Creative Destruction

April 16, 2007

Thank God For The Virginia Tech Gun Ban…

Filed under: Current Events,Human Rights — Robert @ 4:14 pm

Without brilliant regulations like this at the university, there might have been some kind of a massacre.

I’m just sick at what’s happened at Virginia Tech.  My wife posits a breakdown in values at the family level as the causal factor, and I’m inclined to agree, at least in terms of the creation of people like the psycho who did this. However, I also think there’s a cultural value in play, a sick and degraded cultural value that denigrates self-defense and urges that all martial power and valor be confined to a particular class. Don’t carry a gun; the cops will do that for you. Don’t fight back when the bank robber pulls a piece; cooperate and hope that you aren’t hurt. Don’t stand up; lie down, and put your faith in the rational behavior and good intentions of the most deranged and dangerous members of society.

Well, bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. The cops can’t protect everybody. Killers and thugs aren’t interested in the value of human life. If we want a civil society where people are safe and don’t have to worry about lunatics slaughtering dozens of innocents, then we have to recognize that it is a dangerous world. There are people who don’t care what the gun rules are. We’re fond in our society of saying we have to fight for this, fight for that – but we have forgotten, in this overly-metaphored world of symbolic manipulation, that fighting sometimes means fighting.

Screw pacifism. Screw professional peacekeepers. Screw the whole bloody-handed ideology of non-violence and peace through superior capitulation. It is time for this society to re-arm itself, to stand in defense of the things and the people that we hold dear. It is time for us to start answering these thugs and lunatics in the language they wish to claim for themselves. It is time for the nutjobs and bullies who threaten us, threaten our lives, threaten our families, to be answered in a hail of lead.

No more Columbines. No more Virginia Techs. No more 9/11s. We are not a herd, and we will not be rendered helpless sheep by the gun-banners and the counseling class and the oh-so-reasonable regulators. Arm yourselves, my fellow citizens. Arm yourselves, learn to use what you carry, and when the community is thrown into fear by these criminals, kill them.

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44 Comments »

  1. Speaking of deranged and dangerous members of society…. You’re trollin’, right?

    Yup, stuff like this is frustrating. Yup, Saddam Hessian’s antics were frustrating. Yup, marines getting blown up in Beruit is frustrating. Yup, China sending troops into N. Korea was frustrating. And how do we deal with frustration? I say NUKE ‘EM ALL! Drop the Big One; there’ll be no one left to blame us!

    Yeah! Oh yeah. Yeah.

    Ok. Got it out of your system?

    Frustration should not drive policy. Yes, we should lie down and avoid eye contact with bank robbers. Not because we’re trusting in the rational behavior and good intentions of the dangerous and the deranged, but rather because we trust in OUR rational behavior and good intentions – rationality that tells us the best way to manage dangerous and deranged people is to avoid doing things that might seem threatening. To be sure, dangerous and deranged people may offend my sense of autonomy. But if I can avoid letting my frustration derange me, my rational faculties will remind me that the best way to enforce my autonomy is in retrospect, with the benefit of police.

    What Robert calls “valor” looks a lot like an underdeveloped sense of delayed gratification to me. Does my valorless strategy mean I must endure the bitter taste of humiliation for a time? Yes. Does it mean my kids continue to grow up with a dad? Well, so far, anyway. And, so far, the trade-off has been worth it.

    It is time for the nutjobs and bullies who threaten us, threaten our lives, threaten our families, to be answered in a hail of lead.

    I suspect Robert is correct that a more armed population would help crack down on the kind of situation experienced at Columbine and Virginia Tech, and maybe even on 9/11. We could definitely demonstrate that we are not a herd. Moo-yeah!

    But how much is this fantasy of violent revenge worth? If autopsies reveal that vigil antes felled the Virginia Tech shooter in a hail of lead, along with 20 bystanders, should we be pleased? I prefer to pick policies that maximize desired outcomes, rather than policies that are most likely to satisfy my lust for made-for-TV movies.

    So let’s add up all the deaths from Columbine and Virginia Tech and 9/11, and compare it the number of homicides generally. Why – besides an infantile need to have immediate solace for our frustrations – would we focus our public policies on fixing problems that are highly visible precisely because they almost never occur?

    If we sincerely want to limit Columbines, will look at nations where Columbine-type events rarely occur and emulate their policies. But if we simply want to vent frustrations by reveling in Rambo fantasies of violent revenge, hey, knock yourself out. Just recognize them for what they are.

