Cross posted at my personal blog at:

Yesterday, as you all surely know by now, a monumental tragedy occurred at Virginia Tech, dozens injured or killed by a gunman.

An event like this is going to bring up all kinds of talk. Gun control advocates will make their case. Gun support advocates will make their case. Immigration will come into it, because now we know the gunman was a resident alien from South Korea. This event will "prove" all manner of things for all manner of people. Yes, but -- no, but. Accusations will fly. "How dare you politicize this tragedy!" will be among the most common, I suspect, leveled by folks of every political stripe against folks of every other political stripe. Most of the time, what folks will really be saying is, "How dare you disagree with me." The main goal of such talk will be to demean, dimininish, or silence others. Meanwhile, the families and friends of the victims will be dragged out and put on display as they try to cope with what for them is a very personal tragedy.

Welcome to America. Hell, welcome to the world.

I don't know what the right answer to the dilemmas raised by such an event is. Clearly the situation is bigger and more sprawling than gun advocacy catchphrases (pro and con) might suggest. In all likelihood, guns themselves, despite being the chosen tool, are the least important aspect of the why and how. It will take weeks, months, or event years to make sense of it all, assuming we even can.

But for today, I admit, one thing yesterday's events do for me is shine a light on my own feelings about guns. About my relationship as a crime fiction writer to the issue of guns in our society. About my relationship as a consumer of crime fiction (written and performed). I think it's a reasonable statement that popular entertainment glorifies guns, raises them to talismanic status. Fetishizes them. They have an almost magical power in our popular imaginations. And?

I confess to ambivalence. As a reader and writer of crime fiction, obviously guns play a role in my life, albeit mostly metaphorical. I'm not a gun owner, and I never will be gun owner, but I have fired guns and enjoyed it. I'll probably fire a gun again should the opportunity arise. Politically, I would probably be best described as a "liberal," which means different things to different people. Given that label, it might surprise some to know I consider the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as important as all the others. I'm not a fervent gun control advocate, nor am I gun ownership advocate. Personally, I think the world would be a better place with fewer guns, but if you want to own one, that's your choice. Given the power of guns, I think it's a good idea to be careful in their dissemination, but I also don't support draconian measures to keep guns out of so-called "law-abiding" citizens hands. I see both sides of the larger gun-control meta-argument, and I think both sides have merit. I also often find that both sides devolve into absurd melodrama as they attempt to make their cases. For what that's worth.

Here's the thing. A gun is a very efficient killing machine. Say what you want, your average handgun exists as a tool for projecting a chunk of metal at high velocity into a body. People can talk about loving to target shoot (I do), but in the end, a gun is about killing something, or someone. And here's another thing. Guns are often amazing and sometimes even beautiful artifacts. I have often been transfixed by the look and feel of guns I have held and fired. The polished metal, the intricacy of the mechanism. The power. The killing power. And that's part of it. Not that I want to kill anyone, but when I hold a gun I know part of what I'm responding to is what I know I could do with it. I am fascinated, and yet they frighten me. The main reason I will never be a gun owner is because I don't want that power too close to me. Down at the range once in a blue moon, that's fine. Hell, it's even fun. But not in my home.

And yet, some of them are so cool. I'm probably not so different from a lot of crime fiction writers in that I even have favorite guns. SIG Sauer P232 is one. And the Desert Eagle. Holy frack, what a machine. A terrifying, overwhelming, alluring machine.

Yep, I'm ambivalent.

I have no idea what, if any, influence the strange, contradictory relationship America has with guns had on yesterday's horror. Maybe it made it more possible. Maybe it would have happened anyway if our gun laws and attitudes were more akin to places like Great Britain. I don't know, but I think it's fatuous for people to argue that the circumstances would have been different with more stringent gun laws or more relaxed gun laws. (What if someone had a conceal permit and shot the perpetrator before he could kill too many? Yes, but what if someone else had a conceal permit and shot the person who shot the perpetrator? Do we want Bagdad in Virgina? . . . or . . . if only gun control laws were more strict, this could never have happened. Except instead he drives into a crowd, or makes a fertilizer bomb, or — what?) The mechanical details of the event will probably turn out to be the least important as we come to learn more about what drove the gunman to such extremes. I believe it would be over-simplifying to focus on simply the guns.

And yet here I am. Focusing on the guns.

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Comment by Bill Cameron on April 18, 2007 at 4:07am
Thank you, Simon. I appreciate that. There's so much to wrestle with here, and the more I think about it the more confused I feel. But at least we can talk about it. Maybe, somehow, we can pull a bit of clarity out of this mess.
Comment by Simon Spurrier on April 18, 2007 at 3:57am
That's possibly the most articulate, salient, and sensible chunk of Brainstuff on this subject I've ever read. Good work.

It's illustrative that even then, conclusions are notably absent. It's a thorny old issue.

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