Random acts of senseless violence

It seems as though it is now the American trend to shoot and kill as many people as possible in shopping areas or in Universities.  It makes me so upset to hear about yet another multiple-fatality shooting at a midwestern institution of higher learning, albeit one that I had not actually heard of prior to this latest tragedy.  On the one hand, I’m glad I’m no longer at a US University, as I spent many years in several of them doing my own degrees (which take about twice as long, start to finish, as these little mini-degrees they give out in the UK; my PhD alone took longer than most complete UK sequences from undergraduate through PhD and that was after an equal number of years of BS and MS training) and then working in one after graduating.

I complained about mall shootings previously,  and I am generally even more upset by University ones.  I don’t really know what to say anymore because it’s not clear that there’s a real pattern in these.  The most recent gunman was “a former graduate student in sociology” which strikes me as odd for a few reasons; the wording implies non-graduation, which could involve motive, but also sociology is the field in which I would expect people to study the motives behind things like University shootings!

Jen noted in the comments for my previous post that most gun violence still involves single acts, but in my experience that also is more likely to involve the shooter knowing the targets.  These shoot ’em up killing sprees have more of an air of randomness about them.  I guess that’s why they seem scarier and also why they therefore capture the public imagination so much more than single shootings.  But I’m really worried, as Jen pointed out, that gun control and random acts of senseless violence do appear to have fallen off the US political radar.  I can’t keep up with the politics as much as if I was in the US, but from this distance I certainly hear about the economy and other financial issues but very little about anything related to guns and shootings.  Regardless, I’m some days actually glad to be here and not there; I walk the streets alone at night in my commute home from work and the thought of attack by a gunman does not cross my mind.  I could not say that about any city in which I lived in the US, no matter the size.  There’s a good reason people take cars everywhere there, and it’s not just laziness.

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3 responses to “Random acts of senseless violence

  1. I think the reason you’re not seeing talk about gun control is because the DC v. Heller case – a case about government laws and second amendment rights – will be up before the Supreme Court next month. Until the Supreme Court has ruled (and many suspect it will rule against DC’s gun control law, which in practice has served to limit the use guns for self-defense but not much else), there is no point in Democratic candidates proposing gun control laws that could later be found unconstitutional. That ruling won’t come until this summer, so the case has helped neutralize guns as an issue in the election this year.

  2. NFAH: FWIW I read that shootings and stabbings are on the up in schools in India too prompting calls for gun control.

    And one British (oops English) blogger argues here that carrying unconcealed guns as they do in Arizona would keep some awful people in line.

    http://mydigest.wordpress.com/2008/02/02/event-on-the-south-bound-train-low-life-trash-without-honour-yet-another-example-of-where-a-gun-of-some-sort-i-am-quoting-h2g2-as-i-often-do-would-have-been-fun-for-me-edinburgh-is-just-cold-an/

    I think the extremist-purist would say ‘no guns should be manufactured’.

    In all this we forget that there is always something we forget – about human community and the glue of cohesion that keeps most of us from shooting or stabbing people. Cultural and inter-country differences to me are just proxy for social cohesion and its degrees.

  3. We really need to look at each individual case to see what it was about. We hear a lot more about this stuff these days because of the 24 hour-sensationalist media urge to find something compelling to cover.

    The problem is that in a country with more than 300 million people, you are going to find a share of nuts and psychopaths. In the Northern Illinois (alma mater of the NFL’s Kurt Warner) shootings, the grad student shooter was a mental patient who stopped taking his medications, and so he brought a shotgun to school in to take care of a few others along with himself.

    I have never, ever, ever, heard any proposal anywhere, other than in totalitarian countries, where someone seriously suggests outlawing shotguns. In fact, if there is a universal political view among all parties in the US, it is that hunting rifles are not subject to gun control legislation. All the gun control political effort is dedicated to hand guns, which had nothing whatever to do with this tragedy.

    When I was a kid, Richard Speck broke into a nursing student dorm in Chicago and stabbed eight young women to death. No one came out in favor of knife control- they recognized that sometimes sociopathic nuts commit criminal acts, and the best thing you can do in response is have a guna and shoot them before they can carry out their complete plan. Had one of those young women had a gun, Speck would likely have been taken care of while working on his first victim and saved the rest. Tim McVeigh used notrigen fertilizer to murder >160 people. I don’t know any great answer for him either.

    By the way, I personally don’t shoot, have never owned a gun, and don’t care to. But I have no problem at all with law-abiding citizens who have gone through safety training being licensed to carry. They’re not the ones I worry about.

    Anyone who is familiar with the late 1950’s New York street culture knows about “zip guns” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zip_gun and also see http://www.thehomegunsmith.com/ZipGun.shtml. They were made from coffee percolators or car radio antennas, and fired .22 caliber cartridges. Make up a half dozen and you are ready for senseless violence of your own, regardless of the laws.

    In the end, two things need to be remembered: it is not the weapon, it is the intent; and second, people are sometimes nuts or just plain evil. I highly recommnend Prof. Barbara Oakley’s recent book on the neuroscience of sociopathic behavior, entitled “Bad Genes- Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend”.

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