    Comment by nobody.really — April 16, 2007 @ 7:00 pm | Reply

  2. Robert, I couldn’t agree with you more. I for one would be happy to let nobody.really (see previous post) sacrifice himself and his family on the altar of gun control, but he must not be allowed to make that decision for the rest of us. And by the way, nobody, friendly fire happens. It just so happens it kills far fewer than “unfriendly fire”. Robert, come read my blog about VT.

    Comment by Halli — April 16, 2007 @ 11:51 pm | Reply

  3. There’ll be no more turning the other cheek from Robert, and the Prince of Peace can be sent packing along with the rest of us tree-huggers.

    Comment by Daran — April 17, 2007 @ 6:27 am | Reply

  4. There’s a reason people at banks cooperate with robbers. Somebody went and looked at the history of past bank robberies and learned that when people tried to be heros, more people died. The average bank robbery nets about $5,000, overwhelmingly in a “note job.” It isn’t worth anybody (even the perpetrator) dead, if that can be avoided. They do this, even though most banks have a security officer on hand who can be, and often is, armed (and when you have an active shooter in a bank robbery, efforts at cooperation usually stop and the guns start firing).

    Ditto protection of your own home with a gun. On average, a gun in your home is more likely to kill you or a member of your family, than it is to protect you from an intruder. This doesn’t mean that it should be a blanket rule. Police protection is less available some places (e.g. the ghetto and rural areas) than others, and some people (e.g. public figures, people who recent left abusive relationships, people who have received death threats) are at elevated risk. What makes sense of an ordinary person in a reasonable safe urban area is not necessarily what makes sense for everyone.

    Law enforcement response time is closely related to population density, which is why rural areas tend to be more pro-gun, while urban areas are not.

    Nobody that I know of has specifically analyzed the data on school shooting risk. At the K-12 level, this is beacuse we generally don’t allow kids to have guns for obvious reasons (for young kids, they don’t know right from wrong, and all kids that age are prone to emotional outbursts and irrational actions) (teachers are another story, but few teachers are pushing for the right to carry guns, in part out of the worry that I kid will sneak and get it and kill someone; they want on campus security officers instead if they are concerned in most cases). Even if some schools permit college students to pack heat, it isn’t common enough (even if it was permitted) to make a difference most of the time. If 1 in 100 people has a gun, the likelihood that they will be in the right place at the right time is still very small. Social norms are as important as formal legal regulation here. There are lots of places where people can legally carry a gun that they very rarely do.

    Someone packing heat might have won a gun duel with the Virgina Tech shooter before getting killed and saved lives (although in one notable example in a mall shooting, they guy with the gun who carried it for just that purpose lost the gun duel, good guys don’t always win in real life, especially amateurs). But, having enough post-puberty, not infrequently drunk college students packing heat to class to prevent this risk carries risks of its own of impulsive shootings. Balancing those risks is not easy. Usually, one would think of a college classroom as a place of decreased risk and usually security response in that setting is pretty good.

    I’m certainly not going to be one to jump to conclusions about what, if anything, could have prevented this tragedy, until I know more. I will say though, that no one policy on guns or anything else can prevent all tragedies. The question is, which policy produces the smallest number of tragedies.

    Comment by ohwilleke — April 17, 2007 @ 12:37 pm | Reply

  5. The question is, which policy produces the smallest number of tragedies.

    That isn’t the question. The policy that produces the smallest number of tragedies may also produce a society in which we do not care to live.

    The question is, which policy produces the society in which we wish to live. I wish to live in a society where criminals live in fear, not ordinary citizens. It may be that, statistically, there will be more deaths or tragedies in an armed society than in a disarmed society. (I don’t think that would be the case once things sorted out, but I will acknowledge that I do not have perfect information.)

    I believe it would be worth that cost. Our society should be an armed society, in which the distribution of force is democratically maximized, and where bullies and thugs always perceive themselves to be surrounded by hostile people with access to weapons.

    Comment by Robert — April 17, 2007 @ 12:44 pm | Reply

  6. I have guns, of course, and I carry them when I’m in the wilderness where we own property, and in the desert when I’m alone. There are very good reasons for being armed in both situations, and those reasons have nothing to do with “snakes” (the usual excuse). For snakes, wear boots and watch where you put your feet. Not one person in a hundred could actually hit a snake with a handgun. Unless it’s a LOT closer to them than any sensible person would allow.

