Friday, April 20, 2007

"Unstable personalities"

Someone left a comment to my post about gun control leading me to James Q. Wilson's LA Times op-ed arguing that "gun control isn't the answer." What is?

"The main lesson that should emerge from the Virginia Tech killings is that we need to work harder to identify and cope with dangerously unstable personalities."

Brilliant idea! Let's think about this in terms of rights. The right to bear arms is sacred. So sacred, in fact, that it must supersede the right to write a violent play, to be socially awkward, and to not greet everyone on campus with an inviting grin. It's amazing to me how much emphasis the media is placing on the Virginia Tech killer's obscene and violent plays. I thought it was morally ambiguous for even therapists, who are hearing what their patients actually think, to turn them in to the authorities on suspicion of having strange thoughts. But can students, adult college students, now be suspect on account of creative writing? Shouldn't there be at least some acknowledgment that the writing on its own wouldn't have said anything, that what's really at stake was this man's stalking people, etc.? Isn't it a bit more fair, not to mention practical, to remove guns from this nation's civilians, than to take everything students write in playwriting courses literally, or than to convince college students that their quiet roommates are potential murderers? Now, rather than those with guns losing out, anyone who fails to strike everyone around them as "normal" will. Not a good situation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm having a little bit of a hard time figuring out your argument.

You seem to be saying that it's at least "morally ambiguous" if not an out-and-out rights violation to turn in people on the basis of violence that they write in plays, which are, after all, fiction.


But why isn't radical control a rights violation?

There are anywhere from 200 million to 260 million guns in America. The vast, vast majority of people who have guns own them legally. They paid several hundred dollars a piece for them. They use them for recreational shooting, hunting, home defense, self-protection on streets, etc.

If you wanted to take away their property even though they had acquired it legally and never used it in a harmful or unlawful manner, I hope you can understand why they would be upset. (Although perhaps you could get more people to sign on to a gun confiscation if you promised to pay everyone for doing their duty.)

There are places with many guns and few crimes. There are places with few guns and lots of crime.

Vermont has extremely tolerant gun laws and a firearms homicide rate that is about half of that of New Jersey, where the gun laws are some of the strictest in the nation.

It's easy to legally get a gun in North Dakota, a safe state. But guns are more-or-less illegal in Washington DC, which suffers about 200 murders a year, many of them with guns. (Across the river is Arlington County, Virginia, where the guns are plentiful but there are fewer than 6 murders in a typical year.)

Since we can't just wish away the U.S. Constitution, why don't we concentrate on measures that might actually pass?

We know that the murderer lied about his mental health history on his background check. Maybe it's time to get a more comprehensive and effective database?