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April 16, 2007

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As far as he was concerned, there was nothing that came afterwards.

When you jump into the abyss, you don't expect to land.

This all sounds right (how could it not?--and this must have been hell to go through). Unhappily, I do not think the "pro-gun" argument in this case is one of deterrence, but rather of vigilanteism/self-defense after the shooter has started. It is self-defense, to me (I don't know the legalities), if you have a reasonable chance of ending up in the line of fire--if not, and you are shooting to kill, it becomes a vigilante act.

I hope this doesn't derail from the main point of the post, which was insight into the mental state that can cause this, and how ill-equipped we (society) are to deal with prospective threats like this. I just wanted to make a point about deterrence.

Ye gods, hilz, I can only imagine how hard it must have been for you at the time.

As someone who's tried to be there for friends (and family) suffering from depression and been worried they might harm themselves, two parts of your post really resonated with me. The bit about the sphere seems like a perfect explanation of both the depressive mindset and the frustration of trying to help from the "outside", as it were. And the lack of resources for mental illness is absolutely shameful. We hear about obesity as a preventable health problem, we hear about terrorism being a threat to our children, we hear about "stranger danger" and how to combat it - where's the millions of dollars and nation-wide campaigns and school-community-govt partnerships dedicated to addressing youth suicide, depression and mental illness?

where's the millions of dollars and nation-wide campaigns and school-community-govt partnerships dedicated to addressing youth suicide, depression and mental illness?

to a large degree, mental illness and depression are still seen as weakness, not sickness.

see, for example, last week's episode of The Office.

Thank you. Thank you for the story. Thank you for doing what you did for your friend.

You are right. We need more and better resources to deal with mental illness and we need to have a way to deal with people who may be a danger if nothing is done.

In the VT case, it will be a while before we know what the problems were and why the shooter did this, but I would be surprised if any of the knee-jerk prescriptions from the pro- or anti-gun lobbies would have made a bit of a difference.

My condolences to the VT community.

"I would be surprised if any of the knee-jerk prescriptions from the pro- or anti-gun lobbies would have made a bit of a difference."

I agree.

hilzoy, your story rings some bells. I ,too, knew someone who came close and had the weapons to make it happen. He didn't follow through.

Despite all the stories about FBI profiling, etc, I think that there is no way to pigeonhole people who do thsi type of thing. At best, we may be able to lessen the likelihood, but no matter how effective counseling is, no matter how prevalant and available help is, no matter how many people are trained to recognize warning signs, someone will slip through the cracks and something like this will happen.


I await Bill O'Reilly's rant about how this would have never happened if we kept the damn Koreans out.

You did incredible work in this situation, Hil, work that very few people are in any way equipped to take on. That worries me, since so few people in your friend's condition are likely to consult a psychiatrist.

Whereas many suicidal people do - not all of course. Of the two people in my family who killed themselves, and the one who tried and failed, none had sought help (NB all this happened decades ago).

I don't have a lot of words today. Thank you for writing so thoughtfully about the kind of serious mental illness, and total detachment from reality, that often lie behind incidents like this.

But I do think that it should be possible for someone to be denied a gun license when a qualified psychiatrist determines that there is evidence that that person is mentally ill in a way that predisposes him or her to homicide.

It is. One of the basic disqualifications for legally buying a gun is, "Have you ever been involuntarily committed to a mental institution." The problem (and how much it's a problem is argued about a lot) that UNTIL someone has gone through the court process that declares them insane enough to be imprisoned in a mental institution, there is no way to restrict them from buying a gun.

"It is self-defense, to me (I don't know the legalities), if you have a reasonable chance of ending up in the line of fire--if not, and you are shooting to kill, it becomes a vigilante act."

Ah, no. Vigilantes go out in search of criminals to punish. Use of lethal force to stop somebody from committing an act of major violence with the serious potential to result in death is legal, regardless of whether you're defending yourself, or defending another.

If you've stopped them, and THEN go on to kill them, then you've stepped over the line into vigilanteism.

I wasn't really feeling anything particularly strong until I read about the professor who blocked the door with his body and got shot trying to keep the gunman out of the room while his students escaped. See here

I saw that too, Seb. A truly inspiring story. Another version here.

Thanks for the linnk, Sebastian. Weird to say thanks for something that is such a kick in the gut. I guess I'd rather read about people who are doing the very best thing, the heroic thing, than attend to thhe othher aspects of this story.

Hilzoy, your empathy and compassion is inspiring. The young man who shot so many people yesterday, and then himself, appears to have been classically depressed, angry, and withdrawn, and to have given some signs of his violent thoughts.

I'm adding my heartfelt wish for peace to those who may be agonizing about what else they could have done to prevent this horrible rampage.

As someone who has been hospitalized for major depression, I can say that the image of being trapped in a sphere is a very apt one. The image I used on the inside was being painted into a corner -- but there was a door in the corner, and the door was death.

