Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Amish Killings: Bring on The Bug

In the movie Men in Black, a flying saucer destroys the truck of some rural hick. Edgar, the hick, goes out with his gun to investigate the crater. The alien 'Bug' tells him to place his 'projectile weapon' on the ground; Edgar replies, 'You can have my gun, when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.'. The Bug, of course, takes both Edgar and the gun. I saw Charlton Heston do that 'cold dead fingers' line at, I presume, a meeting of the National Rifle Association. It is plainly the rallying cry of the gun lobbyists who will, I am sure, be unmoved by the three school shootings in the US this week, culminating in yesterday's horror in Lancaster County. Like most Europeans, I have tended to regard American gun fascination with disgust. I have, however, gone to some lengths to try to understand. The constitutional justification is, it need hardly be said, absurd as it so obviously applied to a different world. But some time ago an argument put by, I think, Mark Steyn, did give me pause. He pointed out that there were large areas of America that were burglar free simply because most householders possessed guns and could legally use them if anybody attempted to break into their property. Here, of course, burglaries happen all the time and our wondrously rude and inept police force can't be bothered to do anything about them. And, if we should happen to kill or even upset a burglar, we are likely to find ourselves in court. But the truth is, whatever law and order benefits flow from US gun ownership are vastly outweighed by the routine horrors perpetrated in a land flooded with firearms, not to mention the thousands of accidental shootings that happen annually. I know in detail the cultural and historical arguments, but I could not bring myself to advance them with the blood of children on my hands. So bring on the Bug to prise the weapons from as many cold dead fingers as it takes.


  1. But the blood of children is not on your hands, nor is it on Charlton Heston's. By your logic if we lived under martial law and curfews, no doubt Islamic nutcases would find it much harder to attack us (and in fact all crime would be reduced by curfews), so as I oppose imposing martial law and curfews, does that mean I have the blood of the 7/7 victims on my hands?

    And I hope you realise that for a great many people in the USA, they are not joking when they say such things about their right to own the means of self-defence. I wonder if you would feel that *their* blood would be on your hands if the policy you are suggesting was implemented?

  2. A completely fair point, Perry, and I am, of course, being presumptuous in telling Americans how to live their lives. The points you make raise fine distinctions about the balance between freedom and security. But there are no easy absolutes and I do think these things have to be balanced pragmatically rather than decided on the basis of any one side's conviction, however strenuously defended. 'Self defence', for example, is a slippery concept - does it extend to assault rifles and, if so, to what else? I think the balance in the States tips towards gun control, but I am open to argument.

  3. You can't prevent people from doing bad things by expecting the state to control their activities. It's just as much an illusion as the great lie of our times - progress (all credit to you, Bryan, that you never tire of pointing it out).
    Don't forget, the Dunblane killings were carried out by a madman with licensed guns.
    There's something in American society (puritanism?) that disposes people to extreme acts - it's a kind of collective insanity which now and again results in some defective - some madman - boiling over into extreme violence. It's something to do with lack of perspective and frustration at the difference between what they're told is the American Dream and the reality, in which they're condemned to poverty, mediocrity and obscurity - or something like that.

  4. Philip,
    You pinpoint a painful fork in my case - well, posture. If progress does not happen, why do anything? Why not lapse into a Hobbesian war of all against all? In strict logic, there is no answer. But, as I say above, pragmatism gets me off the fork. The state may not be able to engineer progress but it can do something to forestall regress.
    Lionel Shriver on Newsnight made an interesting point about a confusion in the American imagination between fame and infamy. This supports your later point/

  5. Progress? Of what or whom and to where? Explain the teleos.

    Of course individuals progress on a journey through each of their lives, but the modern fallacy is the belief that somehow the collective of individuals is set on a course greater than the sum of each of their lives to achieve some goal that when reached will, by some alchemy, transform the lives of those yet to be born, so that they become different from all the humans who went before them.
    Why does it have to descend into the war of all against all if the heresy of material progress is exposed for what it is?
    I don't think that if material progress doesn't exist there's no point in doing anything. There's an even greater point in living as well as you can (getting pleasure out of simple diurnal things like growing your own vegetables and enjoying the passing of the seasons) and loving the life you've been given and those people for whom you are required to take responsibility.
    The pleasures to be had from material progress don't compare with the pleasure to be had from these.

