Monday, September 21, 2009

Cho Seung Hui and Marc

Cho Seung Hui, the Virginia Tech shooter, was an "eccentric loner" who has written "disturbing" essays and plays. Some were worried about a repetition of the aftermath of Columbine, when American high schools went crazy and started expelling kids who wore too much black, or wrote compositions too full of teenage angst, or affected a pose of rebellion that was just too unnerving. It was the usual insane overreaction to a tragic event, and one that went toward virtually outlawing normal teenage behaviour. In Canada though, they don't have to expell children, because they drop out of school of their own accord.

Cho was more than just an eccentric loner, he wrote poetry so disturbing that
classmates refused to come to class and ended up getting one-on-one tutoring. And there were naturally feminist complaints about harrassment. Disturbing poetry: way to go Cho!, then schools are so boring and the curriculum so irrelevant to real life that students are dropping like flies since at least four decades. Harassment, feminists always complain about all kinds of harassment, even when they are clearly the abuser. In other words, Cho's behaviour was merely eccentric and the real guilt for this shooting, like all those others lies in those who had bullied him for years, and those groups of giggling girls on campus, forever putting down, making fun of, cruelly ridiculing, and taunting. Bullies and vicious female tormentors are always those who complain afterwards. ''We didn't do anything wrong, it was just a bit of fun''.

It is true that such spree-shootings are very rare and hardly ever occur. This is, in fact, the best reason why such ideas as "if people at VirginiaTech had been allowed to carry guns, this wouldn't have happened" are deemed ridiculous and universally recognized as a stupid line of reasoning. The few people who COULD carry a gun WOULD NOT carry one, because there is little self-defense rationale, since the odds of a spree-killer appearing on campus are so very small. In Iraq and Afghanistan, on the other hand, a dozen Tech style massacres happen every week, and the fact that everyone carries guns over there doesn't help. It doesn't mean that we can't do anything though, as so many are saying. Saying that you can't prevent this kind of things, and that no one did anything wrong, is a human tendency to not review the situation for fear someone could be blamed to have done something wrong. But as a clever species, surely we could, without playing the blame game, look rationally at the system and try to better it, rather than tell everyone that nothing can be done.

Of course, what happened at VTech could happen at any institution. It happened in Canada (a country with much stricter gun control laws), at Dawson College in Montreal, and everyone recalls the other iconic shooting of Dec 6 1989. Gun control laws are certainly an issue, but there are no easy answers when it comes to guns. General bans are not going to occur in America. They are very hard to enforce and not particularly effective at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. Knowledge of how to manufacture firearms is disseminated, the means to make them cannot be banned, and it would be hard to prevent them from flowing in illegally. The real problem is the violent nature of part of the population; it is deep within the local culture itself, and it would be difficult to extract it. The answer might be education, but the problem is already with education and the educating system, so...

About fighting back and disarming the gunman single-handedly (the pipe dream of Mark Steyn and cie.), fighting back in such situations is not per se as ridiculous as some would think. Someone armed with a gun is not invulnerable, that is a fact. If only one or two people had the presence of mind to rush and attack the gunman physically (and this might had the effect of encouraging others to participate), the worst that can happen is that those two would have been shot dead or beaten with the rifle butt. But they might have got lucky and succeeded in disarming him. Who knows? There is certainly no guarantee. There may have been a lot fewer dead if they had tried, or maybe more if they had failed. Some will say there is no point to wait in fear to be shot, if you can't hide or escape. Others will contend that the idea of an unarmed person subduing someone armed with a gun, let alone two, IS ludicrous. True: life is not a bad kung-fu movie. Furthermore, the US Army has long studied the reactions of men under fire, and found that the instinct to take cover is extremely hard to overcome. Despite all their training, armed, trained soldiers very frequently freeze under fire. So, Mark Steyn expects college kids, attacked in separate groups, by someone carrying two guns, to subdue him without any problem!

It is unrealistic to suggest that these kids were somehow at fault for exhibiting a reaction the US Army isn't able to completely train out of its own soldiers. Some who survived did so by playing dead, getting out of the building or by sitting tight in hidden rooms waiting for the cavalry to arrive. There is no evidence that attacking the gunman would have accomplished anything. We are asking why people don't defend themselves when cornered. This isn't a question of courage, but of what is your best option for living when trapped with a maniac armed with a pistol. The fear involved is difficult to overcome, but we should encourage people to do so, then spreading the meme that it is futile to oppose someone armed, is not useful. True, the USA is a "gun-saturated society", but it does not make Americans braver. The noise of a gun going off in a confined space is shocking enough to stop most of us from moving. The victims should not be blamed.

They confronted something most of us will never experience. Most of them had never experienced the noise of a handgun going off in a confined space. They really shouldn't be expected to be able to react. All we are saying is: if someone is shooting at people, and you still have your wits about you, your best chance is to go at him for the gun, and it isn't a very good chance, but it is only slightly better than diving under a table and waiting for him to walk up to you and blow your brains out. It takes exceptional training to get people to move towards a firing weapon, especially when surprised. If even people in the military, with the exception of the elite or very experienced vets who just saw months of combat, will not tend to do the required when ambushed, which is to attack in the direction of the firing weapons, how can we expect unarmed college students to do the right thing when all hell breaks loose? Even Rangers or Marines hesitate under fire.

Some are sick of stories about guns, and how the blessed Founding Fathers wanted every little patriot baby to grow up with a Kentucky long-rifle over the mantle. They say it's a lie and a myth: a concoction by people who want to believe something regardless of the facts. They are sick of people claiming that "guns don't kill people, people kill people''. It is true that we do not see random shooting in countries where the tools of violence are confined to the authorities. Idiots with an agenda might pretend that what happened at Virginia Tech is not because there are too many damned guns in this country, but we know better. People should know the difference between something that is useful for hunting, and something that replaces the manhood you never attained. If you want more, join the Army. A particular brand of NRA stupidity is the myth of the Wild West: "if they just had allowed all those students to have guns, this lunatic at Virginia Tech wouldn't have got far". But many could have died in a cross fire from untrained kids at that time, and in fights before such a tragedy. So, carrying a concealed gun is definitely not a solution.

In the old west, you surrendered your guns when you rode into town. It was about keeping people from shooting each other over minor disputes. In big cities, it is still just basic common sense to support a ban on handguns. But this isn't about rifles or shotguns! The underlying problem is that some characters are behaving in a certain way, because they think they have a right to, that it is justified. The myth of the second amendment is one of the central inspirations to violence, corruption and social conservatism, because the myth allows people so inclined to imagine they have some inherent right to be the final arbiter of whether to kill someone or not, when hysteria becomes 'self-defense' and they just can't take it anymore. Lynch mobs, bigotry and the right to carry guns are closely related. The most questionable thought though, coming from that conservative side remains the iteration of those who are still complaining that the students should have rushed the gunman etc. We could doubt their ability to judge people in such difficult situations.

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