    I carry guns to protect myself from people.

    However, that said, I persist in believing that having the populace or any significant portion of it armed in urban areas is lunacy. How many of these people will be found out on the gun range for enough hours to become even half-way proficient with a handgun? It’s a little-recognized fact that such proficiency is not imparted in the womb, and that becoming even a reasonably good shot with a handgun takes hours of practice.

    So, when one of these armed people who has only a vague sense of how to point a gun, let alone how to hit what they’re pointing it at, whips out a pistol and fires, I personally do not want to be within range. Too many people are going to get hit in the cross-fire. Heck, that happens occasionally even where the shooter is a trained law enforcement officer, who is forced to pass proficiency exams on a regular basis.

    Sometimes I think we all watch too much TV. Last night I saw, on a CSI re-run, a guy zoom up on a motorcycle in the middle of the night and shoot one of three people who were milling around in the dark on a sidewalk at least a hundred feet away. With a handgun. And he hit the guy he was aiming for. Then, we are asked to believe that this shooter is a student who bought the gun for his sister “for protection” and that he has seldom or never used it.

    Anyone who knows the first thing about guns, and certainly anyone who’s ever been even once to a firing range with a handgun, knows what a fantasy we are being sold here.

    Comment by Susan — April 17, 2007 @ 1:12 pm | Reply

  7. Cho seems to have managed to put lead on target pretty effectively, Susan. It’s not riding a bicycle, but it isn’t rocket science, either. We could do just fine.

    Comment by Robert — April 17, 2007 @ 1:22 pm | Reply

  8. According to the AP, a witness said:

    Derek O’Dell, his arm in a cast after being shot, described a shooter who fired away in “eerily silence” with “no specific target — just taking out anybody he could.”

    Cho wasn’t aiming, he was just firing into a crowd. Robert, you’re right, if that’s what we do we’re bound to hit somebody. However, that isn’t the kind of behavior I was hoping for from an armed populace. Especially if I’m in the crowd.

    Comment by Susan — April 17, 2007 @ 2:06 pm | Reply

  9. Cho wasn’t aiming, he was just firing into a crowd.

    Respectfully, I doubt it.

    A 9mm handgun is a nice weapon, but it is not a nuclear device. If you fire 60 shots into a crowd of people, you may well kill some of them – but you’ll get mostly injuries. It’s fairly hard to kill someone with a handgun. Cho got 33 kills, and a similar number of injuries. That indicates aimed shots.

    The witness in question appears to me to be saying that Cho did not appear to be after anyone in particular. But he wasn’t wandering aimlessly and firing his weapon in vague directions, either. He was shooting to kill people.

    Comment by Robert — April 17, 2007 @ 2:21 pm | Reply

  10. Cho got 33 kills, and a similar number of injuries. That indicates aimed shots.

    It also indicates a target-rich environment.

    So you have one person who is trying his best to kill as many of those around him as he can, and you have (hypothetically) any number of other people trying to take out that one person and not hit anyone else. Those other people are probably shitting themselves. Possibly they don’t have a good idea who the shooter is. Sounds like a recipe for them to end up shooting each other to me.

    In the UK – a country with a fifth of the population of the US, and which has always had much stricter gun control than the US, we have had exactly 1 mass school shooting + 1 non-school spree shooting. Ever. We also had an incident in which a man attacked a nursery class with a Machete. Nobody died. It was a good thing he didn’t have a gun.

    I don’t see any evidence that criminals live in fear in the US.

    Comment by Daran — April 17, 2007 @ 3:11 pm | Reply

  11. I don’t see any evidence that criminals live in fear in the US.

    Yes. They should. They don’t – although they are more in fear here, from time to time and place to place, than in most of Europe.

    The UK is a lovely country, where people get sent to jail for defending their homes. Sliding into that kind of infantilized culture of deliberate helplessness is precisely what I am standing in opposition to here. It’s great that you don’t have many shooting deaths. It’s tragic that your rate of burglary is spectacularly high.

    Comment by Robert — April 17, 2007 @ 3:30 pm | Reply

  12. Cho seems to have managed to put lead on target pretty effectively, Susan. It’s not riding a bicycle, but it isn’t rocket science, either. We could do just fine.

    Sorry, Bob. There’s a difference between shooting from a stable platform (such as one’s own two feet) and shooting from a moving vehicle (such as the motorcycle scene from CSI that was mentioned). Even I know that one.