  6. And Lionel Shriver has put it more elegantly than I did, but, as you say, he's making the same point. I want to know why.

  7. Just to qualify... I am an American, I don't own a gun, but I am not opposed to lawful gun ownership. As to the question about guns, the important point is that Canada has almost exactly the same rate of gun ownership as the US but they don't have nearly the same problem with gun violence. So it isn't guns that cause crime apparently, it is people. Robert Heinlein once wrote, "an armed society is a polite society." Perhaps the problem is that there are too many unarmed Americans. After all, the main job of the police is to catch criminals not prevent crime.

  8. Here is the headline for the Philadelphia Inquirer:

    *Gunman in Amish slayings told wife he molested children 20 years ago*

    Here is my headline:

    *Ooh papa toonie, we got a loonie!*

    The gunman was 32 years old, so that puts him at 12 years old when his crimes were committed (and I'm not even going to go there). He was most certainly a madman, there is no question about that. Why are extreme acts of violence becoming so pervasive in American society? Because it has no soul. Because we, as Americans, are losing our ability to think and feel, or at least think and feel at a deeper level than ourselves: to think and feel that other people matter.

    A landscape so void and vapid is surely to generate horror stories on a daily basis. The American Dream? Puritanism? The State?

    The weather is very cold and rainy with the usual catch phrases, and the sky is very dark and gray with bodies, on the television screens casting this tragedy into the living rooms of Americans. And in these rooms people are filled with disgust and rage about one man who turned totally psycho, as if it weren't a trademark of American culture.

  9. "'Self defence', for example, is a slippery concept - does it extend to assault rifles"

    Yes. And as we are talking about the USA in particular, the text of the Second Amendment is this:

    "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

    The whole point Second Amendment is not just for self-defence but also so that people can form militias in times of emergency. Implicit in that is the right to rebellion if all other means to redress a state-become-tyrannous fail. And that means assault rifles. But is also says "well regulated", which means you can own weapons but you cannot wander down the street firing them in the air in a fit of beer fuelled exuberance.

    "and, if so, to what else?"

    Small arms is really quite enough. The reason to not allow (say) artillery or nuclear weapons (to take it to the extreme) is that the consequences of a deranged individual is much harder to limit and moreover, a crazed individual with a so-called 'assault rifle' can be dealt with by someone else with a rifle... that is clearly not the case with a nuclear weapon or a 155mm artillery piece.

  10. "Why are extreme acts of violence becoming so pervasive in American society?"

    Clearly such things are not pervasive. They happen, but 'pervasive' suggests such incidents are like drunken fights on your typical UK town centre after chucking-out-time, which is clearly not the case. Overall, violent crime is considerably more prevelent in the UK than the USA, just not as many murders (but most folks in the UK do not see that): you are less likely to get shot but *far* more likely to get kicked in the cobblers or bottled over the head in Blair's Britain. The media gives a very distorted image regarding the reality of life in the USA but for the great majority are neither crazed gunmen shooting up schools nor Puritan Jesusland kooks.

  11. I believe that in Switzerland there is an assault rifle in every home containing a more-or-less able-bodied male. This is because of their militia system (and exceptionally robust idea of national self defence). I believe too that the all-time Swiss crazed gunman count currently stands at one. They're Swiss, you see.
    Swiss Tony

  12. Perry,

    I just lost the response to your posting, which was longer than this.

    So I'll make this quick and short.

