THUNDERSTORMS

So, is that it? Another gunman walks into another classroom and kills another handful of students, and it manages to hold down the top spot on the headlines for about 18 hours. The blood hasn't even dried yet and we're already done with the whole incident. These spree killings have officially become so commonplace that we discuss (and the media report) them like the weather – it's just some thing that happens, beyond anyone's control. We scan the story, mutter a quick "Oh, how terrible" and move on, reassured by the math which tells us that the next mass shooting 6 months from now probably won't happen near us.

Last spring, President Bush went to Virginia Tech to lead the memorial service. For NIU he sent a message. Next time he'll probably ask his press secretary to send an FTD bouquet. Whereas the media gave us a solid week of wall-to-wall VA Tech coverage, it appears that mass murder (especially with a mere 6 victims) barely counts as news these days. It's a big story the first time. Thereafter it's old news.

What limited debate these incidents provoke feels like the bobbleheads are just going through the motions. There's a stock narrative: this is just something that happens. We can't agree on a culprit, so we simply throw up our hands, label it Sad or Unfortunate or Horrific, and note its inevitability. It amounts to "School shootings are sad. I sure wish there was something we could do about it." In the classic false equivalency style, the media seem to believe that as long as there are two sides to the debate there is no objective answer. Left-wing America says guns are to blame. Right-wing America disagrees. Oh well, I guess we'll never get to the bottom of it. The cause is officially Unknown. Since we cannot alleviate what we do not understand, our only recourse is to note how Sad and Unfortunate it is.

I posted something very similar last year in response to VA Tech. Maybe the more efficient course of action is simply to save this post and bump it 6 months from now when the next college lecture hall is painted with blood. Unless of course it's a class I happen to be teaching, in which case you can put "His death was such a Mystery" on my tombstone.

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11 Responses to “THUNDERSTORMS”

  1. J. Dryden Says:

    Well, of course, body-count has a lot to do with it. As David Cross pointed out, there had been several school-shootings leading up to Columbine, but the death toll there exceeded them by far, which, as he put, just goes to show that if you're going to do that sort of thing, make a plan and have your shit together, or nobody's gonna pay you the amount of attention you *really* want after you're dead. (I swear, irony actually reaches critical mass at certain points in that man's performances.) This one in Illinois hit rather close-to-home with me; a guy I share an office with actually taught the shooter a few years ago, and, yes, was genuinely surprised and described him as something of a polite non-entity.

    While I agree with you that ignoring the problem–or 'treating' it with vicarious bathos–sentimental porn, if you will–isn't good, I worry about the idea of People In Charge Trying To Stop It. If airport security is any indication, the attempts of bureaucrats to 'solve' problems tend to be the creation of lesser annoyances that distract us from the fact that the problem still exists. But hey, no chance of that deadly shampoo-toothpaste bomb getting on one of *our* planes! People In Charge tend to go for the 'easy' fix of the convenient scapegoat–Violent Video Games, M. Manson, Easy Access To Weaponry, School Bullying, and A Culture Of Death etc. were the 'causes' of Columbine, and we had to go through a whole lot of nonsense because elected officials were called upon to do that for which they were–no fault of theirs, really–completely unqualified.

    So I guess my question is–and I ask it genuinely, not defensively–to whom/where do we turn for answers? I agree that ignoring the problem isn't acceptable, but where do we begin, and who does the investigating?

  2. j Says:

    All you need are 2 things for this incident: Motives and Means. Take away one and the other falls apart.

    Removing Motive is nearly impossible. Every person in their lifetime at one point has gotten so angry that they might have done something unthinkable if they had the means.

    On the other hand, removing Means is so so so very easy. No easy guns at gun shows or dealers. "But you can still get guns on the black market." Shut up. Only drug dealers and lifetime criminals have that kind of access, and they only shoot their delinquent smack-addled customers. That doesn't even make the news in many cities. As my father, a police veteran of 27 years, put it " 99% of people who get killed deserved it."

    "But you could still build a bomb." Yeah but 1) it's way harder than getting a gun, and 2) if someone in America is going to kill people, the fuckhead wants to be remembered as a hero/martyr and don't want to be remembered as a Terrorist.

    I hypothesize that (occurrence of crimes of passion) is inversely dependent on (number of days on gun waiting list). Someone must have done this research before, but I can't take the time to look that up now.

    Okay, so gun control can be politically hard. Here's an even easier way to prevent murder/suicides. Instead of showing Cho-Seung Fuckhead Kim's manifesto videos for weeks afterwards on CNN (just what he wanted!!!!), show the forensic photos of his head blown apart and don't even mention his name at all. That would get rid of some (but not all) Motive.