    Comment by Off Colfax — April 17, 2007 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

  13. Well, as soon as I start calling for motorcycle vigilantes, OC, that’ll be relevant.

    Comment by Robert — April 17, 2007 @ 4:22 pm | Reply

  14. Cho is a pretty stunning example of the limitations of the “guns don’t kill people, criminals kill people theory.”

    A senior South Korean English major with a green card at Virginia Tech who lives in a dorm who has never been prescribed prescription drugs associated with mental illness has harmless written all over him. Before this incident, almost no one would have picked him out as a potential superhomocidal maniac in their wildest dreams.

    The world is full of people like Mr. Cho. Ordinary people living ordinary lives who one day up and freak out for reasons that no outsider could ever has suspected. If they have guns, like Mr. Cho did, they can kill dozens of people. If they don’t have guns, the local constable will pick him up and while people will get hurt, it won’t be a massacre.

    Why should I, as a matter of policy, trust hundreds of millions of people like Mr. Cho with the ability to kill me at long range. Armed or unarmed, my odds of escaping unharmed are dim.

    And, it is true that guns make poor protection either if rare (the prevailing social norm, aside from legal limits) or abundant (who knows who the really bad guy is in the confusion of a shootout).

    Comment by ohwilleke — April 17, 2007 @ 5:49 pm | Reply

  15. Why should I, as a matter of policy, trust hundreds of millions of people like Mr. Cho with the ability to kill me at long range.

    Because it’s in the Constitution, which you’ve tacitly signed up for?

    Because the alternative is a nanny-state world run by regulators and bureaucrats?

    If you want to entrust your physical security to the hands of other people, you’re free to do that. I think it’s a mistake, and that you’ll come to regret it – but it’s your life.

    Comment by Robert — April 17, 2007 @ 5:58 pm | Reply

  16. It isn’t in the constitution. “A well regulated militia being necessary” and all that jazz. And, the modern day answer to the militia is not only the national guard, but the police force (the nation’s first police force was formed about a century after the Bill of Rights were adopted).

    The notion that we are protected from the government by the threat of force of ordinary armed citizens is poppycock. It hasn’t been true for many decades, at least.

    The alternative is the classical liberal model where the state is responsible for protecting individuals from private violence and the violence of other states, and the state provides individuals the ability to use government force to redress their grievances foreign and domestic in exchange for ceding their own right to do so personally.

    We are already 95% of the way there. Non-state actors are never legally allowed to use force against fellow human beings pre-emptively to enforce your right (at least where doing so could create a breach of the peace). The only time force is authorized by non-state actors is defensively against someone violating a specific narrow subset of violations of the state monopoly on the use of force.

    The nanny state prohibits you from having stuff that hurts you. Regulation prevents other people from having stuff that hurts you. The whole purpose of any state is to impose regulation.

    Britain is every bit, if not more, democratic and free, than the United States, without an armed populous. Certainly, the British live more free than the Israelis, where everyone carries automatic weapons all the time and shares the fear that comes with it. There have been far more mass murders in Israel, notwithstanding its near univesal automatic weapons ownership, than there have been in Britain.

    We have an example of a society where everyone is armed right here in North America It operates on authoritarian principals without a shred of liberty. It has universal health care, a guaranteed minimum income, and compensates people based upon how big their families are, and central planning and four year plans to make almost all its economic decisions. It is known as the United States Department of Defense. I’ll take civilian life over the kind of society necessary to have a functioning society of universally armed people any day.

    Don’t get me wrong. The state needs a military. But, the price individuals pay to be in that institution in terms of personal liberty is infinitely higher than civilians should be required to pay.

    Comment by ohwilleke — April 17, 2007 @ 6:26 pm | Reply

  17. The courts have decided that your interpretation isn’t the correct one. The 2nd amendment protects an individual right to be armed.

    We are already 95% of the way there.

    Yeah, and it sucks. So let’s turn around and get back to individual responsibility for safety.

    Comment by Robert — April 17, 2007 @ 6:35 pm | Reply

  18. The only court that has held that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right is the DC Circuit, and I doubt that the ruling will be upheld.

    Every other jurisidiction has universally refused to enforce any 2nd Amendment right to invalidate a law, and the DC Circuit decision will likely be overturned in en banc or SCOTUS review.

    Comment by ohwilleke — April 17, 2007 @ 7:00 pm | Reply

  19. We’ll see. But it’s off-topic, so let’s drop it for now, please.

    [Edited to insert the “for”, which I inadvertently left off first go round.]