One difference is that depression is *extremely* painful, so the depressed person can usually be persuaded that medical intervention might help. It looks as though whatever your friend -- and presumably the VT killer -- suffered from doesn't hurt as much as depression from the inside.

And the news reports say that the guy's Creative Writing prof did put up a flag, and the English Dept. tried to get him to counseling. Crikey, what a nightmare.

Dr. Science: It was extremely painful for him. I was just rereading something I wrote at the time about one of the worst conversations with him, shortly before things took a turn for the better. I was being very careful to be accurate. Excerpt:

"He had finally realized that nothing would ever change for him. And what that meant was that the only possibility for him was death. The way he lives now is a living death. To continue to live in that way would involve accepting torture at the hands of those around him. (Here his language was very violent: he said repeatedly that everyone around him had smashed his head with a hammer, that his skull had been shattered; and that asking him to continue to live the way he lives now would be like asking a person whose skull had been broken to bits to let people continue to smash at it.) Things would be no different anywhere else: he was the kind of person whom people treat like garbage, and that would be true no matter where he went. He was condemned to death; he saw death at the end of every road that was open to him. And the only thing that would make him feel better would be to kill his torturers. Everyone had been giving him advice, telling him to change or to do things differently. But no one had been telling them to change. No one had said to them: you cannot torture people without paying the price. Now he was going to give them this message with his gun. It would be the last thing they heard before they died."

The problem was rather another point of similarity with depression: the conviction that it is impossible for things to get better. In his case, that sense of complete impossibility included the impossibility that psychiatrists could help in any way.

I have no particular interest in taking anyone's hunting rifles or handguns away from them. But I do think that it should be possible for someone to be denied a gun license when a qualified psychiatrist determines that there is evidence that that person is mentally ill in a way that predisposes him or her to homicide.

There's really going to have to be some due process involved here. Just having "qualified" psychiatrists make determinations would be a very unthoughtful system.

Establishing a formal petitioning process with the courts, when the person does not have prior convinctions, would make sense to me.

Hilzoy: Thanks for sharing this. I mentioned it in the other thread but if I had not read this earlier today I undoubtedly would have gone off on a rant about the creative writing teacher when that news came out.

Oh man. If Creative Writing programs were required to do something every time someone wrote something disturbing and borderline psychotic, then the departments would be about half the size they are now. I can't think of a single workshop class I've seen that wouldn't be down a couple students by the end of the term.

Wow, that story is intense. You did a good thing (or tried to). One thing I have to quibble on, though, you were really surprised people would make it into a political issue? Where have you been the last 30 years?

"Establishing a formal petitioning process with the courts, when the person does not have prior convinctions, would make sense to me."

A jury trial might be appropriate, too, for something that's functionally indistinguishable from a felony conviction. Really, I wonder what constitutional basis exists for depriving people of civil liberties without actually convicting them of some crime after a fair trial?

Jonas; . Just having "qualified" psychiatrists make determinations would be a very unthoughtful system.

Yeah, because psychiatrists have no qualifications that enable them in any way to assess that someone is too homicidal to be allowed to own a gun.

Bizarrely, though, psychiatrists are (or used to be - with military recruitment as it is, who knows?) used to assess whether or not someone was too much of a homicidal lunatic to be allowed to join the military - even the National Guard. Joining the National Guard may be a right guaranteed by the Second Amendment, but that does not mean that every crazy person who wants to must be allowed to join and let loose to kill. (A jury trial is not required for this either, Brett.)

What a terrible story, Hilzoy. Oddly enough, it makes me feel moderately grateful that the worst problem I ever had to deal with was whether a friend was going to kill herself - not kill anyone else.

There is no Constitutional right to join the National Guard.

Really, I wonder what constitutional basis exists for depriving people of civil liberties without actually convicting them of some crime after a fair trial?

you're trolling, right ??

Brett: involuntary committal?

Involuntary commitment is a high bar nowadays (it is one of the reasons you see crazy homeless people on the streets--they aren't deemed officially a danger to themselves or others).

Brett: it's not functionally indistinguishable from a felony conviction. For one thing, it doesn't carry jail time. If a court finds someone incompetent, that person can be deprived of voting rights, and yet, strange to say, that person is not required to serve time, has no felony record, etc. This is a much less serious abridgment of rights than losing the right to vote.

The hell with concealed carry, I want to know when our government is going to get serious and start a subsidized student loan program for body armor.

I've been swamped with school starting stuff, so it was only this am that I saw some of the converage. I find it interesting that on CNN, there is a lot of furor about how could the school refuse to do something about the student, and Lou Dobbs especially has this sneering delivery about rights. It strikes me that the focus on ridiculing the university for respecting the rights of the students without ridiculing the notion of protecting rights of gun purchasers is hypocrisy at its MSM finest. Just to set out where I stand, I think that schools and other organizations should have take more leeway, but I'd like to see some movement towards some sensible gun regulation.

