Wednesday, April 18, 2007


This is a horse that has been long dead, and has been beaten so hard that it has been pounded into the ground, and will continue to do so. But I have been reading a few blogs and commenting, and it seems to me that some proclamations on gun control are pretty misguided. I know that no one can possibly say the last word on such a subject that has been paraded and trampled and swallowed and regurgitated a thousand times, but there were some observations that stuck out.

First of all, we have to face it; someone as demented beyond imagination as Cho Seung Hui could have done anything any time with any weapon, and nothing that could have been done would have predictably prevented him from doing it. But let's also face the facts; he committed his horrific deed with guns, two advanced rapid-fire automatic weapons. The fact remains that if he had been denied access to those guns, it is very likely that his actions would have been mitigated. People's standard argument is "Guns don't kill people...and he would have done it anyway". But let's think from a practical point of view. Hui could have used a knife, or explosives, or even a chainsaw. Timothy McVeigh did not use guns. But it's really much more complicated to use all these things to kill 30 people in general. Blowing up buildings needs quite sophisticated planning and execution, and knives are much weaker than guns. Sure, a demented man may take out lives in quite a bloody manner with knives, but guns are designed to do what they do; to be fast and deadly, concealed, quick, and efficient at long range. It's quite clear that if guns are around, they will be used by such a person. If they are not around, they would not be, and maybe killers might even rethink their actions because they cannot give instant vent to their impulses. As a fellow blogger said, "A gun needs little thought to discharge. It’s hard to say Cho wouldn’t have calmed down by the time he loaded his U-Haul up with fertilizer".
Guns provide very little protection for the victims because it would be a paradox; they are very much intended to kill their victims. So I believe that limiting access to guns (quite apart from how and to what extent it can be done) can surely alleviate the tragedy of such disasters, if not avoid them.

The second question is that of limiting access to the guns themselves. Proponents of guns were quick to say, "Look, this is what happens when you don't have legal access to guns for everyone on campus". But think of what the culture of a college campus would be like if you kept thinking that all your classmates and teachers are having concealed weapons on them at any given time. I personally cannot imagine such an environment subscribing to anyone's idea of how a college or university should be. Most importantly, where you had one person before who turned lethal when he lost his mind, now you potentially have a hundred persons who can turn lethal when they lose theirs. Can we say how many accidents have been averted because a person lost his mind, but did not have easy access to a gun, and that made him think and perhaps calm down? Imagine a society where everyone is armed to protect themselves from everyone else. Assuming human beings to be rational can be the biggest mistake in such thinking.

However, I think we all understand now that it gets very real and gruesome when such a person is on campus and no one has the means to protect themselves. When I was thinking about this issue, I thought that maybe there could be some compromise, maybe you could designate certain college officials and give them weapons. Maybe you could have one weapon per building, with a heirarchy of people who are allowed to use them in such an emergency.
But on second thoughts, I am not sure this will work. For one thing, only if those officials are attacked themselves are they going to use the weapons. The first reaction of any human being in such a crisis is to try to save himself, and risking becoming a martyr and sprinting to the scene of the incident to protect others, even if that venue is right next door, is just not something that even righteous people are programmed to do. Moreover, again, if these weapons fall into the wrong hands or if the concerned persons don't use them properly (after all, unlike the killer, they have not turned into cool-headed zombies and are still quite human), they can cause more harm than good.

The "solution" of giving everyone on campus a gun has always seemed to me to be one of those quintessential "solutions" that human beings are so fond of; solutions that they create because they have created the problems, and don't want to nip them in the bud, thus necessitating a new solution for every new problem ad infinitum. I don't know what the solution to the problem is, but to me, it has always seemed that some simple measures could lessen the risk of such permanently scarring incidents. These measures remind me of the nuclear treaties that have been signed in the last fifty years, which largely forged a compromise between the nuclear hawks and doves.

Limit the number and especially the kind of weapons that ordinary citizens can purchase. Like I said, it's not about "freedom", it's about proportionality. Make background checks extensive, and don't let the absence of a criminal record alone be an adequate reason for selling AK-47s to sixteen year olds. Restrict the sale of certain kinds of guns by putting a cap, say, on the number of rounds that an automatic weapon can fire continuously before it needs to be reloaded. When a gun needs to be purchased, make the approval of two adult referees necessary, and charge a reasonable fee for getting a license. Such strategies seem to have worked in New Zealand and have made both pro and anti gun camps happy, and they can work in the US if people stop having their love affair and obsession with "freedom". All this is not going to stop people like Hui from carrying out their morbid tasks, but who said a cure for such a problem was ever a realistic objective. In the case of an incident such an above, even five lives saved are more than worth it.

