Virginia Tech

This is the argument I’ve been having in my head prior to writing today’s post. I cannot promise you this will be fair or balanced, despite some efforts in those directions. I can promise I’ll try not to write in all capital letters or exclamation points as way to build consensus among readers.


For the second time in five years, I was frantically searching newspaper websites, TV websites, college media websites, college media listservs, university home pages, Twitter, Facebook and everything short of MySpace (does that thing still exist?) trying to find out if a friend of mine who advises media at Virginia Tech wasdead at the hands of shooter.

Or if her students, who despite having no journalism school to fall back on and yet have rushed head-on into danger (and will continue to do so) in order to make sure others know what they need to know about a tragedy that continues to unfold in front of them, are dead.

And with that level of fear and panic comes oddity: When the police essentially figured out it was one officer and the gunman who were dead, I was thinking, “Thank God it was only two people this time.” Then, I smacked myself in the face thinking, “Jesus, what’s wrong with you? Two people are dead. The hell do you mean ‘only.'”

And after that comes reflection: When we were moved into our new offices, we found out the labs were key-card activated and that you could no longer set the doors to be constantly unlocked. Thus, you either had to leave the door partially open or keep locking people out. I remember thinking, “Yeah, what has better odds? Me locking myself out or me trying to lock myself in?” Now, I wonder…

And with all of this comes rage: I’m in a state where people take their kids out of school for the opening of the deer-gun season and yet I never got into the idea of guns. They’re dangerous. They’re unforgiving. They create consequences that ripple far beyond what a 2-cent piece of lead should be able to create.

They’re often wielded by people who in many case aren’t thinking about any of those things and instead arethinking about how it gives them power and dominion over something else. How it evens the playing field. How it provides them with an equalizer in whichlogic, knowledge, law, security and 100 other things can be laid to waste because they possess cylinders of power that they can unleash as they see fit.

They’re also wielded by people who have no intention of ever using them in that fashion. They want them because they believe it is their right. They want them because, contrary to cozy White America’s rose-colored beliefs, sometimes the law that is meant to protect them doesn’t.Or turns on them.

They’re also a symbol of freedom to people, much like the flag, the bald eagle and the all-you-can-eat buffet at the local Golden Corral. One of the things that stuck in my head in watching the clip at the front of this thing is that Toby never really deals with the first part of that question: What makes the amendment I like better than the one you like?

People hate the First Amendment and have gone to great lengths to squelch it, diminish it or circumvent it. Words have more power than guns in many ways. They’ve raised and halted revolutions. They’ve toppled dictatorships and given rise to freedom. They’ve chased corruption out of the White House and given people a reason to believe. As this country, and dare I say this world, has learned over the course of history, a bullet can kill, but words can do so much more.

As much as I hate mouthy teens, obnoxious bar-based know-it-alls and generally annoying wing nuts, I would still stand up gladly to protect their rights to speak as they see fit. In critiquing high school papers, I can tell the ones that are allowed their First Amendment rights and those that aren’t. The free papers expose bullying, discuss important issues of sexuality, take on school board shenanigans, fight for school pride, exalt school achievement, deride hypocritical policies and provide their readers with value, meaning and knowledge. Those that don’t get those rights often sound flat, defeated and like a voter at a Cold-War Russian election: We’re here because we have to be, but don’t imagine for a second that we think this is any good. With all that this amendment can do, it is no wonder that people don’t like it, especially if they’re catching the brunt of it.

And yet it’s the Second Amendment and its slap-dash application that pisses me off today, because fear has a random galvanizing effect on most of us. When a kid writesa story for the high school paper about a group of girls giving blowjobs, the first reaction is “How could the paper write such a thing? We need to get rid of this rag. Can’t we do something about it?” When an asshole shoots a cop for no discernable reason, my first reaction is, “Why the fuck did he have a gun? Can’t we do something about this?” It’s not rare and it’s not productive.

I’m sure that most of the gun-related crimes in this country don’t come from people who took the concealed-carry courses or were taken by their mom/dad/someone to the range and taught to respect weapons. I know people who hunt and yet oppose loosening restrictions on guns. I know people who have served in the military who wouldn’t own a gun if you paid them. I know people who hate guns and yet want concealed carry laws because of their views on freedom. The gun debate isn’t a stereotype war.

But I keep coming back to the question, “Why did we make guns sacred?”

We ban drugs because of the potential danger they have, even though we all know that if we were able to rid the world of every mind-altering substance, people who wanted to get high would spin around on their lawn until they fell over to get a dizzy buzz.

We say that access to the products makes people more likely to use them, although studies indicate that the more “secretive” you make something or the more “taboo” it feels, the more likely people are to want it. If you banned vegetables from this country, you’d have kids on your street corner paying $20 a hit to their carrot pusher.

We rely on simple slogans like “Just Say No” to try to stem the tide of people saying, “Fuck yeah I want another hit,” not because their stupid, but because they made one step down the rabbit hole and they can’t climb out despite their best efforts.

