Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Guns and People and Korean People and Bad Weeks

Yeah, this post is pretty scattered...I’m just saying that right out front.

Compare and contrast these two rationalizations in response to the Virginia Tech tragedy (I refuse to call it the “MASSACRE AT VIRGINIA TECH™” like everyone in the media seems to be forced to call it):

1) “With stricter gun control laws, maybe Cho Seung-Hui would have been unable to get his hands on a gun, and 32 people would be alive today.”

2) “No way does Cho Seung-Hui kill that many people if everybody in that building were allowed to carry arms. We should have LOOSER gun control laws!”

Which of these two statements leads to this response? “Yeah, and every time somebody has some stupid argument, a gun will be drawn and bad things will happen!”

Just wondering.

My general thoughts on guns were illustrated well by Jane Smiley’s column on HuffPo yesterday:

Right up front I will say that I am opposed to casual gun ownership, but I also realize that Americans will always have guns. Period. It's a national fetish. But the mental state my interlocutor was describing years ago is the price we have to pay, along with, of course, the accidental deaths of children and other unprepared and careless people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and in proximity to the wrong gun. What I would like is for the gun-toting right wing to admit that there is a price we pay, that senseless accidental deaths and traumas are a national cost and that it's not so clear that it's worth it, but hey, we pay it anyway because so many guns are in the hands of so many people that there would never be any getting rid of them. I would like the right wing to admit that guns are not "good" and that the right to bear arms is not an absolute virtue and that the deaths in the US caused by guns are at least as problematic, philosophically, as abortion. But I'm not holding my breath.
It’s the absoluteness of the pro-gun position, the refusal to admit that bad things can happen if everybody has a gun, that drives me the craziest. But that goes along with every other rightwing position in the catalog, so while it depresses me, it doesn’t surprise me in any way.

Here’s an “outsider’s” (i.e. foreigner’s) perspective:

Perhaps of all the elements of American exceptionalism – those factors, positive or negative, that make the US such a different country, politically, socially, culturally, from the rest of the civilised world – it is the gun culture that foreigners find so hard to understand.

The country’s religiosity, so at odds with the rest of the developed world these days; its economic system which seems to tolerate vast disparities of income; even all those strange sports Americans enjoy – all of these can at least be understood by the rest of us, even if not shared.

But why, we ask, do Americans continue to tolerate gun laws and a culture that seems to condemn thousands of innocents to death every year, when presumably, tougher restrictions, such as those in force in European countries, could at least reduce the number?

The truth is, not all Americans do oppose such measures. The US of course, is a vast, federal nation, with different laws and cultures in different states. In Virginia, scene of yesterday’s shootings, they passed a law a few years ago that did indeed restrict gun purchases – to a maximum of one per week.
And speaking of “absoluteness” and “depressing”...

One blogger, demonstrating with embarrassing panache exactly why some people should not be given the keys to the Internet, has even declared that the calm efficiency with which Cho Seung-hui murdered so many people "immediately suggested someone with a level of rigorous military training that only South Korean males can generally be expected to have."

Facts are useful in such situations: CNN is reporting that the 23-year-old Cho came to the United States in 1992. He would have been 8 years old. One wonders exactly how much military training he had received by that point.

Another fact provided by the Marmot's Hole: According to one report, Korea has more students studying abroad in the U.S. than any other country: 100,000. Debbie Schlussel thinks that the foreign residency of Cho Seung-hui is "yet another reason to stop letting in so many foreign students." But 99.999 percent of those 100,000 Koreans somehow managed not to engage in mass killing sprees.
For the record, I got to know 1 South Korean when I was in the MBA school, and I can say that 100% of the Koreans I know are great human beings, and we should have more of them in the United States.

And on a side note, what is it about this week in April? April 16 = Virginia Tech, April 19 = OKC bombing, April 20 = Columbine.