I would also add that as education gets privatized, we have to deal with more and more 'fragile' students. Here in Japan, I've never had the violent type, but self inflicted violence is sadly a lot more common than it should be. (and we still have some horrible violence, so this is not a claim of superiority)

As an example of self inflicted injury, this occurred recently, and serves as an example. A female university student failed a seminar, and the associate professor told her that she would have to repeat a year, and she committed suicide. The professor was fired and my colleagues and I are all wondering what was the specific content of the email and such.

Of course I don't know this gunman, but my gut tells me it's a very similar situation to your friend. One thing I've not been able to stop thinking about is how much somebody must hurt to want to do something like this. This isn't Hannibal Lector-style sadism because he dies too. What kind of agony did he feel?

Some of the stories about Cho reinforce my feeling that he was in deep pain. His roomate said he didn't talk - that when other people asked him questions he'd just make one word answers and never converse. Dr. Roy said he never took his sunglasses off, even inside. So he was somebody who never had any contact with people - not conversation, not eye, and I'm sure not physical. But he was still human and we all want other people. He must have craved contact even as he spent every minute of his life going to great lengths to avoid it. That must have been torture.

Maybe it's crazy, but I'm more bothered by what he went through than what any of his victims did. Or maybe it's not crazy, because if somebody could have gotten through to him none of the other people could have died. An all-night talk wouldn't appeal to videogame and Rambo sensibilities like whipping out a gun and mowing him down but it would have been better. I think a part of the problem is that so many American would prefer the heavy weaponry approach, and neglecting the squishy social approach just magnifies the isolation of men like Cho.

jrudkis: There is no Constitutional right to join the National Guard.

There is if that's the way you interpret the Second Amendment, which I think has been settled is how the original drafters interpreted it: not as the right of everyone to be their own private army, but as the right of everyone to be part of a well-regulated militia.

Sebastian: Involuntary commitment is a high bar nowadays (it is one of the reasons you see crazy homeless people on the streets--they aren't deemed officially a danger to themselves or others).

Another reason for seeing "crazy homeless people" on the streets is that the programs they were part of that kept them mentally stable have had their funding cut: they can't afford the treatment that kept them able to hold down a job and rent a room, and they certainly can't once they're homeless. In the UK what happened was that a lot of residential programs were cut in the 1980s by Thatcher as part of her "no such thing as Society" drive, leaving a lot of people who had needed residential support expected to deal with the welfare system, which was never meant to deal with people who needed 24/7 support, which meant that people did just end up on the street, acting crazy. But at least in the UK they had the safety net... even if bits of it had been slashed.

Most "crazy homeless people" really aren't a danger to others, and a danger to themselves only when they lose track of how to care for themselves. That doesn't mean it's OK to leave them on the street.

There is if that's the way you interpret the Second Amendment, which I think has been settled is how the original drafters interpreted it: not as the right of everyone to be their own private army, but as the right of everyone to be part of a well-regulated militia.

I don't know why you think this is settled in that interpretation, but the recent DC circuit court definitely disagrees, and even the Miller Court only maintained that the weapons individuals own must have a military purpose, not that you must be in the militia.

http://www.nraila.org/media/PDFs/dccourt04_7041a.pdf

Jrudkis, I fear I am merely working by looking up the Second Amendment and seeing what it says. The interpretation that the Second Amendment means anyone can own any gun they like and nobody dare stop them even if they're obviously homicidally insane clearly is how, historically, it has been decided to interpret that Amendment, what the Amendment says is - if you're inclined to an originalist interpretation - that the US needs a well-regulated militia, and "the People" ought to be able to be the US's militia.

As it is currently interpreted, the most positive way of looking at it is that it's a completely pointless civil right that benefits no individual, but it certainly enriches a powerful commercial lobby at a massive cost in human lives.

Joining the National Guard may be a right guaranteed by the Second Amendment, but that does not mean that every crazy person who wants to must be allowed to join

I had never heard it phrased this way, and it raises the interesting possibility that the regulation of gun ownership and bearing allowed by the Second Amendment is exactly coextensive with regulation of enlistment in the militia. In other words, "the people," collectively, have a right to weapons so that they may in time of need form a "well-regulated" militia; well-regulated is one of those constitutional terms like "cruel and unusual" or "commerce" that changes with the times, so whatever the standards currently are for allowing militia (Guard) membership, those should be the standards for allowing gun ownership. In other words, only those people eligible to join the Guard should have a right to own guns, but those people should have an absolute right to any sort of guns they might use as Guard members.

That sounds crazy, because of course the Guard does not WANT its recruits each to turn up with whatever make of pistol or rifle they favor, that's useless to the well-regulated militia today.

So, maybe people eligible to join should have only those weapons the Guard would issue if they were to join. Or, maybe it's even simpler: since Guardsmens' weapons (AFAIK) are issued by and remain the property of the Guard, not of the individual militiaman, those rights inhere to "the people" in this day and age by way of the Guard. None of this involves restriction on "the right of the People, to keep and bear arms," but rather involves regulation of the militia. Anytime we vote to go back to a system where the militia is recruited by local emergency call-up and everyone just brings their own weapons, everyone can have guns. Until then, no.