    Comment by Robert — April 17, 2007 @ 8:03 pm | Reply

  20. However, that said, I persist in believing that having the populace or any significant portion of it armed in urban areas is lunacy.

    Of course, there is another reaon why people fear an armed populace in urban areas, specifically the ethnic make-up of these urban areas and their relative crime rates.

    Law enforcement response time is closely related to population density, which is why rural areas tend to be more pro-gun, while urban areas are not.

    And it also has to do with the fact that urban areas tend to have higher concentration of minorities, and most people are more worried about blacks and Latinos with guns than whites.

    Certainly, the British live more free than the Israelis, where everyone carries automatic weapons all the time and shares the fear that comes with it. There have been far more mass murders in Israel, notwithstanding its near univesal automatic weapons ownership, than there have been in Britain.

    Well, that might have to do with the fact that the Israelis (a) are unjustly occupying Palestinian land (b) live next to a bunch of Muslim terrorists [pick whichever formulation suits your politics]

    There seems to be the assumption here that were the students armed, they would have shot wildly and hit a lot of bystanders. I have a feeling that most of the students, having high IQs, would not really want to buy a gun unless they were willing to learn to become proficient at it.

    Ditto protection of your own home with a gun. On average, a gun in your home is more likely to kill you or a member of your family, than it is to protect you from an intruder.

    Source, please. And are you only including justifiable homicides or also those times when the intruder fled or was captured or injured?

    I recall reasing somewhere that the U.S. has much fewer “hot burglaries” (i.e. occurring when the owners are home) than the U.K. because in the U.S. they fear getting shot or caught by the owner. Is this taken into account?

    Comment by Glaivester — April 17, 2007 @ 11:38 pm | Reply

  21. Ohwilleke:
    On average, a gun in your home is more likely to kill you or a member of your family, than it is to protect you from an intruder.

    You’ve mangled that one pretty badly. See here for details.

    Comment by Brandon Berg — April 17, 2007 @ 11:47 pm | Reply

  22. A couple of people have speculated that armed citizens, attempting to stop a massacre, would frequently miss the killer and cause several deaths among innocent bystanders. We don’t need to speculate about this, because armed citizens have stopped massacres in the past. I can think of a few incidents off the top of my head in which this was done with no collateral damage, but I don’t know of any incidents in which the tragedy predicted here has come to pass. Do any of you?

    Comment by Brandon Berg — April 18, 2007 @ 12:49 am | Reply

  23. In addition to what all has been suggested, why dont you do this. Introduce real quality “Values Education” in schools. I dont know if US has one and how good it is. But in Maharashtra in India, value education has been part of school curriculum from the primary and they revamp the value education curriculum again and again.
    I am sure that would help at the grass root level. One needs to work at creating a society where children learn what are good values and grow up as citizens that way. This can help greatly in what happens at US schools again and again.
    K.Seshadri

    Comment by K.Seshadri — April 18, 2007 @ 3:35 am | Reply

  24. Consider introducting real good value education in schools. I dont know if US has one and how good it is.
    We do in India, atleast in Maharashra and revamp it again and again.
    Apart of other things you need to lay a foundation for creating a society of good citizens.
    K.Seshadri

    Comment by K.Seshadri — April 18, 2007 @ 3:37 am | Reply

  25. We don’t need to speculate about this, because armed citizens have stopped massacres in the past.

    I’d like to see some examples, if you have time and interest in citing them. And just to point out, having a gun oneself is not the only way to stop a massacre. There was an incident a couple of years ago where a man with a gun and a bottle of gasoline walked into a bar in NYC, fired a couple of shots (hitting, but not killing anyone, IIRC), started spraying gasoline around and threatening to light a match. He was stopped by two unarmed women who rushed him, got his weapons away from him, and essentially sat on him until the cops showed. I don’t know what I’d really do in a similar situation, having never faced it personally, but I’ve always been taught that the general rule is rush a gun (preferably while the gunman is reloading), run from a knife. Unless you’re faster than a speeding bullet.

    Comment by Dianne — April 18, 2007 @ 6:42 am | Reply

  26. No more 9/11s.

    How do you stop a plane with a handgun? Or are you suggesting that if the passengers were armed the WTC would still be standing? Maybe, maybe not. The passengers on one of the airplanes did fine with no weapons other than their bodies and the knowledge that this was no traditional hijacking that could be waited out. So did the passengers on the shoe bomber’s airplane.

