YDATL Blog 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
"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.