Hilzoy, what a terrible experience. I'm glad your friend is better.

I am a little surprised that you or someone else did not get him involuntarily committed. IIRC, the standard in most states is that because of a mental illness or disorder, you present an immediate danger to yourself or others. One could quibble about "immediate," but it sounds like your friend was as close to homicide as most people committed for suicide risk are close to suicide. The procedure can be tricky, but it should have been possible.

I am linking to this from a lot of places, Hilz, because I think it's the best -- most believable, most detailed, most compassionate -- view into the mind of a probable shooter that is out there.

Can you say anything about how you got your friend into treatment, about what actually worked?

Trilobite,

I guess we will find out shortly. The DC case is sure to be appealed to the USSC, and we will hopefully know what it means for sure. I don't know if you have read it, but it is fairly informative and discusses Miller and various other circuit decisions.

The only due out after that case will be whether the 14th amendment incorporates the 2d amendment against the states as well as the feds.

My god. I know someone like this. Not enough to be a friend, really, but enough to have heard him use the sort of language and make the sort of statements mentioned in this piece.

He scares me and a truly, truly do not know what to do about it.

Dr. Science: one word: antidepressants.

How I got him into treatment is a complicated story with (I think) no general application. I took a gamble, and whether it was the right one or the wrong one, things worked out. But gambles are all about judgment, not about generally applicable principles.

I will say this, though: it had always seemed to me that getting him to see a psychiatrist was the crucial thing. This was not just because he needed help (duh), but also because psychiatrists have both the expertise to evaluate someone -- which I was vividly aware that I lacked -- and also the power to initiate involuntary commitment proceedings, and to warn potential victims under the Tarasoff ruling. Which is to say: they have all the tools to really do something, and also the knowledge to use them right. Everything, in a word, that I was vividly aware that I lacked.

And in this case, the psychiatrist began a pretty aggressive course of treatment, which completely turned things around.

sb: my heart goes out to you. It's a terrible spot to be in.

If the person has friends or family who might be helpful, try talking to them. If you can talk him or her into seeing a psychiatrist, do it. (See above.) (Helpful note: if you can find a good psychiatrist in advance, do: the quality of the psychiatrist matters enormously.)

Recommending that you try to talk the person through this, and to be there for him or her, is in some ways hard to do: it's enormously draining, I'd imagine all the more so if you don't already know the person that well, and are sort of volunteering to make a friendship not because you actually like the person, but because he or she badly needs help. I think it makes a big difference, but it's also a lot to sign up for.

If you do, one thing I used to think was that it was important for me not to pretend (with one exception that I'll get to.) I thought, in the case of my friend, that one of the problems was that people had become increasingly unreal to him -- walking two-dimensional cartoons with no humanly comprehensible motivations -- and that since I seemed to be one of the few actual human beings he was in contact with, it was important for me not to allow myself to turn into a cartoon, but to be my imperfect, yet still three-dimensional, self, and to have my imperfect, yet still three-dimensional, reactions.

The one exception was the thought: I don't want to spend time talking to someone who is seriously considering homicide. -- At first, of course, I didn't have this reaction. Friends are friends, and I don't assess whether I want to spend time with them on a minute-by-minute basis. But after, oh, six or eight months, it began to seem to me that my relationship to him was turning from a straight friendship into something more like therapy. And that was the one reaction I did not share.

Another thing I thought was important was not to let myself be drawn into anything that even remotely resembled collusion.

Another: my friend was not, I think, primarily motivated by anything like a desire for attention or concern; but the main external thing that was bothering him was isolation. There was, I thought, always a line to be walked here: on the one hand, I did not want to do anything like rewarding him for this stuff with the concern and attention he really badly needed; on the other, I didn't want to cut him off or refuse to listen if that would be bad. It's a tough balance to strike, and a good thing to be thinking about at the get-go.

Finally, if you do this, know that because there are very few resources, and very few sources of good advice, there is a real risk that you will make a mistake. Hopefully not one that turns out badly, but still. Making an undue number of mistakes might somehow be your fault, but making some is, I think, inevitable under the circumstances. If it all goes wrong, bear that in mind.

That's a horrible thing to think about, but I think it's a lot better to think about it up front, and bear it in mind throughout, than not.

Whatever you do, best of luck.

Jes,

Yeah, because psychiatrists have no qualifications that enable them in any way to assess that someone is too homicidal to be allowed to own a gun.

It's not a matter of qualification - no other group of people would technically be more qualified to serve in such a role than psychiatrists. It's that you can't just deputize experts to rule by fiat in a democracy.

As it is currently interpreted, the most positive way of looking at it is that it's a completely pointless civil right that benefits no individual...

Not one individual ever benefitted from owning a firearm? Come on now.

Not one individual ever benefitted from owning a firearm? Come on now.

Benefited on a civil rights level, I meant.

Certainly I can't think of a single major civil rights struggle in the US in the past century that has benefited because of the Second Amendment. Indeed, most of them have been damaged by it: Martin Luther King is probably the most famous example, with Harvey Milk running him a close second.

