Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech and Guns

After the horrendous violence at Virginia Tech yesterday, I began to question what pushes a person over the edge. In the last 20 years or so, we seem to have had a great increase in the number of people who go on a shooting spree, particularly young people in places of education. And it seems that it happens in the United States much more frequently than any other country (except for in Israel, but that's a separate issue entirely). So what are we doing differently?

A few international notables have started to blame this on our culture of guns. The first part of this I think this deals more with access to weaponry, which definitely contributes to this. I mean, how did this kid get such a gun? Now, I am a firm supporter of the 2nd amendment, but guns are too frequently getting into the hands of the wrong people. I mean, if you can walk into a gun shop and obtain a gun by filling out a questionaire, anybody can. For those gun right activists, what is the problem with background checks before issuing a gun? And why can't we administer a psychological screening of potential gun users?

Secondly, I think we do have a culture that overemphasizes guns. Take one look at the movies/music/video games that most americans watch/listen to/play. Your average urban youth grows up admiring gangsta rappers, spending hours on video manhunt games, and seeing a movie character take the world into his hands with a gun. I'm not making the argument that these cause violent behavior, because obviously the majority of people who partake in these media outlets are not themselves violent. Yet for someone with psychological troubles, this overtly prevalent attitude that guns solve problems may influence their chosen expression of their mental instability.

What do you think about this? And if our culture of guns does in fact contribute to increased violence, what can we do about it?


Avital said...

First of all, reports I saw stated that the serial numbers were filed off the guns, implying that they probably weren't obtained legally in the first place. Now I can't speak to a comparison of this to violence in other countries - but what about the school massacre in Russia (if I recall correctly)?

Psychological screening before purchasing a gun would be very expensive, btw - and who has to pay that? The hopeful purchaser? The shop? And who is going to be sued when despite the screening someone decides to use their gun violence? I can tell you I wouldn't be jumping to volunteer for that job.

As for the culture - as always, I turn my attention to parents. Why do you buy your 10 year old a rated MA game? Anyways, I gotta get back to work, but wanted to share my initial thoughts.

Matthew said...
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Matthew said...

I'm with Avital. For real pro-gun fun, check out last year's failed Virginia House Bill 1572. Concealed carry is allowed (with permit) in Virginia but prohibited at schools. That bill, if passed, would have allowed students and staff with permits to have weapons on campus. Everyone (including VT administration) said it's rejection was great for the safety of their students. In reality it left law-abiding people unable to protect themselves.

Crazy Guns said...

The comments aren't with you. I'm with Avital and Matt. I would think as a parent I would be able to tell the child that guns aren't the right answer. I believe that a kid can find a gun just like they can find weed and crack. Blaming it on the culture is like trying to stop porn. Is it the porn that causes the sexual thoughts or the sexual thoughts that cause the porn? Same thing with violence and guns. With this violence is supposed to come the education that killing people is wrong and self esteem and all that. I think that parents need to concentrate on creating more well rounded individuals. But you know me. I'm self centered. I believe that I have a job to do and it doesn't involve doing other people's job for them :P

Matthew said...

On second thought with more info available, the background checks in place apparently aren't thorough enough. They're reporting now that he had been institutionalized after complaints, psych exam, and court order declaring him mentally ill and dangerous. You'd think that would show up in background checks. Maybe it will in the near future and something positive will come from this. However, it's more likely the anti-gun lobby will just use this to get attention for their other objectives.

Michael said...

According to these stats, here it looks like schools are in fact getting safer.

As to the US versus the rest of the world, I think there is definitely a disproportionate number here, but I think the difference is magnified by the lack of reporting of these events from overseas. Have you heard of the
Erffurt Massacre?

As for the gun rights issues and access, that's a far larger question, one that requires far more nuance than blog comments. Ditto for the culture of guns question, but I do think part of the gun issue (and the debate) is the difference in attitudes towards guns between members of gun owning families (hunters, cops, recreational shooters) and those with no real interaction with a gun.

Children who grow up around responsible gun owners learn to fear and respect them, and don't project any inherent violence on them. It has been my experience that people with no access to guns fear them, and attribute violence to them. This is a gross generalization, so there are inherently holes, but I have seen it firsthand.