In light of the above thoughts, I find it a flawed argument to advocate giving guns to everyone or to the majority. This reason I have is similar to the one I have against nuclear proliferation. If everyone who had nuclear weapons was rational, then deterrence would superbly play out and I would be all for putting a few nukes into everyone's hands. But with nuclear terrorism, the equation changes, because even the rational condition of self-preservation no longer applies. Under such conditions, nuclear proliferation can only pose unnown dangers. I see an analogy between global nuclear proliferation and national gun proliferation, with inherently irrational people being the key deciding factor against proliferation. There is a compromise possible, but it's possible only if both camps stop sticking to their extreme positions. It needs moderate thinking, and unfortunately in the US, "moderation" seems to have become anathema these days.

P.S. By the way, notice how this event is rightly getting all the attention it deserves, but daily events in Iraq involving equally innocent civilians (like the 200 dead in the bombing today) are considered routine and boring.



Anonymous anya said...

Iraq is old now. People are getting killed there by the dozen everyday. This is much closer to home (for the viewers).
Maybe a revisit to 'Bowling for Columbine' is in order?? [Do watch it if you havent].

3:02 AM  
Blogger Old Fox said...

You are not thinking clearly.

First a factual correction: "two advanced rapid-fire automatic weapons" they were not. They were standard self-loading semi-automatic pistols which require a trigger pull for every shot, just like a revolver. Automatic weapons (machine guns, machine pistols) have been banned to civilians since 1935.

Accordingly, "an adequate reason for selling AK-47s to sixteen year olds" is a distortion for such is not possible under the law.

The people who killed John Gotti, shot President Reagan, shot the London news anchor, were denied access to guns (by the law) but they had them anyway.

Gun laws have only gotten more restrictive, more limiting and more denying than they have ever been. How could the "easy availability of handguns" be a part of increased gun murders when it has always been easier since the beginning of settlement in North America to obtain a gun?

"The fact remains that if he had been denied access to those guns, it is very likely that his actions would have been mitigated." It is not possible, utopian, unrealistic, and with all due respect foolish to believe that the government (society) can prevent people from obtaining or using guns. They can ONLY prevent law-abiding people from doing anything that is unlawful. When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s in New York, we had zip guns all over the youth gangs. They were homemade guns. Those hoods didn't care they were illegal under the Sullivan Law.

I have to go to meeting now and hjave more to say, but this will have to be it for now.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Fox: You have to understand I am making a relative assessment here. I understand of course that people can obtain guns illegally anyway. But when it's legal, you are actually handing them to them. Reagan's shooter may have obtained them illegally, but Hui got them legally, and if they were not legal, there is no guarantee that just because Reagan's shooter got them illegally, Hui would have done so too. Banning weapons clearly makes it more difficult to obtain them, and while the would-bes will get them anyway, there surely could be some who would be deterred and maybe at the least choose an alternative method. By banning them or restricting them, you are clearly closing one of the two channels through which they can get them.

And that's why I don't think that thinking of crimes being mitigated by denying access to guns is utopian or unrealistic at all. And note that I did not say that the weapons should be outright banned, only restricted. There's a pretty big difference there. As for it being foolish to expect the government to restrict or ban sales of weapons to citizens, it is even more foolish to expect that the majority of them won't be irrational about using them. Government may be fickle indeed, but human nature is much more unpredictable and irrational.
But thanks for clarifying the technical point about automatic weapons. My mistake there.

Anya: yes, that's the point. sometimes i think that many of us unknowingly suffer from western hemisphere chauvinism. but i can understand the human tendency to get numb towards events when they regularly happen.

9:16 AM  
Blogger gawker said...

You know, there are some ideas, even if you oppose them, if you tried hard enough, you might be able to envision a scenario, no matter how far-fetched, in which they might work.

But other ideas, you just can't wrap your mind around. And arming students on a college campus is one of those. No matter how hard I try, I just cannot imagine how this concept could possibly work. It's as if the person who believes that having about 32,000 gun-toting kids crowded into an area of a few acres has entirely lost his grasp on reality and ability to think clearly.

And what happens when an armed person gets drunk? We don't put drunk people behind a wheel. Why allow them to possess arms? Should we then have a law that stipulates no drinking and pointing? Would that even be enforceable?

Do these gun-nuts just not consider all these scenarios? After all, they can't be that stupid.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

You said it. Neither can I ever imagine it. These guys think that because something is potentially possible, it's possible in practice. And giving 32, 000 students guns, like you said, is not even potentially possible in my mind, with a potentially irrational and very much human human being wielding each one of those weapons. I don't get it; following the argument of these guys to its logical end, everyone in society should have a gun to protect them from everyone else. Ridiculous.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Old Fox said...

You are setting up a fallacious choice. No one is framing the question as: Either no one has a gun or everyone has a gun.

The sole purpose of a gun is not to kill someone. That's the simplistic cliche. In fact, when it comes to the M16, it is designed to injure and enemy fighter, rather than kill them.
Tactically that takes three enemy soldiers off the battle field. One that is down and two to carry him off.

