Columns 2007

A violence soaked society breeds violence

There’s probably not much left to be said about the shooting at Virginia Tech last week. But I do want to say this. I don’t want to live in a society in which we have to arm teachers in the classroom so they can kill anyone threatening our children. That’s how it may be in war torn Third World countries. But not here. Not in America.

That may sound ludicrous, but it was the first response of one of my friends as a way to avoid future tragedies.  “Arm all the teachers”, he said. And he was serious. “If just one of those teachers had a loaded gun, he could have taken out the shooter before he killed all those people.”

I guess I don’t have to mention that this friend is a staunch member of the NRA who feels that any restriction on the Second Amendment is the beginning of the end of our country as we know it.  I probably do have to mention that despite that, he and I have been friends for years. I truly respect him; and every once in a while, he actually drags me to the dark side and gets me agreeing with him on issues where we would normally be worlds apart.

It’s because I respect him that I listen and give him a fair hearing when we disagree. I think he’s pretty intelligent and I figure if this is his point of view, then I should at least investigate it before rejecting it out of hand. This has led to many long and loud discussions that have left his wife rolling her eyes and wondering how soon she could take polite leave of the remnants of her dinner party.

But on this issue, no amount of discussion is going to change my opinion. When we enter a world where teachers have to be armed to protect their students, we have taken such a huge step backwards that even reality TV will look blameless by comparison.

So the question really becomes one of choices. What we are willing to tolerate?  In the immediate emotional aftermath of an event like this, our tolerance for guns tends to be at an all time low and cries for regulation become loud and insistent. This usually causes 2nd Amendment protectors to gnash their teeth and explain that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Meanwhile, they ratchet up their fight against any attempt to regulate what they see as their constitutionally protected right to bear arms.

Most of us reside somewhere in the middle of all the rhetoric, horrified by what guns can do when used by angry or isolated people bent on making their point, whatever it may be, in blood, but not sure that banning guns is the answer.  And the sad reality is that, like with drugs, you can ban the hell out of them and they will still be around and available. Their price just doubles and an entire underworld builds up around their illegal sale and distribution.

So it’s not a question of whether or not we have guns in our society. When and if we, as a society, ever reach the point where we don’t need them, we won’t have to worry about banning them. They will disappear through simple attrition. The question really is whether there is any level of legislation short of banning all weapons that would give us peace of mind as we send our children off to what should be a safe place to learn.

The answer is, unfortunately, no. Someone bent on destruction will find a way to cause that destruction no matter what roadblocks we throw in the way.

The world is overflowing with people and the simple rules of probability tell us that some of those people will be mentally or psychologically disturbed. While the university seemed to have had some warning that this student was disturbed, nothing known before the shooting could have told them that he was capable of this level of evil.

Will common sense regulation of firearms protect us from a crazed loner bent on destruction? Probably not. Will those same regulations abrogate Second Amendment rights? Again, probably not.

But the war on drugs hasn’t solved our drug problem because people still want what drugs offer. And a war on guns won’t solve our problem so long as we are still a society soaked in violence.

Check out your local video store. Check out the latest video games. In a culture in which violence is worshipped, it’s not the guns that are really killing us.