NOTE: The opinions expressed by our individual bloggers are their own, and not necessarily those of Young Democrats of Atlanta.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Neal Boortz and the Wussification of America
Today's blogger"How far have we advanced in the wussification of America? I am now under attack by the left for wondering aloud why these students did so little to defend themselves. It seems that standing in terror waiting for your turn to be executed was the right thing to do, and any questions as to why 25 students didn’t try to rush and overpower Cho Seung-Hui are just examples of right wing maniacal bias. Surrender — comply — adjust. The doctrine of the left."

So says Neal Boortz, referring to the Virginia Tech killings. Boortz is a tough subject - a commentator so given to intentionally overblown invective that he, like Ann Coulter and others, is probably best left unanswered. A lot of people listen to him, and that's troublesome, but in most cases, any kind of response just gives him more attention and will be spun into proof of his point. In this instance, I certainly can't say that my response won't have precisely the same effect, but I feel the need to respond, nonetheless.

I think it's fairly hard to make a case that Boortz's words were not, at the very least, intemperate (a word he actually uses to characterize them, though in a way that's a bit dismissive for my tastes). It's possible that someone with a gun could have stopped the killings at Virginia Tech. It's possible that a group of unarmed people could have done the same. At the same time, it's possible, even probable, that the people who were in the situation, in the moment were simply afraid and too shocked to react defensively. We've all been raised on imagery of superheroism and self-sacrifice, but it's hard, probably even impossible to know how we'd react in a situation where those things are needed. I'm sure everyone would want to bravely throw themselves at the attacker to save others, or to use their wits to save the day, but when the utterly mundane normalcy of their class was suddenly destroyed in a burst of intense violence, it seems unfair to expect their minds to be clear and ready for action. We don't have the right, sitting here at keyboards without guns in our faces, with no professor lying dead a few feet away, to second guess the behavior of the people who lived (or did not live) through it.

Boortz goes on to say "The statistics are clear. Crime rates are lower where qualified law abiding people are allowed to own and carry guns. If this is true in virtually every community in which it has been tried ... why would it not be true on a large college campus? Rational answer, anyone?" Well, let's start with the fact that the guns used by the Tech shooter were purchased legally. It is true that students are not allowed to carry guns, even those they are legally permitted to have, on the campus of Virginia Tech. This issue was tested by a specific case at Virginia Tech, which prompted legislation in Virginia to change carry laws on campus. The legislation failed, and Tech remained nominally gun-free. Boortz asks for a rational answer to why his statistics (mentioned but not provided) wouldn't hold true on a large college campus. Leaving you to judge my rationality, here's my take - at the heart of this incident is a college student with a gun. Yes, this gun was carried onto the campus illegally, but it was purchased legally. Cho had spent time in a mental hospital, but he purchased the gun legally. A woman contacted police, feeling that Cho was stalking her, but the gun was purchased legally. In both of these cases, arguments can be made for mitigating circumstances. Is anyone who spent a night in a mental institution forever branded as damaged goods? As the woman declined to press charges, can we assume Cho was guilty and therefore someone to keep an eye on? Should the professors and fellow students who balked at his violent writings have had some massive Big Brother system to contact to say "Mark this guy for scrutiny?" Of course not. Still, the ease with which almost anyone can purchase guns points up the problem. There were warning signs with Cho Seung-Hui, but not necessarily the kind that would show up on a background check.

More directly to Boortz's argument about a large, well-armed campus being a safe campus, let's all take a moment to think about our college experiences. Many look back at college as the best years of their lives, sure, but it may be more accurate to call them the most intense years. They are a heady mixture of incredible stress, newfound freedom and its accompanying excesses, and dizzying emotional discoveries and revelations. College is where many of us found and lost first loves, drank ourselves stupid weekend after weekend, experimented with drugs, explored our sexuality, and worked like mad to stay on the happy side of academic probation. It is a crazy, sleep-deprived, bleary-eyed time fueled by lousy food, caffeine, and all manner of other chemicals. It puts students through an emotional grinder unlike much they've faced to that point. It certainly did that to me - after the breakup of my first serious relationship, I stopped going to class. I stopped eating. I stopped sleeping. Eventually, at the urging of my family and friends, I got help, and after a lot of work, I got better. I don't think I was ever a danger to others, but I am utterly certain that for a while, I was a danger to myself. I probably wouldn't have owned a gun even if I had been allowed one on campus, but I'm sure there are plenty of people in similar straits who would, and that line between hurt self/hurt others is horribly thin. Boortz wants to add guns to that mix? I can't speak to his statistics, since he doesn't offer them up, but common sense tells me that the idea of arming students lacks, well, common sense.