    It is important to realize how isolated these events are, and I couldn't agree more with what you say here:

    "The media gives a very distorted image regarding the reality of life in the USA but for the great majority are neither crazed gunmen shooting up schools nor Puritan Jesusland kooks."

    In fact, I just went out to the balcony (perhaps you have one of these?), and looked out over the park across the street, where there were about ten people (walking their dogs, reading the newspaper, bustling to work), and I didn't see a single shooting or stabbing.

    Now, as it appears that this discussion is about guns, it is my opinion that THE NEWS shoots more Americans in the head, execution-style (their victims are sitting on couches) everyday than any given psychopath could ever dream of. It is how Bush became President of the United States of America.

  13. Perry, you say that the media gives a distorted picture of life in the USA, yet I do not recognise the Britain you describe. I am a thirty year old male who has staggered through many of Britain's town centre's while hammered, yet I have not once got into a fight nor do I know anyone who has been seriously injured in a fight.

    As Birmingham is hardly a crime free backwater I simply cannot understand the fear and loathing men of my age inspire in so many people. Even if I accepted your arguement, why should I fear being kicked in the cobblers more than being murdered?

  14. Something to think about: There is more to learn from how the Amish community is responding to this tragedy than a debate about guns.

  15. One only needs to read the BBC online to see that the violent crime rate in the UK is far higher than the violent crime rate in the US. And the murder rate in the US has steadily declined over the last few years where it has increased markedly in the UK. It's probably a good idea to also keep in mind that the method of developing murder statistics are different in the US and the UK. In the US, the FBI tracks the murder rate by incident but in the UK it is tracked only by conviction. Unsolved murders or murders where the evidence is insufficient to get a conviction are not included in the UK homicide rate.

    "Why are extreme acts of violence becoming so pervasive in American society?"

    Define pervasive? The homicide rates is lower in the US now than at any time since the 60's. It is half of what it was in 1980. Any attempt to link gun ownership to homicide rates would need to explain why the homicide rates in Scotland are twice that of England.

  16. What Scott said.

    The man who did this (and why is always men who do these things?) was nuts. I agree that the proximity of crazy, violent men to guns is dangerous, but do you seriously think that someone like him would be deterred by stiffer gun laws?

    The real story here is how the Amish are coping. As a Jewish atheist, I am full of admiration for their truly Christian forebearance and forgiveness. If this were the Middle East, we'd have a blood feud on our hands. Their deep faith is an example of how, in some ways, humans are *not* universal in their responses.

  17. Fast forward to the year 2008, according to the FBI Uniform crime statistics where States enacted "shall issue" concealed carry permits violent crime has plummeted! Yes property crimes in a few cases have risen, like hub cap theft. The FBI was reluctant to publish this data because it also defeats their position that guns cause crime. In States where additional legislation called "castle laws" or "stand your ground" laws were passed crime dropped even more. These laws prevent criminals or their families from filing suit against someone who defends their homes, cars or property with guns. So far the incidents of misuse of this law is under 0.0001% and in the cases where it was misused most of the defendants were already convicted felons.

    So your position that guns cause crime or people are too damn stupid to know right from wrong is dead wrong.
    Gun control is racism. In black communities they are often disarmed by rich white Liberals who tell them it's in their best interest. Liberals like you!

    Fact is Blacks are most often victims of crime and should be able to defend themselves. Not just rich White liberals who live in Gated communities. Of course you already knew this, and so do I, the most racism I have seen first hand comes from Liberals who think they are better than me. I was once a Liberal. Now I am a Man. I will defend my family at whatever cost. Not only from thugs, but from Rich white liberals who wish to control me. Either at the ballot box or bullet box.
    They way I see it now, is that Bubba from Mississippi may be my best friend after all, at least he is honest where he stands and won't put his left arm over my shoulders tell me how much he loves me while sticking a knife in my back like Liberals do.
    With Bubba we can get along and agree to disagree, with a Liberal I have to watch my back and wallet.