Cling To Red Herrings And Keep Your Hands Clean

In the wake of the deadliest school shooting in US (and one would assume world) history comes the news that the killer in the bloodiest U.S. gun massacre has been identified a... "He was reported to be getting increasingly violent and erratic in the days before the deadly rampage." Television news is reporting he'd also set fire in a dormitory recently. This is a clear example of a situation where a troubled person showed evidence of disturbing behaviour over a period of time and, other than the teacher who referred him for counseling, the standard response was the one we've mastered: Do nothing. Just ignore it. Someone's having problems but they'll go away. Nothing will come of it, what are the odds?

Although my post last night, Slapping a Bandage on a Bullet Wound was really just an extended comment in response to Kevin Wignall's excellent post at Contemporary Nomad, I stand by it, and Kevin's musings. Although we now know the shooter to be an adult the speculation about how we're dealing with the youth of today is critical. You don't wake up one day and say, "Couldn't get the new stereo installed in the car today so I guess I'll go kill some people." The evidence of gun purchasing going back to March and the behaviour of the shooter over a prolonged period of time were all warning signs.

Signs people ignored.

I think the reason so many people focus on gun control is because it's an impersonal thing that doesn't require them to actually give a damn about anyone else or pay attention to people hurting around them. It lets them off the hook and allows them to continue doing what they do best - nothing.

Don't get me wrong. I don't own a gun. Yes, I know how to fire one. Yes, I grew up in a house filled with them. Kevin's military trained. But we have also lost a close relative to a bullet and I'm well aware of what a gun can do.

I'm also well aware that tougher gun laws wouldn't have made a difference in that case. It isn't until we understand the root that we can start finding answers, and it would be trite and short-sighted to suggest the roots are universal and absolute in all cases, but in the majority of these cases it goes well beyond whether you have access to guns or not.

And in this case the real question isn't how this man got guns. It's how so many people failed to recognize his increasingly unstable behaviour and intervene.

In addition to all the other factors I've discussed in my hasty posts, there is one other thing on my mind: How violence is portrayed, even by us writers. I find myself perplexed by people who advocate gun control and write excessively violent fiction. And don't get me wrong... Al Guthrie's Hard Man is a brilliant piece of nasty writing... Mabanckou's African Psycho is an exquisite look inside the depraved mind... I'm talking about the shoot 'em up 'isn't this fun' kind of stuff. On the surface I have no problem with it, but it is part of what contributes to the sensationalization of violence in our culture.

If we weren't showing Dirty Harry reaching for a gun in the movies but were showing some other hero using bombs we'd have the same kind of imitation filter through. I don't believe there's such a big difference between suicide bombers and these spree killers who commit suicide - they are being conditioned to think that violence is a solution.

So, fine, take the guns away, breathe deeper because you're safer and you didn't have to get your hands dirty. Didn't have to call social services or the police and report unstable behaviour. Didn't have to stop and actually ask someone if they were okay. Didn't have to give a damn.

But don't think for a second it solves the problems. Even someone as naive and small-town as me knows how to buy an illegal weapon. It isn't rocket science. I'm probably for tougher gun laws than most of you would guess; I just don't believe it's the solution. I believe it's the band-aid... but as I said, I've elaborated on that elsewhere and I'm not going to argue on it further. I find this is something of a hobby horse for a lot of people, they've already made up their minds, and it becomes like almost any political debate - a pointless, heated argument.

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Comment by Sandra Ruttan on April 19, 2007 at 7:32am
Thanks for dropping by Simon, and sharing that. I've been trying to cut back on my internet time this week, and hadn't planned on blogging on it, actually. It was all Kevin Wignall's fault...

Topics such as this are always potentially contentious. More than anything, I just feel sad about what happened.

Hopefully in a few days I'll catch up 'round here, but it's good to know there's always plenty of interesting chatter on tap. Look forward to reading your opinions on other topics as well.

Comment by Simon Spurrier on April 19, 2007 at 7:21am
Hey Sandra. I've been keeping an eye on a lot of your postings with great interest over the past few days, in the wake of all the various "why"ing and "how"ing relating to the Virginia Incident. I confess that I disagree with some of your views, (and I hope I've expressed my own thoughts in as non-naive and non-fatuous a way as possible, out and about on the main forums), but that's not what I popped in here to say at all.

I just wanted to mention, for what it's worth, that I really respect your passion, and the articulacy of your comments. I'm really warming up to Crimespace and I've only been here a week: it's great to find so many intelligent and literate people able to express themselves - whether I agree or disagree with their views - with such vibrancy and forethought.



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