"As it is currently interpreted, the most positive way of looking at it is that it's a completely pointless civil right that benefits no individual"

Even if you deeply believed this to be true, other people don't agree with you. It is an explictly granted Constitutional right. Can't you see how dismissing an explicitly granted Constitutional right as "completely pointless" because YOU think it is completely pointless might weaken the protection of rights that you think are worthy but that other people might think are "completely pointless"? Heaven help the non-explict rights.

The Civil Rights movement probably benefitted from arms by having groups like the Black Panthers as the alternative to dialogue with people like King. The extremes always define the middle, and were it not for those extremes, some civil rights leaders could have been ignored.

It is one of the most common steps for an insurgency to set up a political party separate from the armed group that can be engaged, since no one will ever "negotiate with terrorists." (Not implicating the Civil Rights movement in "setting up an insurgency or the Black Panthers, but thinking more along the lines of the IRA).

Sebastian: Can't you see how dismissing an explicitly granted Constitutional right as "completely pointless" because YOU think it is completely pointless might weaken the protection of rights that you think are worthy but that other people might think are "completely pointless"?

Well, fine: in that case, can you (or some other supporter of the Second Amendment who sees some point to it) explain what the civil rights "point" of the Second Amendment is? How exactly is the right to own any gun you like (even if you're a homicidal maniac whom the National Guard would reject in a heart-beat) a civil right, apart from the fact that "it says so in the Bill of Rights" - which is a completely tautologous justification?

I can see a point to it if it's meant to be a guarantee that joining the militia (the National Guard) is not a privilege but a right of the People, as I proposed and Trilobite elaborated on.

So, please: whoever is arguing that the Second Amendment is a worthy civil right, please explain to me what the worth is.

jrudkis: The Civil Rights movement probably benefitted from arms by having groups like the Black Panthers as the alternative to dialogue with people like King. The extremes always define the middle, and were it not for those extremes, some civil rights leaders could have been ignored.

Didn't it benefit (exactly as much, or more so) those opposed to the black civil rights movement to have armed white supremacy extremist groups? ("Yes, we still want to deny black people the right to vote and equal employment - but hey, we're not racists. Racists are those thugs with guns over there.")

I can't see how it benefits a movement for civil rights to have armed extremists on either side. I can't see how it benefits anyone, but especially not the side with fewer guns...

I don't think so. I think having someone to the left or right of you makes what you say more reasonable to someone who disagrees, and provides a place for compromise. The extremists just shift where the center is, perhaps broadening it.

And since any compromise at that time required a shift toward civil rights, tilting the playing field farther via the Black Panthers made King more tolerable to those opposed.

I think that an armed citizenry could defend themselves and deter crime if that armed citizenry pretty consistantly had the ability to distinguish between defense and aggression.

I don't think enough Americans can do that. For example, it isn't defense to invade a country that didn't attack us.

Proplonged exposurer to middle and high school students also leads me to believe that for far too many Americans "defense" means getting even, saving face, or asserting one's will. Remember that Japanese exchange student who was shot while ringing a doorbell because the cowardly bigots inside thought he was a threat?

wonkie: I think that an armed citizenry could defend themselves and deter crime if that armed citizenry pretty consistantly had the ability to distinguish between defense and aggression.

And if an armed citizenry didn't (obviously) include armed criminals? (I cited a website earlier with federal data showing that handguns are far more often used to commit murder than they ever are used for justified self-defense.)

jrudkis: I don't think so. I think having someone to the left or right of you makes what you say more reasonable to someone who disagrees, and provides a place for compromise.

But it doesn't help if you only have to be "more reasonable" that a bunch of armed terrorists who are threatening to kill people. Those opposed to black civil rights only had to be "more reasonable" than armed KKKers who were killing "uppity blacks" and threatening to murder civil rights workers. And the white supremacists had more guns than the Black Panthers (I'm guessing: but they certainly had more money to buy guns and, I would guess, less police harassment for owning guns) - so, overall, if guns help a movement because they make it easier to listen to the slightly-less-extremist wings than to the armed-and-extremist wings, the Second Amendment must have had a negative effect on the civil rights movement, because it made it easier to listen to the less-extremist opponents.

@jrudkis: Since the Panthers didn't come into existence until very late in the civil rights movement (Oct 1966, really did not 'go national' until well into 1967), the answer to your specific question is 'no'.

The person (and organization) who did play the pole-setting role you are thinking of is Malcolm X. Dr. King himself alluded to this at least once in an interview. But the phenomenon in question, as a rule, is a political one, having much more to do with the content of program and demands and very little to do with tactics (much less the question of armed resistance in particular).

Jes,

I don't think that is right. I think the establishment wants the status quo, but can compromise with someone who wants change that it identifies as reasonable, but only when there is a threat of arms. I don't think Ghandi would have been successful but for more militant Indians, I don't think Aparthied would have ended without terrorism to gain attention, I don't think anyone would know about the Palestinian issue if there was not violence to stop, and I don't think the Civil Rights movement would have been successful if there was not a threat of arms. That the establishment can put down the armed insurrection is not enough, because it has to maintain order and as close to the status quo as it can.