The purpose of a gun is the purpose that's it's possesser uses it for. My purpose for a gun is as a deterent. I have defected many confrontations and made a couple of citizen arrests because the "perp" either thought that I had a gun or saw me with a gun.

In Miami, we had an explosion of carjackings and violent street crime after the Mariel Boatlift. Guns were regulated by the municipality or the county. You couldn't get a gun permit in Miami unless the police chief signed off on it. (The police chief works for and can be fired by the mayor). You could buy a rusty old gun on the street for $100 or a nice pristine, quality gun for $500 or $1000. Many did. Miami has a lot of enemies from Cuba and Central America that want to settle old scores.

The state made a law trumping all the individual local gun laws that if you got a permit, you could carry concealed anywhere in the state, irrespective of what the mayor wanted. It required the state to issue a CCP within 180 days after receiving a proper application, and fee, from anyone, who was not legally impaired from this Right.

Shortly, we saw a startling increase in tourist attacks. People in rent-a-cars where being carjacked and held up, but locals were not any longer. They passed a law so rental cars couldn't have indicia on them that they were rentals, so you couldn't tell. Then the banditos, picked up the tourists by following them out of the airport rental companie lots and ambushing them about 7-11 miles away. Murdered some British lady on the highway running over and over her body while her mom and two kids watched from the car.

I deflected a few excitable underworlders by merely reaching under my seat as if I was going for a gun. They ran or sped away.

It became too risky for the murders and criminal element to attack someone unless they were a tourist, who would automatically be unarmed.

You have handguns in college now. Any police officer taking classes, has his gun with him or her. The point is not to arm every college student, of course not. The point is to confuse and frighten the would be perpetrator that someone in that space, might have a weapon and might defeat his plan. That works. We've seen it.

The Metropolitan Police in London have seen gun violence grow exponentially in recent years. It is so important to them, that they have trained 25000 officers in the use of firearms and handguns and have equipped an unknown number of them with sidearms. This is the country that "has no guns."

Think it through. If someone carjacks your car with your crying wife and screaming children in it, what are you going to do, call 911, and file out a report?

Remember, a man with experience is always wiser than a man with a theory.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Old Fox, I partly agree with you in the context of the pretty scary scenarios you are talking about, and you may be one person who can be entrusted with a Glock, but I think you are missing the big picture here. The main question is not about whether citizens should have guns to protect themselves in a place like Miami teeming with criminals just waiting to jump them- I can agree that self-protection might be a requirement in such situations- but preventing those would-be criminals like Cho from posessing weapons in the first place. Again, there's not much argument for hardened criminals like the Miami mafia, those psychos are going to get their guns anyway. But the point is that by making guns illegal, you are deterring would-be criminals like Cho from carrying out their deeds. Also, are you saying that Miami is an example of the typical American city? I think we can agree that there are countless people in the US who don't have much demonstrable need to be in posession of multiple weapons. We can only hope that every American city and town does not escalate into a place where citizens have no choice but to keep guns because they don't know if someone is going to blow a hole in them almost any time. Gun control should really be about making gun access harder for everyone, including criminals of course. These criminals will get their guns, but wannabes like Cho may be deterred if if you choke off one supply channel, which is the legal one. However, I agree that in a place ridden with crime, citizens should have some kind of protection. But again, there need to be extensive background checks and access to limited weapons to make sure that those citizens don't themselves turn into the criminals who they fear. And by the way, what about the Assault Weapons Ban that was never renewed by Bush in 2004? That says something doesn't it.

7:24 PM  
Blogger gawker said...

Mr Fox says

"I deflected a few excitable underworlders by merely reaching under my seat as if I was going for a gun. They ran or sped away."

What if I were actually reaching under my seat to take it forward? And someone else with a gun mistook me as reaching for a gun? I think the possibility of this situation arising is far more likelier than that of actually meeting an underworlder.

Is it seriously that difficult to comprehend that with everyone thinking everyone else has a gun on them people wouldn't be jumpier? That there wouldn't be more gun usage on innocent people like me who were merely reaching under their seat for an innocent reason? Or reaching into their pocket to get a light?

And is that the environment we want our kids to grow up in? A gun culture? Do we want to have to teach them entirely new life lessons?

Having a gun may make you feel safe, Mr Fox, but for me, it only makes me fear for my life.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Gawker, your comment reminded me of the scene from "Crash" where the paranoid cop killed the guy next to him in the car because he thought he was reaching for a gun, when he was only reaching for a small figurine that he had in his pocket to compare it with the figurine the cop had in the car. I cannot imagine a place where everyone is as paranoid as the cop. If I am in such a place, no, I won't buy a gun, I will just leave that place in part because as you said, I woudn't want my kids to even have a taste of such an environment. As I said before, we want our kids to not be in such an environment in the first place, not to impart lessons to them that would make them fear for their life and help them survive in it.

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