Editor’s Notes

Pub date April 24, 2007
WriterTim Redmond

> tredmond@sfbg.com

I knew a lot of sick puppies in high school and college – loners, misfits, and social nightmares who wrote short stories and poems about death and destruction and suicide and drew grisly cartoons of people with brains spattered and organs hanging out and strangely mangled genitalia. These days, I fear, a lot of them would have been sent to the campus counseling service. Back then it was all just art.

None of these people (to my knowledge) have ever done any physical harm to anyone. I’m almost certain that none of them have turned into mass murderers. Most are now successful and respected members of society.

And I think anyone who is attracted to the weirder elements and attended a liberal arts college probably has similar acquaintances.

So I’m not going to get all agitated about the fact that Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer, was never properly tracked and identified as a sociopath. That’s a tough nut – and if college campuses became places where everyone who bought and sold books about horror movies and wrote alarmingly dark stories in English class was forcibly psychoanalyzed, higher education would be a very different experience.

On the other hand, it’s hard to accept just how easy it was for this guy to get a pair of handguns – weapons of mass destruction that allowed him to kill more than 30 people. The thing is, he apparently did it all legally.

The fact that he was once sent for psychiatric observation didn’t make it into the Virginia database that tracks people unfit to buy weapons. But overall he was just another guy looking for a weapon that has no real purpose except to kill another human being – or in this case, large numbers of other human beings – and in his state, as in much of this country, that wasn’t a problem at all.

The thing that struck me the hardest, and most immediately, after the incident was the statement from President George W. Bush, who (of course) bemoaned the carnage and offered his prayers – but in the same few sentences made a point of saying that he supports the right to bear arms. It was kind of sick: Bush didn’t even have the tact to wait a single day before sucking up to the National Rifle Association.

Let’s be real: if Cho hadn’t been able to buy those guns, the odds are very good that 33 people in Virginia would still be alive today, teaching, studying, and thinking about their future. It’s about time we start dealing with that.

I have good friends who are hunters and own rifles. I’ve happily gorged on the roast pig that came from one hunter’s forays, and I’m not complaining. But hunting rifles aren’t terribly effective for the sort of killing we saw at Virginia Tech; for one thing, it’s pretty obvious when you carry one into class. No, the big problems are handguns and assault rifles – weapons that were not on anyone’s mind when the people who wrote the Constitution talked about a "well-regulated militia."

Don’t talk to me about self-defense, either. I’ve been studying and occasionally teaching self-defense for 15 years, and I can tell you that guns are, by and large, a rotten self-defense strategy, much more likely to be used against you or to be useless than to function properly at a time when you need them.

And yet there are handguns everywhere. God bless America. *