  3. Chris Says:

    What about war, poverty, crime, etc? Human history repeats itself. It is just what people do. The shootings are horrible, but I don't know how to completely stop them or other terrible things in life. I'm sure the easy access to guns doesn't help. Gun control would help, but the gun nuts in America would never let this happen.

    I don't think most people realize that the 2nd amendment is more for bolstering state militias and protection from a tyrannical government than individual gun control. I don't think Bubba is thinking when he goes and buys a gun, "I'm buying this to protect America from a tyrannical government!" He's probably buying it to kill animals or some hypothetical intruder that will never actually materialize. America obviously needs to address the gun issue and update the 2nd amendment from late 18th century standards to now. Until then, people will be killing each other with guns.

  4. Christina Says:

    Turns out, this guy bought *his* gun from the same online dealer as Cho (VA Tech).

    So, no, it's not a problem of gun control at all! Just coincidence, surely.

  5. Ed Says:

    The problem is that there aren't ENOUGH guns! If only everyone in the class was armed, someone could have stopped him. We really need to solve a lot more problems via people shooting it out in public.

  6. Peggy Says:

    Just like in the Old West, Ed! Let's go back to the great traditions that this country was founded on: rampant violence and the rule of law terror!

  7. Peggy Says:

    damn, apparently the strikethrough tag doesn't work. My bad. "Law" above should be stricken from the comment.

  8. Kulkuri Says:

    Numbers has nothing to do with aWol's response, it's pure politics. VA is a red state and IL not so much. And at this stage in the lame duck, there is nothing to gain by showing concern for those at NIU.

  9. Kati Says:

    Well, fuck the NRA. Anyways, I honestly see it as a fundamental lack of love in our country. Yes, doesn't that sound like hippy dippy talk. But we are shown and taught that some people aren't as "cool" or worthy as others, which leads to alienation, which leads to depression and anger, which often times leads to violence. There are so many students who feel lonely and unloved because there family and friends aren't around. We're taught to fear each other and these shooting stories only promote that fear. I don't know what the solution is. The only thing I can do is stop myself from judging others and to be friendly to everyone I meet. I'm still working on it, though.

  10. Nick Says:

    Well, as the left-wing gun nut (getting here late), I'd like to point out a few things:

    First, although I'm not sure of the specifics of where this particular guy bought his guns, you cannot actually buy guns online and have them shipped right to your door. You can buy them online, have them shipped to a licensed gun dealer, go there, pay the fees, submit the background check, and then take the gun home, but you cannot buy a gun online to get around the background check.

    Second, j said that removing guns would be "so very easy." Actually, it's not. In Britain, nearly all guns (except registered hunting guns, kept at gun clubs) were banned after the 1996 Dunblane massacre. "Since 1997, firearms crimes have risen from 12,410 to 21,521 in 2005/06 (an increase of 73 per cent), including incidents involving handguns, which have nearly doubled in this period, from 2,636 to 4,671, despite their being banned." (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/05/27/nshoot27.xml). And that was in a country that didn't already have 270 million guns in circulation.

    Third, the CDC, which has historically been anti-gun, was unable to find proof that a single gun control law–waiting periods, "assault weapons" bans, handgun bans, anything–actually reduced crime (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/10/03/national/main576422.shtml).

    Fourth, on gun shows: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1997, fewer than 1% of criminals who used guns got them from a flea market or gun show. Retail stores and pawn shops accounted for about 12%. The remainder were illegal buys.

    While mass shootings capture the attention of the media, and make a good way for people to push gun control measures, they're actually not at all indicative of the vast majority of people dying from gun violence. Gun control is, like J Dryden said, an easy fix–a scapegoat. It's the firearm equivalent of requiring us to take our shoes off at airport security.

  11. Ed Says:

    Thanks for the well thought-out reply, Nick. I have no doubt that what you're saying is true – what we call "gun control" isn't an effective solution. There are logistical headaches in implementing it and limits to what it would accomplish. That said, I can't help but have the nagging feeling that there's a connection between our cultural gun obsession (and the 300 million guns in circulation) and these routine mass shootings. I mean, this isn't happening every 6 months in the EU.

    Then again, it's also not happening in Canada, and they have even more guns per person than we do. So it's clearly a complicated issue. There's more to it than "guns." But the ability of every swingin' dick in this country to arm himself to the teeth quickly and easily is a big part of it. If gun control isn't an answer, it's no worse an idea than "Let's allow people to carry concealed firearms so they can solve more problems on their own. Via shootouts."