Friday, April 20, 2007

Yes, Virginia, There is Such a Thing as Evil

This past Saturday I had my bachelor party--I, my brother, and three other friends started the afternoon by heading to an indoor pistol firing range and visiting rather convincing violence on myriad paper targets. I'd fired a .22 rifle in the Boy Scouts when I was 16 or so, but this was the first time I'd ever fired a handgun; it was a great thing, to demystify pistols--my rental was a 9mm Springfield XD. Load the magazine (no mean feat, when you've got a 15-round magazine with a stiff spring), chamber a round, aim, fire until the paper target's taken all the punishment you want to deal out or the magazine's empty, repeat. Just a tool, just a machine. Feeling the thing kick in my hand, hearing the ring of its report in the small building, seeing the targets punched time and again, instilled instant respect for the thing, the weapon.

In any case, great fun was had by all. Shoot, while prepping for the weekend I joined the NRA, something I've been meaning to do for years.

Then news broke on Monday regarding the shootings at Virginia Tech, and I figured that for decency's sake I should sit on the tale of our wild & wacky shooting hijinks at the pistol range. But after watching the (entirely appropriate) coverage of the grief and pain of the moment, I then was treated to the usual (entirely inappropriate) avalanche of "how could this happen?" hand-wringing stories and "who let this happen?" finger-pointing stories.

Blaming the SUV for the Accident
And, of course, there have been the usual calls for increased gun control: "when will it be enough?" "how many of our children must die before we admit to ourselves that the Second Amendment is a bad idea in the modern age?"

And, from Tripp, "We have established a system in which our children are sacrificed for our right to own a firearm...our supposed right to protect ourselves. We are willing, intentionally or not, to allow people to go to K-Mart or Dick's sporting goods and purchase handguns just like the ones that Cho Seung-Hui possessed."

Geez, where to start?

Just because the aphorism "guns don't kill people, people do" has become trite doesn't mean it's wrong. Cho was a disturbed person with violence on his mind and evil in his soul; he'd set fires in his dorm room, stalked women, written disturbing poems and plays, and of course there's the lovely little multimedia presentation he sent to NBC. This was someone who, deprived of firearms, might have set a bomb, lit another dorm fire, charged people brandishing an ice pick, or even laid in wait among the campus's bushes with a length of piano wire. Cho's murderous urge is the problem, not the fact that he had no prior convictions and thus was entirely legal to purchase firearms in Virginia.

Well, Cho's urge was at least half of the problem. You see, Virginia Tech recently managed (all the while thumbing its nose at the Second Amendment) to render itself a gun-free zone, granting itself the power to expel students and fire its staff for possessing any variety of firearm on campus.

I'm sure I'm not the first to come up with this phrase, but this amounts to trying to keep people safe by rendering them defenseless. Does anyone seriously think that the same degree of carnage would have resulted if even one of the professors or students had had a weapon to oppose the madman? Yes, there were armed guards on campus, but they obviously arrived too late to affect the outcome.

Can't We All Just Get Along?
Gun-control advocates seem to think that by making law-abiders (otherwise known as prey) give up their only real means of defense from law-breakers (aka predators), we'll all be safer.

"But, culture of guns! Assault weapons available over the counter at Wal-mart! Surely if guns were harder to get, we'd see less violence using them! It's simple math!"

Sorry, no. Countries enacting strong gun control laws (as in "everybody surrender your weapons under order of the government") almost without exception see increases in all varieties of violent crime, because A) criminals don't surrender their weapons, and B) the knowledge that nobody around them has a firearm with which to fight back emboldens the predators of the world. If I were greedy or desperate enough to try and burgle a house, would I choose one with a "proud gun-free home" sign on the lawn, or one with a "this house defended by Smith & Wesson" sticker on the window? There's probably a reason why I've seen several of the latter kind of decal, and had to make up the former.

Besides, my brother Matt lived in Kennesaw, Georgia for a time: a municipality in which every landowner must own a gun and ammo for it, by law. Interestingly enough, there's very, very little crime there. As one article I found put it, "most criminals don't have a death wish."

The Root of the Problem
Most criminals have no death wish, of course, but not all. Cho is that exception, the irrational actor, but at the same time, he was very methodical about certain aspects of his atrocity. He chained doors shut to keep his targets inside the building; he carried huge amounts of ammunition (none of those killed were hit fewer than three times, and there were another 30ish wounded); he bought his pistols some time apart, and took the time to write his little manifesto/screed.

While Cho may not have been sane, he was day-to-day capable. And as to his motivations and deeds, the only word that I can apply is evil. He was a man who hated deeply and consumingly, and channeled that hate into words and actions that ruined and ended lives, including his own.

I refuse to understand those who advocate defenselessness in the face of a world rife with the sort of evil that consumed Cho, even ones who advocate Christlike cheek-turning, which I take to be a condemnation of revenge more than a pacifist injunction. Proverbs 25:26 reads "Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked," and in my opinion failing to defend oneself or others from one bent on doing ill would be doing just that.


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