The debate over gun control is a very difficult one. The argument that the populace should be able to defend itself against a government off its moorings is powerful, but I simply don't fear the government enough to believe that guns should be so easily obtained (and the last few years have given me ample reason to fear the government). Statistics can be quoted that purport to show that gun ownership greatly increases the likelihood of being hurt or killed by a gun, but others can be quoted to argue the exact opposite. I don't know the answer, but I do know that a legally purchased gun killed 33 people two days ago, and that Boortz's questioning of the bravery of the victims is every bit as inappropriate as an honest national evaluation and discussion of our legal and moral stance toward guns is appropriate and necessary.

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posted by Aaron Karp at 4/18/2007 04:07:00 PM


Blogger Nicolette said...

Aaron - I applaud you and thank you for this wonderful and deeply personal post. You are right, the gun control debate is a very difficult one that is not just a legal one but a moral one and a is decision based upon what is best for the common good.

I also wanted to offer up these statistics. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death amongst college students, taking the lives of over 1,100 youths a year (my source is the Today show this morning). Why in the world would we want to introduce guns into this culture already on tilt?!?

Earlier this year, someone I knew, an undergraduate at North Carolina State, drove to Wrightville beach and killed himself with a gun that he had purchased legally a month before. While my heart still aches for his family that has to deal with his loss, I am thankful that he did not cross that distressingly thin line between hurt self and hurt others.

4/19/2007 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Aaron Karp said...

As a very sad addendum, I wonder what Boortz might say about the College Park man who shot and killed his wife Tuesday night, believing she was a burglar? http://www.macon.com/220/story/22236.html

4/19/2007 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger Aaron Karp said...

And a correction - as Thomas points out in his response to Rusty's piece at Radical Georgia Moderate, the gun Cho Seung-Hui was not purchased legally, as Cho was required to disclose his mental health history on the purchase paperwork and apparently did not. As such, the purchase was not truly legal. As Thomas goes on to point out, this is a major point of failure, and it's accurate to say that Cho purchased his gun through legal channels, even if he did so illegally.

4/19/2007 01:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Erin said...

I posted this on the wrong site, so I'm re-posting because I just like this blog, it's thoughtful.

Neal Boortz is sensationalism at its worst. His audience is supbar in intelligence, rational thinking, and literacy. Boortz takes advantage of this to stir up the hornet's nest, so to speak, and incite intense emotions for the sake of his ratings. I doubt if Boortz truly believes half of what he's saying. He reminds me of a character in a movie called the Last Supper (which you should all watch), in which a group of young liberal grad students host dinner parties where they poison the conservative guests. One such guest is a radio host with a right wing reputation, but at the dinner reveals he's just doing it to sham the public and make money.

People often attempt to use reason and "rational thinking" to explain things that very well may just be unexplainable. Their minds can't comprehend that sometimes there's just no easy answer, or one correct answer, to explain an event of such horrific proportions. No one could have seen this coming. All of us knew kids in high school or college who were "loners" or wrote "disturbing things" or who were "depressed". Some of us may even have *been* those kids at some point, and yet no one was prompted to become a mass murderer. After my serious breakup a few years ago (with a fiance), I stopped going to class as well. I saw a counselor. I read a lot of Russian literature and drank a lot. I wrote a lot, sometimes about disturbing things, but mostly just about being sad and disappointed. I never went out and purchased weapons or even thought about hurting anyone else. This kid was hurting inside, and something in him turned to the point where he was so desperate, he began to blame others around him without such serious mental problems for his depression and unhappiness. Resentment is common in unhappy people I think, but this was just a fluke to the nth degree, and an extremely severe and arguably inhuman reaction.

We'll never know why he did it, or why it happened. It's just sad and awful, and for Boortz or Hannity or whoever else to dehumanize the situation just for ratings makes me sick. It's not Virginia Tech's fault, it's not his teachers' fault, it's not the police's fault. (Whether or not his parents were to blame is probably a larger issue, but I doubt if anyone could think depression would spiral into something like this.) It's the shooter's fault. And it's awful, and hopefully our brains will never work in such a manner that we "understand" why. The most we can do is pray for those who were effected by it, to be good people ourselves, and to try and reach out to other people who we see are hurting.

4/19/2007 06:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Trackboy1 said...

Imagine a family member of a victum hearing or reading Boortz's comment....

4/20/2007 12:56:00 AM  

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