And yet, when we’ve tried to apply those same basic tenets to gun control (other than the slogan thing. Not sure a “Don’t fucking shoot people” bumper sticker would be a big seller.), people pour out of the woodwork with their bumper sticker arguments about how if you criminalize guns only criminals will have guns.

Decisions are never made well in the aftermath of a shock to the system. We have mandatory minimums for drug arrests, in large part, because people freaked out after Len Bias died of cocaine intoxication. The TSA is allowed to inspect my colon for polyps because people freaked out after 9/11. And any gun-control efforts made now will reek of over-reactive liberal horseshit because an idiot with a gun tore the scab off a still-healing wound inflicted four years ago.

5 thoughts on “Virginia Tech

  1. Athenae says:

    Here’s my problem with the “guns protect me from the law if the law turns on me” argument. Most people who have a couple of guns are about as protected from the law as I, gun count 0, am, because THE LAW HAS MORE GUNS. And bigger guns. And more people who know how to shoot them. If you truly think you’re going to take on the SWAT guys with your one handgun, erm, good luck, and I’ll be shopping for something pretty to wear to your closed-casket funeral.
    (There are exceptions, of course, but they are a couple of guys who went in on an artillery piece, not everybody in the cul-de-sac. Thank God.)
    I’m not saying you couldn’t do some guerrilla damage, but generally? They got the army, and you’s fucked.
    I feel about gun control the way I feel about most things. We cannot control stupidity, so we have to control other things, unless we want a lot more dead people. I think sometimes some of us want a lot more dead people.
    A.

  2. Tom Allen says:

    Forgive me if this is not too well thought out either. I have been a bit distressed.
    Twenty years ago, at the University of Iowa, a disgruntled physics postdoc named Gang Lu brought a gun to the department on November 1, 1991, killed five people (and later himself), and seriously wounded an administrator. According to wiki: “Lu was unable to find work because of the recession. Normally, in this instance, the physics and astronomy department would have given Lu a temporary postdoctoral fellowship. Unfortunately, there was not enough money to support him.”
    At the time, because of my social anxiety disorder, I was housebound. Otherwise, as a physics student at the University of Iowa, I would most likely have been in that building, though on the third floor rather than the second, and an undergrad or new grad student, not a postdoc. But…
    “On Friday, November 1, 1991, Gang Lu attended a physics and astronomy department meeting in room 208 of Van Allen Hall. A few minutes after the meeting began, Lu shot four members of the department with a .38 caliber revolver.
    Christoph K. Goertz, professor of physics and astronomy, was Lu’s dissertation chairperson and one of America’s leading space plasma physicists. Dwight R. Nicholson, chairman of the physics and astronomy department, was one of Lu’s dissertation committee members. Robert A. Smith, associate professor of physics and astronomy, was also on Lu’s dissertation committee. Linhua Shan, research investigator in physics and astronomy, was the winner of the Spriestersbach prize. Shan had once been Lu’s roommate.
    After the shootings at Van Allen Hall, Lu walked three blocks to Jessup Hall. Lu requested to see T. Anne Cleary, the associate vice president for academic affairs. She was the grievance officer at the university. Lu had made several complaints to her about not being nominated for the Spriestersbach prize. Cleary was shot in the head and died the following day at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Miya Rodolfo-Sioson, a temporary student employee in the grievance office, was shot for reasons unknown. Rodolfo-Sioson survived but was left paralyzed from the neck down. She died from breast cancer in 2008[2]”
    So…now, I’ve got my degree. Now my research seems promising. Now we’re in a recession. Now I work for a decent research institution. Now it’s winter, kids are stressed by academic pressure, the government’s now help …Holy fuck. 🙁
    Glad you guys are here. And the kids today — shit, they’re fantastic, as usual. All I want for Christmas is a reason or two to smile. That’s why I’ve been giving them out so much lately, I guess. “Cause I gotta have faith…” (Or at least a pie in my faith.) 🙂

  3. SK says:

    A friend of mine likes to say the police don’t protect you from shit; they’re just here to clean up the mess. So he’s pretty well armed as a matter of self protection. Having grown up in the gun culture and having spent my fair share of hours hunting and being a little slow on the uptake anyway, it’s taken me years to make some personal peace with gun issues. Guns need heavy regulation. It doesn’t help the argument now that we’ve completely militarized the civilian police force but as mentioned elsewhere in the comments – you’re gonna lose that shootout anyway.
    So, here in Wisconsin we’re going about the business of restricting voter’s rights and the ability to publicly protest while further liberalizing who, what, where, when (no thought of “why”) we can do with our precious guns.

  4. Phalamir says:

    I hate you, Doc. I spent 4 hours last night watching West Wing clips on YouTube. Bastard!

  5. Jon says:

    Thank you for the essay Doc. It is writing like this that brings me back here.

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