The moment news began to trickle in about the tragic and senseless massacre at Virginia Tech my thoughts, like those of many, turned to my own children—also in college. I cannot imagine the despair and anger the parents of the murdered V-Tech students must be experiencing. Perhaps the magnificent novelist Alice Walker (The Color Purple) puts it best when, describing the equally senseless police and FBI sponsored bombing of the MOVE house in Philadelphia in 1985, she writes that grief is that “unasuaugeable sadness and rage that makes the heart feel naked to the elements clawed by talons of ice.” Beautiful and sobering words—though perhaps none can fully capture the sadness and rage we all feel at this utterly senseless loss of life.
How, then, can we avoid the questions the V-Tech massacre so obviously raises? How did someone so apparently deranged and desperate gain access to guns? A young man who’d been voluntarily committed in 2005? Who sent a rambling cry for help to NBC in the two hours between shootings? Here, of course, the answers are easier to come by. Hamstrung by the powerful, well-financed, influence-packing anti-gun control arm of the National Rifle Association, meaningful gun control in the United States is all but nonexistent. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine any good coming of this tragedy, but if such is possible, let us all hope it comes in the form of stronger and more enforceable gun control laws. A renewed effort to legislate and pass such laws like the recent legislation in Pennsylvania could benefit us all by making access to guns more difficult. Let me be very clear: Perhaps nothing could have prevented this tragedy. I don’t know; no one does or ever will. But what’s inescapable is the fact that it could have been made very much harder to carry out—just maybe enough to be dissuasive—had more stringent gun control laws been in place.
Part of what’s so frustrating about securing enforceable gun control in the U.S. is that, although the arguments against it are just plain indefensible, the NRA manages yet to wield influence against gun-control legislation. Here are four examples:
1. While groups like the NRA and the Minutemen would have us believe that the Second Amendment applies to private gun ownership, nothing in that amendment explicit or implied suggests any such thing. The amendment clearly refers to the rights of militias, and unless we’re comfortable with the illogic of the fallacy of division it bears no relevance to private citizens. To insist that the amendment applies to private citizens is like claiming that because a whole art exhibit is a beautiful art exhibit, every work in it is a beautiful work; but of course this is obviously faulty logic—just like insisting that because an entire militia has a right to “bear arms,” every private citizen member of it does.
2. Though hard to believe, some folks persist in the argument that since we can use a car as a weapon that—if we regulate guns—we should similarly regulate cars. This “argument” omits the crucial fact that the purposes of these two things are quite different. Cars are for driving. Guns are for killing. Like the proverbial comparison of apples and oranges, this analogy only holds up if you deliberately ignore all of the dissimilarities in the comparison.
3. One commentator discussing the V-Tech tragedy on FOX news today suggested that the appropriate response was to arm professors. Resisting the temptation to simply dismiss this—given the discreditable source—I think we need merely note that the very idea of the presence of a gun in a classroom would have so chilling effect upon the project of learning that, well, what more is there to say here?
4. Some are persuaded by an argument that depends on a classic appeal to fear, namely, that if the good guys don’t have guns, only the bad ones will. But this argument fails on the evidence that clearly shows that in the course, for example, of a home burglary you are even more likely to be a victim of a shooting if there are weapons in the house. Given how generally unprepared most folks are to actually shoot a gun, they are as likely to be used against the burglary victims as are the victims likely to be in a position to defend themselves. Moreover, the remedy for this is not to be found in, say, mandatory shooting instruction since it’s simply false that those most vulnerable to home invasion—the elderly—are the same people in a position to access and use a gun with the haste necessitated by the situation. To say nothing of the potential for accidents. Far safer to have a good home alarm system and a big barky dog.
So why do such bad arguments, or arguments completely decimated by counter-evidence, manage to have such powerful influence? NRA fear-mongering (and not-so-tacitly racist) propaganda? Partly. Our John Wayne-style gun-ho (pun intended) romance with side arms? Maybe. Our irrational fear that our neighbors might be “different” from us? No doubt. Without bigotry, the NRA wouldn’t have…uh hmmmm…a shot. (Check out their use this week of anti-Semitic imagery to advertise themseves on a magazine cover).
We can be better than our history; reflection on this horrendous tragedy is an opportunity for critical reflection on the conditions that, while perhaps nothing could have prevented it, we surely have a responsibility to change. Our very creation of a democracy demonstrates that we can act in concert to make the next massacre much harder to execute. We must simply muster the collective will to “just say no” to the proliferation of more guns. A tall order, but one that our children will thank us for.
Wendy Lynne Lee