Monday, December 17, 2012

It could happen anywhere

I have hesitated for two days to write about the Newtown massacre. I wanted to be sure my brain was engaged before opening my mouth, so to speak. Now that the hysteria has died down [Has it really? Ed.] and the stores are sold out of flowers, candles and teddy bears, perhaps we can begin a rational discussion.

Yesterday I saw a video clip of "streeters" -- interviews with men (and women) on the street -- around the world. Someone from Moscow said it could happen anywhere. Someone from Brazil said it could happen in his country because lots of Brazilians have guns, as do lots of Americans.

But the random killing of innocent people doesn't happen just anywhere, at least not with the alarming frequency with which it occurs in the USA. For the record -- and not blaming the Prez of course -- this is the fourth senseless massacre on his watch. Four years, four groups of grieving families, four sets of wounded survivors, four terrorized communities.

Not quite five months ago, a deranged man used a cinema in Aurora CO as a shooting gallery, leaving 12 corpses on the floor. Last year shootings in Tucson left six dead and 13 wounded, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who is slowly (but not completely) recovering. In November of 2009, 13 service members who were killed at Fort Hood by another soldier. And now this.

Some smug Canadians rushed to the on-line fora and speak-your-mouth shows to say such things could happen only in the sick society that is today's America. Apparently they forgot or ignored a couple of events in the Great Not-so-white North.

On 6 December 1989, Marc Lépine, a deranged misogynist, singled out and killed 14 women l'École Polytechnique in Montréal. In 2006, again in Montréal, and again for reasons only he knew, a young man named Kimveer Singh Gill killed a business student and wounded 19 other people before turning his gun on himself.

Canada has much stricter gun control laws than most of the United States. Assault and other military-type weapons may not be owned, except by the military, police and other champions of justice. Few people are allowed to own hand guns -- legally -- and fewer still can get permits to carry such. Canada's laws did not stop Lépine and Gill.

Is the answer tighter gun control laws? After the Colorado shooting in July, the White House made clear that Obama would not propose new gun restrictions. There was an election going on, you see, and millions of Americans still believe the Second Amendment is to be taken literally. About the most anyone with a hope of getting elected can say in an election year is that existing laws should be better enforced, more must be done to help the disturbed and deranged, yada yada yada.

Now that he's safely back in the White House, Obama said (at last night's vigil in Newtown) that the killing must stop. And, he said, America must change. He only talks about change, now, not hope. But, when the nation cries out for leadership on this issue -- an issue of life and death, literally -- the Great Partly-white Hope offers... well... Nothing.

It is with some reluctance that Walt puts his toe into the murky waters of the gun control debate, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the more people have guns, the greater are the chances of another Newtown.

Statistical analysis has never been my long suit, but here is a little experiment you can try at home. Take a deck of playing cards. Remove three cards. Put in one joker. You now have 50 cards, including one joker and 49 "normal" cards.

Let the joker represent someone who is emotionally or mentally disturbed. Shuffle the deck. Now assume that 20% of your cohort (the entire 50 cards) has access to a gun. Deal out 10 cards. Is the joker in the first ten? No? That's good luck then, as the odds were (roughly) 5 to 1 on the crazy person being one of the 10 gun owners. Increase the percentage of gun owners to 30%, or the number of jokers to two. What are the odds now?

Lesson: You've got next to no chance of reducing the number of crazy people in today's America (or any other country). So if you want to increase the odds against a lunatic shooting someone, your best bet is to reduce the number of guns in circulation. Lifetime pct .983.

Walt can think of two arguments that might be raised against this proposition. Someone is bound to say that some of my 50 "cards" must be children. Answer: a loaded gun in the hands of a 5-year-old is about the same as a loaded gun in the hands of someone with a mental capacity of 5. Especially if you're looking at the wrong end of the gun.

The second argument is that if you completely ban handguns or all guns, the criminals will still have guns and the law-abiding citizens won't. Yesterday, Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) told Fox News that the tragedy could have been prevented if only the school principal had herself been armed. "I wish to God," Gohmert said, "she had had an M-4 in her when she heard gunfire she pulls it out and...she takes him out, takes his head off, before he can kill those precious kids."

Louie... Listen, Louie... We're not talking about criminals here. The gangstas with the long rap sheets [Is that what we mean by "aspiring rapper" nowadays? Ed.] will always have guns, sure. But we're talking not about diamonds or spades [That's enough innuendo. Ed.] but about the joker in the deck -- the sicko beset by feelings of inadequacy or rage who goes to his mother's bedroom, takes the Glock out of night table and goes out to blow away the next nine (or nine dozen) people he sees.

Walt's argument for stricter gun control is not perfect. I think a man should be able to have a long gun -- a rifle or shotgun, not an assault weapon -- with which to go out and kill a couple of squirrels for the stew pot. And I don't much like the idea of the police -- the Bullies in Blue -- being the only ones who have guns. But reducing the number of firearms in the hands of ordinary citizens is about the only solution I can think of. If you have a better idea, don't write to me. Send it to the Prez, c/o the White House, Washington DC.

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