Friday, December 14, 2012


The killings in Connecticut affected me deeply.  And considering it I realize why. 

First, I am friends with a colleague who was directly affected.  Her grief and that of her family is real. 

Second, I dealt with a young man who failed but (seemed?) tried to do something similar. And this young man was very ordinary.  Just a typical young man who had access to high powered weapons and who one day started shooting people.  One died but many more could have. 

Was he evil incarnate?  Was this original sin or some possession by a demon? Was this ordinary young man in fact somehow extraordinary?

No, or at least if Satan was at work it was more indirect than simple possession.  As for the young man being extraordinary I suppose in a sense he was - the number of those who kill is vanishingly small. But in another, more significant, sense he was not - and that made me think about today's killings. 

The young man who killed so many today was likely very ordinary. I doubt he was obviously odd or creepy or radically different from other young men of his time and place. He probably did nothing out of the ordinary until today - and so could not have been stopped because there was no sign he needed to be stopped. 

Some killers are obviously and visibly wicked. Robert Pickton springs to mind. But Paul Bernardo was just another guy - and apparently his wife has become a rather ordinary mother to children who know nothing of her past. One thinks of the Nazi death camp guards who came to North America and were auto workers and decent fathers and grandfathers.  Ordinary people who did wicked things - evil, brutal and inexplicable things. 

This is not to excuse murder. But to prevent it we must come to understand it.  And we cannot pretend that killers are always "other". They are the Ordinary Men of Reserve Police Battalion 101.  There is some circumstance that allows ordinary people, nay not allows but impels, ordinary people to kill.  

And I do not know what that is. I do not understand it. Nor do I know how to control it.  That does not justify or excuse the killing - but it does mean we cannot say 'it can't happen here' or even 'it could never be me'.   SS Officer Menke was the exception and not the rule - which of us would have stood with the White Rose?

But to practical steps. 

My liberal inclination tends to support gun control - but as a twitter reader pointed out Canadian gun laws would not have stopped today's slaughter. The young man I spoke to acted as he did in Canada.  And gun massacres have happened in the UK with far stricter gun controls (remember the dreadful Dunblane teddy bear picnic with 16 children shot to death? which did lead to even stricter gun laws in 1997). Still, I cannot see why semi-automatic weapons are lawful - at least slowing down a shooter is worth trying and hunters can manually cycle a weapon. (And why, if media reports are true, the shooter's mother had no less than four guns, including two handguns, is beyond me - maybe if she had been barred from so many she would be alive now?). 

But gun control will not eliminate these massacres; at most gun control will limit the scope and frequency (which is valuable).  And I am certain stricter laws won't help - generally the shooters want to die, and do die, in a Götterdämmerung. 

I wish I knew what would work.  I do know we need to try to prevent these abominations - and while perfecting the world is futile trying to make things on earth as they are in heaven (that is fair right and just) is our duty. 


Anthony Passaretti said...

It is with great sadness that I came home from work to hear about this event. However, one can only question why individuals choose school settings to commit such horrible acts?

I feel the media needs to greatly hide the name of the individual involved in today's murders, simply because this kind of negative publicity encourages others to act in a similar manner when they are pushed.

Society has become so complicated and as a result, we often lose individuals who need our help in a gray zone, where alone they become desperate and are in need of attention.

This individual may have appeared to be like everyone else, but appearing like the status quo will never guarantee anyone's safety. We have become so separate, so numb today that we have stopped asking questions, stopped asking for help and rely solely on garnering fame and recognition, when one cannot achieve this through positive avenues, where do they go?

Our politicians and everyone else really need to work together to promote asking questions, making sure people are alright and reinforcing the notion that if you need someone, we are here for you and that your not a coward to ask for help.

James C Morton said...

Thank you for this very thoughtful comment

Stephen Downes said...

> Canadian gun laws would not have stopped today's slaughter.

This is false. Canadian gun laws make guns generally less available here, and so the killer might not have found the necessarily arsenal casually stored in a family home.

> And gun massacres have happened in the UK with far stricter gun controls

Yes, but at a much lower rate. The rate of gun deaths is proportional to the number of guns i9n society; this is well-documented. The number of guns in Britain is non-zero, hence the incidence of gun deaths will also be non-Zero.

Or to put the same point another way, in order to show it's just as bad in a nation like Britain, you'd need to show that there's a gun massacre once a year every year in that country; this would give it a per-capita rate the same as in the U.S. But while the U.S. has had 37 massacres sin ce Columbine, Britain has had one.

> stricter laws won't help - generally the shooters want to die,

That's why laws governing *availability* are necessary. You can't fix each and every broken human who decides to go out killing people. But you can limit the kind of damage they can do.

Tragedies like this are really sad, but the real tragedy is that people continue to make apologies for existing gun laws that make tragedies of this sort inevitable.

The Rat said...

James, your reaction is natural and your assessment of the type of person is probably correct. I have children in those age groups and a wife who works in the schools system. It hits close to home, here, too.

Where you go wrong is in once again trying to blame guns or types of guns for the acts of man. A man like that one will find a way, with or without a gun. Cars, knives, gasoline, fertilizer bombs, all are easy to make and kill with.

The gun laws in Connecticut required these guns to be registered, and they were. They were owned by an adult and, despite Downes' insinuation, we have no idea how they were stored. Hand guns are effectively banned in DC and yet they have an incredibly high murder by handgun rate. Downes is incorrect in his correlation of gun ownership to violence, if he were Canada would be much more violent and the Swiss would be massacring each other in droves.

You muse about semi-automatics as if they are massively more dangerous than "regular" guns. It was a pump shotgun that instigated the draconian Australian gun laws, and with only the most basic of training a rifle like lee enfield can be as deadly as any semi-auto. I reference the "mad minute" for your edification. A revolver is only slightly less quick to reload than a pistol.

And you muse about restricting the number of guns as if that, too, would solve "the problem". How do you figure? A shooter can only shoot, at most, two guns at a time. It is much simpler to carry extra magazines than a whole other gun. The fact is you find guns mildly shocking and lots of guns more shocking. How shocked will you be when I tell you my wife and I own 25 guns between us? And we know many people who own more! Serious hunters will own several guns for different game. Collectors will own many more.

Extreme cases make bad law, and this is the most extreme of cases.

James C Morton said...

Stephen and Rat - you both make good points. Unsurprisingly I am inclining to Stephen's view but in fairness bad facts do make bad laws.

In Nunavut guns are very common. And most, but not all, my northern homicides seem to be spur of the moment with guns. Cases where what would be a fistfight become homicide because a shotgun is handy. On the other hand many Inuit live by hunting and to say "no guns" would be to ignore both legitimate aboriginal rights and a reality of life.

I guess I remain unsure what should be done. I do know Canada is not immune from such violence and the issue is not really cultural in the sense of it's

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