    Comment by Dianne — April 18, 2007 @ 6:53 am | Reply

  27. For what it’s worth.

    Comment by Dianne — April 18, 2007 @ 6:56 am | Reply

  28. K. Seshadri wrote:

    Consider introducting real good value education in schools. I dont know if US has one and how good it is. We do in India, atleast in Maharashra and revamp it again and again.

    I can’t speak for India, but in the pluralistic society we have in the U.S., agreeing on what values to teach would be a serious stumbling block. So instead, we are sometimes taught “values identification,” which means everyone gets to have their own values. The mood of the times is that it’s usually better to be authentically oneself and not care about societal norms than to adhere to an outer values authority.

    Comment by Brutus — April 18, 2007 @ 10:51 am | Reply

  29. I’m a bit surprised no one has yet mentioned More Guns, Less Crime, which seems to be Robert’s essential point. I haven’t read the book so can’t say much about it without simply talking out of my ass. If the number crunching holds up, then Robert’s call for an armed society would be the presumed pragmatic approach. But Robert is wise to mention that the kind of society we would want to live in also factors into the equation. That’s where it gets tricky for me, as we then enter into a world of value judgments. If it were solely about responding to a person who flips a switch and goes on a rampage, which happens only infrequently and won’t be stopped anyway, then I’d say it’s an overreaction to get armed and militant. But we do live in a society with a fair amount of ongoing violent and criminal behavior. Incidence of violence and crime has been decreasing for decades, but our awareness of it is at an all-time high, so much so that we’ve becoming paranoid about modest to nonexistent threats. For that reason alone, I think the vengeful “kill anyone who dares threaten us” is, in short, overkill.

    Comment by Brutus — April 18, 2007 @ 11:09 am | Reply

  30. What Robert calls “valor” looks a lot like an underdeveloped sense of delayed gratification to me. Does my valorless strategy mean I must endure the bitter taste of humiliation for a time? Yes. Does it mean my kids continue to grow up with a dad? Well, so far, anyway. And, so far, the trade-off has been worth it.

    The policy that produces the smallest number of tragedies may also produce a society in which we do not care to live.

    The question is, which policy produces the society in which we wish to live. I wish to live in a society where criminals live in fear, not ordinary citizens. It may be that, statistically, there will be more deaths or tragedies in an armed society than in a disarmed society. (I don’t think that would be the case once things sorted out, but I will acknowledge that I do not have perfect information.)

    I believe it would be worth that cost.

    I commend Robert for getting to the heart of the matter. The question is, indeed, which policy produces the society in which we wish to live.

    That said, I have difficulty believing his answer. Would Robert really rather see his wife die in a shoot-out that inspires fear among criminals than to have her duck and survive?

    Sure, she’d be lionized for a period after her death. People would give speeches about her. Robert could tell his kids that their mother died a hero. And that would be some consolation.

    Until that night when the kids went to bed.

    And the next night. And the nights to come.

    And the night he’s finally able to pack away her things into a cardboard box and put them in the basement.

    And the night of her birthday. And anniversary. And Thanksgiving. And Christmas. And every birthday, anniversary, and holiday thereafter.

    And the night the girls started menstruating.

    And the night of the kids’ weddings.

    And the night of the kids were giving birth to their own kids.

    And the night the kids’ marriages started falling apart.

    And the night Robert buries the dog.

    And the night Robert buries his own mother.

    And the night Robert buries his own kid.

    And the night Robert is cleaning out the basement and finds an old unlabeled box….

    Sorry to make this personal. But, in fact, people are personal. There is no “generic” human live that we can lightly sacrifice for the goal of provoking fear in criminals.

    And sorry to be maudlin. But these discussions make me wonder about how much we emphasize the immediate gratification of revenge, and how little we appreciate the long-term cost.

    I do not mean to denigrate people who sacrifice themselves for the public benefit. But neither do I denigrate the value of a single human life. Let the benefit fit the sacrifice. Criminals piss me off. Yet the thought of seeing violent criminals fed into a wood chipper gives me less satisfaction than a single glance and my sleeping daughter.

    My desire to maximize her welfare simply overrides my desire to punish criminals. And maybe that’s not all bad.

    Comment by nobody.really — April 18, 2007 @ 12:41 pm | Reply

  31. Values education would be, at best, harmless, and at worst, counterproductive, in an incident like the Virginia Tech one.

