toll in the Virginia massacre now stands at 32. Even if it stayed at this figure, it ranks as the worst of a long and sickening series of such incidents.