Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Reactions to tragedy

Not surprisingly there were some varied reactions to the shootings at Virginia Tech. Nearly everyone was horrified although not nearly as shocked as we used to be. While the numbers of dead grew to once unfathomable numbers (the worst shooting in U.S. history as the media breathlessly reported again and again) there were plenty of incidents to compare it to. A "college Columbine" as one student referred to it.

Perhaps the familiarity of an event like this was the reason that some minds immediately jumped to political thoughts.

I feel obligated to point out that while I use words like "familiarity" and refer to a violent culture in the U.S. it is nothing like violence that many in the world face on a daily basis. 30+ dead in Baghdad is a frighteningly typical day. Something to consider...but on to what our politicians had to say.

Yesterday the president's acting spokeswoman had this to say, "The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed." Oh, and he also is horrified by the rampage and offers his prayers. However, many Democrats, eager to avoid the tough battles for gun legislation of the 90's (especially as they are starting to shed the reputations of "gun takers" spread by the NRA) quickly agreed, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who warned against a "rush to judgement" on strengthening the gun laws.

No, the last thing we want is a rush to judgement. In fact, the last thing most of these people want is any type of judgement at all.

I'm often conflicted on gun control laws. While I own a gun I don't remember the last time I actually fired that one. I certainly don't want to see massive gun bannings or anything like that but I don't see the need for automatic weapons or clips that can hold 20 or more bullets. My biggest hesitance is that I'm not convinced it will work when we live in a culture that seems to produce indiscriminate violence. And it's not just school shootings or anything like that. On CNN's website yesterday the main story was obviously Virginia Tech but there were also stories about two brothers who shot each other during an argument in Kansas City, an employee shot and killed outside of work, a man indicted for shooting up the CNN Center in Atlanta, not to mention the numbers of gang and drug-related killings that go largely unreported anymore in many areas.

It was interesting to me to read the calls from other countries for the US to do something about its gun culture. Even allies that I consider two of the closest to us culturally, the UK and Australia, spoke out in favor of increased gun control.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard also gave his sympathies to the families of the dead on Tuesday. He went on to suggest that the "gun culture" in America had to change. He referred to an Australian massacre in 1996 by a man with a semi-automatic rifle who killed 35 people in Port Arthur on the island of Tasmania. At the time, Howard confronted Australia's gun lobby and banned almost all types of semi-automatic weapons.

"Eleven years ago we took action to limit the availability of guns," he said. "We showed a national resolve that the gun culture that is such a negative in the United States would never become a negative in our country."


I think it's pretty clear that this country needs to ask some hard questions about why these incidents occur. And these questions and ideas have to go beyond "the kid played Doom with Marilyn Manson every day" or "ban all the guns." Unfortunately this debate will never happen if our first thoughts are protecting the guns.

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