    As information rolls in about Cho, it turns out that there are strong indications that he was mentally ill, and while a casual observer like a gun shop owner would have had no way to know it (something I suggested in an earlier post), it turns out that a lot of people were worried that he had violent tendencies related to his mental health, including a professor who went to far as to notify law enforcement.

    Values education doesn’t prevent mental illness induced crime. You have to diagnose and treat the mental illness and/or otherwise intervene to prevent that person from being in a position to do harm.

    The account of one person on the radio this morning that the first thing he thought was to worry if his friends were hurt, and that his second thought was that it was probably Cho, is chilling.

    The pure libertarian ideology doesn’t do a good job of accounting for the fact that not every half way functional adult is a rational actor. While a majority of murders involve violent domestic relationship or are collateral to other criminal activity or flow out of arguments, a disproportionate share of the really shocking ones, like the Virginia Tech massacre (closer to my home, I’d point to the Bailey, Colorado School Shooting and K-Mart shooting of two random women by Anthony Law at a K-Mart in Englewood, Colorado) are committed by people who are mentally ill.

    It turns out that Cho, through his family’s Korean church (a context I’m familiar with, having spent about a year as a regular parishioner at the one where I got married, and having attended for a few more years in addition), had a lot of religious values instruction and was courted unsucessfully by the Korean Campus Crusade for Christ for most of his college career, which in him, produced bitterness towards religion, not a commitment to avoiding violence.

    I’m going out on a limb, but I’d guess that Cho’s parents were probably strong believers in values education type approaches, and were either unaware of, or didn’t trust, or were too shamed to resort to, mental health approaches with their child as he grew up, even though they probably knew he had some problems. Many Korean immigrant families view any disability as shameful, and even more so, a mental illness.

    As one scholar comparing the criminal justice systems in China and the U.S. noted, in China, there is a progressive response to progressively more serious action, with no clear demarkaction between mild advice, strong advice, and state intervention. In the U.S., you can go to the edge of the cliff as long as it doesn’t cross the line of legality and avoid almost any sanction, and then the system wallops you for breaking the law. While I hardly would recommend the Chinese system of justice, I do think that we do need more ways to intervening at an intermediate level in the lives of people who seem to have alarming tendencies, like Cho, whom a professor reported to every authority she could think of, and some others knew was worrisome.

    Comment by ohwilleke — April 18, 2007 @ 1:04 pm | Reply

  32. If what we’re talking about here in Mr. Cho is mental illness (and that’s not yet crystal clear) then we’ve opened up a whole new can of worms, to wit, treatment of (or, lack of treatment of) mental illness in this country.

    One hears that in China the mentally ill are simply incarcerated, period, but I have no way of knowing whether that is true. What is known is that mental illness of various types occurs in relatively even distribution across all cultures and times; that sometimes causes are known, but mostly not; and that treatment for serious mental illness is hit-and-miss at best. Very few mentally ill people are violent, but the ones who are violent are capable of large-scale destruction.

    What we have decided right now in this country is that someone has to be very crazy indeed to be forcibly incarcerated – either that, or break the law, as ohwilleke notes. The results of this reticence are all around us. A very high proportion of inmates in various jails and prisons is mentally ill; probably a majority of homeless people, especially single men, are as well. Neither jail nor the streets are treatment locations.

    In fact we don’t know how to treat most mental illness, but I think we could do a lot better at restraining the people who are dangerous, and at offering safe places for those who aren’t. The key, though, is coercion, because it is very seldom that such people are well enough to recognize their need for help. Another key would be a willingness to spend a lot more money on this project than we are currently. Mental health “services” in this country are currently configured so as to require good mental health to find the requisite forms, figure them out, fill them out correctly, and be persistent enough to nag whoever is in charge until they give up and provide some kind of help. (Also, having a law degree doesn’t hurt.)

    It is overwhelmingly likely that Cho’s professor’s reports were unavailing because in the last analysis there isn’t much that can be done under current law. Mr. Cho was not about to recognize his need for help and he was certainly functioning well enough that no court in its senses would have declared him legally incompetent. (To be declared legally incompetent you have to be a raving lunatic who has no idea who he is or where he is.) Absent willingness to be treated, anyone who is at all functional will be left alone until after he or she commits a crime.