Nell, thanks for the dates. I have in my mind the Black Panthers carrying rifles openly in CA, but thought it was earlier. However, I do recall that the Nation of Islam was at least more militant in its words, which similarly provides a threat of action.

jrudkis, I can't agree with you on your last comment, although I used to. I believe that mass action is necessary to bring powerful elites to negotiate, but that violence is not only unnecessary but counterproductive in such struggles.

For one thing it helps rationalize repression, which further feeds violence, etc. For another it puts the wrong people in leadership positions. Armed struggle, like all wars, represents a terrible failure.

jrudkis: I don't think that is right. I think the establishment wants the status quo, but can compromise with someone who wants change that it identifies as reasonable, but only when there is a threat of arms.

Once again, that suggests that those who opposed the black civil rights movement must have benefited by having armed extremists as much or more so as the armed extremists of the black civil rights movement benefited it.

And it's worth noting that this argument says exactly nothing about how two other major civil rights movements of the 20th century achieved their goals: neither the GLBT civil rights movement nor feminism had any armed extremists, yet they managed to achieve their goals as effectively - if not more so.

There are few examples of massive social change that have occurred that did not involve at least the implicit threat of arms. Even our own revolution would not have occurred but for arms. And I think it is because there has to be some impetus for the establishment to change, and it is almost never because it is simply the right thing to do.

Arms are also used to change societies in ways that I consider negative, but even in those instances, I can see that those fomenting for change have little choice but to have a viable threat, else they will be ignored.

The right of the people to keep and bear arms, as I see it, necessarily implies a larger right for the people to defend themselves, their lives and their property. I realize there are countries in the world -- couththeUKcough -- where citizens are brought up to believe that they should capitulate to criminal acts and not defend themselves or their property, but I think that's a particularly poor way to organize a society.

I would consider GBLT and feminist changes to be incremental, rather than revolutionary. I don't think that 150 years of feminist gains is the kind of victory people are looking for, but rather change now. If you were to tell the Palestinians that if you lay down your guns you will have near equality 150 years from now, I doubt that they would accept that prescription.

There are few examples of massive social change that have occurred that did not involve at least the implicit threat of arms.

Feminism, which is probably the longest and most successful revolution in the world: no implicit threat of arms, ever.

On a smaller scale, but still interesting examples: the civil rights movement for/by GLBT people; the civil rights movement for/by Deaf people; the industrial revolution; the communications revolution. (I was originally going to say the Internet revolution, but long-term, the revolution in communication that occurred between 1857 and 2007, so that we now take for granted that I can converse with a friend on the other side of the world and hear her voice, was even more astonishing: real, massive social change, without, again, any threat of arms.) Hell, invention of the contraceptive pill: the person who invented that was a devout Catholic certainly not seeking to be part of the feminist revolution.

Feminism has never had a wing of armed extremists (though armed extremists in opposition) and yet it is the model for massive social change despite significant resistance.

Hilzoy wrote a post a while ago about how violence isn't the solution to problems, it's the source of them. (She said it better.) Worth reading.

In any case, it seems to me what you are arguing is that the worth of the Second Amendment is that it permits violence and the threat of violence to people who do not wish to accept peaceful means to change: as if feminists could keep Roe vs. Wade by threatening to shoot Supreme Court Justices until there was a court to their liking. (I distance myself from these hypothetical feminists because, if they existed, I would certainly not support their aims or their goal. Let pro-lifers try to change the law by violence and terrorism: pro-choicers never have.

Phil: The right of the people to keep and bear arms, as I see it, necessarily implies a larger right for the people to defend themselves, their lives and their property.

Does it? So a woman who needed an intact D&X - to defend her life - can, by the Second Amendment, obtain one by threatening the doctor at gunpoint until he performs it?

Or a lesbian whose child is removed from her care by a homophobic judge, can defend her family by shooting the judge?

Or a gay man who loses his home because his partner dies and they live in a state which does not recognize their marriage of 40 years, can defend his property at gun point?

jrudkis: I would consider GBLT and feminist changes to be incremental, rather than revolutionary.

Well, if you restrict yourself to the assertion that all rapid social change results from at least the threat of arms, you have then to define exactly what you mean by "rapid". What do you mean?

Hi. I'm on the VT faculty and I just wanted to say thank you for this.

N: our thoughts are with you.

couple of thoughts. some psychiatrists are great. some are worse than bad.

as far as i am concerned the best thinking on psychiatric intervention (short of medicines) came from Carl Rogers, so long ago I have trouble remembering his name. He enjoyed a vogue, but everyone seemed to miss his essential point: the therapist needed to have a genuine interest in helping the client and enough sense to know that it's what the client meant that was important and not the therapists interpretation (conscious or otherwise.) unfortunately the talent for doing this, being this, is not very common.

i have my own ideas about the origin of the rigid, non imaginative, thinking that is involved, but will only point out that it is pretty common in political discourse. the "only" difference is that the potential killer means to do something first hand, while political positions are held by people willing to let someone else do the killing.

