19 January 2011: More guns won’t stop the killing

More guns won’t stop the killing

[Man’s] history, in all climes, all ages and all circumstances, furnishes oceans and continents of proof that of all the creatures that were made he is the most detestable. Of the entire brood he is the only one—solitary one—that possesses malice. That is the basest of all instincts, passions, vices—the most hateful. – The Autobiography of Mark Twain

I read that passage shortly after watching news about the Tucson shooting. Leave it to Sam Clemens to cut through the BS, to concisely dissect the “character of man,” as that selection is titled.

I’ve been wondering what Twain would have to say today in light of not only the frequency of bloodbaths, but also of the reactionary right ‘s obsession with guns and the reluctance, if not the fear, of the left to take on the gunnies in the court of public opinion. Perhaps it would be a quip about how many automatic rounds and how much fire power it takes to prove one’s Rambo/Dirty Harry complex.

When speaking of America’s latest killing field, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used what is becoming a too trite of a line: “That’s not who we are as a people,” to which I respond, “Au contraire, madam secretary.” Like Camden, NJ vying for being the murder capital of the U.S., so also the U.S. vies for being the murder capital of the western world with 15,000 murders annually.

The picture of the alleged murderer depicts a character more unsettling than the chilling Hannibal Lecter, so eerily portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. Leaving forgiveness to Christ and compassion to the Buddha, I wonder why it’s acceptable to diehard Second Amendment fanatics for a mentally ill individual to buy a weapon of mass destruction.

Twain continues, “[M]an is the only one that kills for fun; he is the only one that kills in malice, the only one that kills for revenge.” If found guilty, the accused gunman will likely be executed, given the United States being one of the few remaining “civilized” nations that sanctions killing its own citizens.

After the Virginia Tech massacre in April 2007 in which 32 students and teachers died, arguments were made to the effect that if a student in the classroom had a gun, he/she might’ve cut the gunman down before he had a chance to kill so many. But then, perhaps the Dirty Harry wannabe would’ve missed the intended target and taken out more victims, creating a 21st-century shootout at the OK Corral.

What stopped the rampage in Tucson was not another gun, but heroic acts of a woman and a few men. And in that, there is a lesson: More guns won’t stop the killing. Only vigorous action by heart-strong people will.

I will never tire of quoting the line in To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus says to his son Jem who had been awed by the dead-shot aim of his father. In reference to cranky old Mrs. Dubose, who struggled to break a morphine addiction brought on by treatment for her cancer before she dies, Atticus says, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.”

The events of Saturday, January 8 were filled with many acts of courage but only the act of cowardice required a gun.

It’s past time to bring reason and commonsense to the weapons debate. That will require moving beyond passion and ideology that only debases and gives credence to Twain’s point.


Colorado aside: Rep. Claire Levy is planning to introduce a bill that would help colleges deal with their legally adult students who exhibit severe mental behavior. I asked Levy if it would’ve allowed college counselors to intervene with the alleged shooter, had it been law in Arizona, rather than simply toss him out

Her response: “My bill will primarily allow behavioral health professionals to get information from campus police regarding behavior involved in police contacts. As I understand it, police sometimes make contact with students based on complaints or whatever and may observe troublesome signs of behavioral health problems or mental illness. But police files cannot be shared.

“So where it might make a difference would be if the professor who got spooked by a student’s outbursts had alerted security and they noted concerns about his mental stability, they could share that with professionals who are trained to intervene. If a student isn’t responsive to the suggestion that they get help, colleges cannot force that on them short of going to a commitment hearing.

“The bill wouldn’t allow violation of any of the physician-patient or therapist-patient privileges that apply. It would just apply to information by people who are not subject to that sort of privilege.”

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