    Comment by Susan — April 18, 2007 @ 4:44 pm | Reply

  33. If, as they say, an armed society is a polite society and it is best to have everyone armed, regardless of their mental state or other qualifications to own and safely control weapons, then why are people so worried about Iran and North Korea getting nukes? Shouldn’t we be happy that more countries are going to be properly armed and able to protect themselves? We may think that the current leaders of said countries are a little odd, but it’ll all balance out in the end. Theoretically.

    Comment by Dianne — April 19, 2007 @ 7:31 am | Reply

  34. Dianne, guns are, er, defensive weapons. Um, yeah, and nukes are, well, offensive weapons. Never been used defensively. OK? That’ll fly.

    Comment by Brutus — April 19, 2007 @ 10:46 am | Reply

  35. Relevant tidbit from Wikipedia on running amok:

    “John Brunner’s 1968 science fiction novel Stand on Zanzibar describes a society that is so overcrowded that people running amok (there called muckers) are so common everyone arms themselves, making the problem worse.”

    Comment by ohwilleke — April 20, 2007 @ 2:50 pm | Reply

  36. Could this massacre actually be a result of the hatred against white people that is encouraged in our society?

    People like Ampersand always talk about how societal misogyny contribute to crimes against women or how racism causes problems like Abu Ghraib.

    Could massive slaughters of (mostly) whites by non-whites, such as this one be related to the constant bashing of “white privilege” or the constant crowing about how racist all white people are?

    Or will most liberals heartily deny this because preventing violence is less important to them than continuing to bash whitey?

    Comment by Glaivester — April 21, 2007 @ 9:39 am | Reply

  37. I’m not convinced by Glaivester’s questions that there is a connection between the VT tragedy and some culturally encouraged white bashing. While I’ve purposely ignored much of the media in the wake of this event, my understanding is that it was a random lashing out against anyone who happened to be there by a fellow who felt frustrated, disenfranchised, and put upon. The fact that most of the students enrolled at Va. Tech are white (duh …) and the culprit was Korean doesn’t IMO call for a racial analysis. It’s possible that there were some equally random attacks in the videotapes and notes left behind charging the establishment, rich (white) kids, and others with having picked on him, but that doesn’t mean they’re legitimate assertions. Indeed, considering how far beyond the pale he was, little that he said or did could be considered anything other than deranged.

    Comment by Brutus — April 21, 2007 @ 11:13 am | Reply

  38. Cho’s anger doesn’t appear to have a racial basis. It seems more like he was tormented and teased throughout his childhood, and either then made a “rational” decision to seek revenge, or was driven by his mental demons into seeking revenge.

    Comment by Robert — April 21, 2007 @ 2:05 pm | Reply

  39. It wasn’t a race/ethnic problem.

    Go look at the video again.

    You won’t see him rant about those white kids. You’ll hear him rant about necklaces, expensive cars, and daddy’s money.

    It was a class issue.

    Comment by Off Colfax — April 22, 2007 @ 1:36 am | Reply

  40. It’s worth noting that his parents have struggled economically and, while not desperately poor, are very much working-class and on the tail end of their cultural cohort’s status.

    So we should blame left-wing anti-rich propagandizing, not left-wing anti-white propagandizing. 😉

    Comment by Robert — April 22, 2007 @ 2:21 am | Reply

  41. I stand corrected.

    Comment by Glaivester — April 22, 2007 @ 3:34 pm | Reply

  42. So we should blame…

    How about ending this sentence with “Cho”? There may be interesting social questions as to what makes people run amok with guns and studying the patterns to try to find ways to reduce the chances of it happening again is a fine idea, but as far as blame goes, I don’t see why we have to look further than the perpetrator.

    Comment by Dianne — April 23, 2007 @ 3:45 am | Reply

  43. True, as far as blame goes. Which is pretty far.

    On the other hand, the more we learn about the kid, the more I pity the young boy he was. Which excuses nothing, of course, but nonetheless.

    Comment by Robert — April 23, 2007 @ 4:30 am | Reply

  44. Dianne:

    So we should blame…

    How about ending this sentence with “Cho”? There may be interesting social questions as to what makes people run amok with guns and studying the patterns to try to find ways to reduce the chances of it happening again is a fine idea, but as far as blame goes, I don’t see why we have to look further than the perpetrator.

    Given the propensity for some feminists to attribute violence to “men” in general, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be hoist on this petard. Clearly violence by those who condemn ‘privilege’ is a serious problem.

    Comment by Daran — April 23, 2007 @ 8:00 am | Reply


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