Thank you so much for your story, I found it both fascinating and shocking that you knew someone who could have committed an atrocity like this. The bottom line is (as you clearly highlight) access to guns. Although it brings politics into it all, quicker than many would like, it IS the point.

I live in England and can't ever recall a mass shooting at a college or school. We do have a problem with knives in schools at the moment but this is really a very different issue.

I live in England and can't ever recall a mass shooting at a college or school.

Er, given, Dunblane isn't in England, but nonetheless.

I hope and pray that I am never such a tendentious, unimaginative dolt that I cannot understand how a declaration that certain rights -- including the right to life -- are inalienable carries with it an implication that one has the right to defend those inalienable rights.

"Thank you so much for your story, I found it both fascinating and shocking that you knew someone who could have committed an atrocity like this."

Interestingly (maybe), I knew Andrew Cunanan. He seemed to me like a very typical backstabbing social climber. But I thought it was a metaphor.

We weren't close, though he hit on some of my friends. It is an odd experience to review your time with someone and wonder if you should have known. My take away from Cunanan was that so far as I could tell he was indistinguishable from lots of weirdly nasty people. That wasn't encouraging, because I still know a lot of people like him.

Phil: Er, given, Dunblane isn't in England, but nonetheless.

Also, depends how old James is: Dunblane was 1996. I remember it vividly, but someone who was born in 1986 or after might well not, particularly.

a declaration that certain rights -- including the right to life -- are inalienable carries with it an implication that one has the right to defend those inalienable rights.

Yet my point remains: the best way to defend those inalienable rights is usually not at gunpoint. Not even when it is as direct as defending yourself against an assailant. As for example, the situation where a woman's husband is approaching her with intent to murder, but she isn't certain what he intends to do, and cannot bring herself to believe he really is now going to kill her. A handgun is worse than useless. Pepper spray is far more effective.

I had similar experiences in high school, with two different friends (separate occasions). One I recall describing to me in detail what he would do should he decide to carry out his plan -- down to the time, route, how he would aim and time his shots, and so forth. Fortunately, both reversed course for various reasons.

A few initial thoughts:

1. The issue of vicarious liability currently strikes me as problematic. If either of these individuals had been sent to psychiatrists and admitted their intents (which, of course, both were far too intelligent to do anyway), they would be voluntarily sending themselves to an institution, or to jail. I can't imagine why or how, in lieu of Tarasoff, they could have been convinced to do that.

2. I think that people underestimate the bizarre nature of social pressures that go on in high school, and even in college to some extent. As I move away from it, it strikes me as childish, and so I take it less seriously, but I sometimes recall, hazily, that at the time some of the brutality was simply mind-boggling. And it's not just that we, as adults, tend to dismiss it (and the fact that it might not seem objectively bad now doesn't mean that it's taken that way, which is what matters). A great deal of abuse and trauma happens in high school that never really escapes into the adult world, or if it does, is willfully ignored. Date rape in particular, by certain segments of the school, was one of -- if not the -- driving force behind the sentiments of my two friends. And the few adults who were aware of what I still feel was an endemic problem either dismissed it or actively covered it up.

On the other hand, having listened to the rantings of the VT killer, I'm more or less convinced that he was just completely nuts. He struck me as being of a different breed than the Columbine shooters. They acted much more along the lines of the students I remember, and it may be worth pointing out that that particular tragedy could have been much worse (bombs in the cafeteria).

I'm not sure what the upshot of all this is, except that I think we all misconstrue this problem if we talk about it in terms of gun control (pro- or not, it's not relevant), or violence in the media and so forth. There is much more going on in the social environment of young adults than it seems like we as a nation are willing to admit to or even look at. There really is.

There are few examples of massive social change that have occurred that did not involve at least the implicit threat of arms. Even our own revolution would not have occurred but for arms. And I think it is because there has to be some impetus for the establishment to change, and it is almost never because it is simply the right thing to do.

It depends. People who don't want to negotiate need to look at their best alternative to negotiated agreement (BATNA). If your best alternative is civil war, you'll probably try to reach an agreement.

But there could be other reasons that the best alternative is worse than trying for a negotiated settlement.

And in either case there might be no settlement possible. When the alternative is civil war then civil war is what you get. More patient alternatives are often better for everyone.

For black civil rights, the Black Panthers made gestures toward providing their own violence and they got nowhere with it. Literally nowhere unless you believe in Heaven. But a lot of the public believed it was right, and while governor Wallace could talk about standing in the schoolhouse door he wasn't willing to put his state troops up against the US military. That threat never got explicit. So southern racists backed down temporarily and waited for a republican administration to slowly revoke EEO and black voting rights etc. Big social changes in both directions, hardly any actual violence.

When a government has an army, then the threat of violence is always present in anything the government claims to enforce. But usually that's an entirely theoretical threat. And that's how I like it.

J Thomas- You continue your run of making outstanding comments.

Yet my point remains: the best way to defend those inalienable rights is usually not at gunpoint.

And yet, "usually" is not the same as "never," and thus you concede and confirm that you are incorrect in your assertions earlier in the thread. See, wasn't that easy?

And yet, "usually" is not the same as "never," and thus you concede and confirm that you are incorrect in your assertions earlier in the thread.

How so?

So far the only attempted justification for the Second Amendment as "useful" in civil rights terms is Jrudkis's claim that social change is best effected by the threat of armed revolt.... and I see I'm not the only person who disagrees with that.

I was hoping that a rigorous defender of the Second Amendment would actually come up with a positive reason why it's worthy as a civil right, but so far, no one has. (You tried to assert that because 1 woman in a hundred may succeed in using a handgun in self defense, it's worthy, as I recall - which required dismissing completely as worthy of the inalienable right to life the 99 other women who are killed because their murderer had a handgun.)

I'm sure I'm not the only person who's noticed how strongly similar Cho's actual statement is to Hilzoy's report of her friend's feelings. I was going to say "eerily" similar, but I think the word is really "diagnostically", don't you?

I would just like to thank Adam for pointing out something I completely support. Why does the 2nd Amendment argument hold such a strong place on this, when the real issue is what pushed this shooter, and most previous school shooters, over the edge? Because if you're trapped in that sphere of violence, eventually you'll find a way to act it out. The legality of guns is completely a side point. It may take longer to achieve their dreadful goals, and it may be more difficult, but they will still be driven to it. If guns were only available on the black market, the VA tech. shooter could likely still ave commited this atrocity. The Columbine shooters definately would have, as some of their weapons were against the law to own(ie sawed-off shotguns)!

The real problems are not gun access, but the brutality inherent in our schools, universities, and most social atmospheres, and the fact that mental ilness is so largely ignored.

This tragedy should be inciting an effort to find ways to prevent students from being pushed into the "sphere" of these types of violent mental ilnesses and it should raise awareness that our actions in social settings can come back to bite us in our collective butts.

IT SHOULD NOT BECOME AN EXCUSE TO SQUABBLE OVER A POLITICAL ISSUE THAT VERY POSSIBLY COULD NOT HAVE PREVENTED THIS MASSACRE!

I was hoping that a rigorous defender of the Second Amendment would actually come up with a positive reason why it's worthy as a civil right, but so far, no one has.

Because all of our Constitutional rights are equally worthy of defending. There! Simple.

(You tried to assert that because 1 woman in a hundred may succeed in using a handgun in self defense, it's worthy, as I recall

You recall incorrectly. No, actually, you're trying to take your words and put them in my mouth, which is rather dishonest.

Nothing: The real problems are not gun access, but the brutality inherent in our schools, universities, and most social atmospheres, and the fact that mental ilness is so largely ignored.

School in the UK (primary, secondary, etc: 5-19, depending where you live) can be fairly brutal. The fact that it's just generally accepted that bullying is inevitable is deeply wrong - we wouldn't accept that bullying was inevitable in any other environment. Kids commit suicide and sometimes murder. AFAIK, this kind of pressure and bullying eases off at least somewhat in tertiary education, though I could well be wrong about that: my evidence is all anecdotal.

But the last time we had an incident where a maniac burst into a crowded classroom and succeeded in killing almost everybody in it was in 1996. We have the same pressures - but the people who feel the pressure at least can't get guns and can't therefore stage a widespread massacre.

So, while I agree with Adam and with you about underlying causes, the easy access to guns is directly what makes this happen - Cho might have done something damaging to himself or others if he hadn't been able to get guns, but he would not have been able to kill as many people as he did.

Phil: Because all of our Constitutional rights are equally worthy of defending. There! Simple.

And perfectly tautologous. You can't think of any worthy reason, then, aside from the tautologous "it's in the Bill of Rights, it's worth defending because everything in the Bill of Rights is worth defending"?

You recall incorrectly. No, actually, you're trying to take your words and put them in my mouth, which is rather dishonest.

Also, icky. *wipes fingers* Sorry. Let's start again. You asserted that you weren't going to argue with a woman who wanted a handgun for self-defense, or something like that. I linked you to a website which pointed out that a woman is about a hundred times more likely to be murdered with a handgun than she is to be able to use it in self-defense. You did an ignore-the-data-repeat-the-stupid-argument, so I summarized the data for you in that thread. At that point you got mad and declared you were never going to speak to me again. (Feel free.)

There's a long post here by an ex-Marine on the folly of this Reynoldsian theory of yours. I won't summarize it: I don't think I could do it justice. You'll just have to read it.

Jes- I don't think your statistics quite prove what you want them to. I'm sure women are 100 times as likely to be killed with a handgun as to kill someone else protecting their own lives, but that doesn't mean that getting rid of handguns will save 100 women's lives for every one that it kills. Getting rid of handguns is much more problematic here in the US as well, for one thing we really don't need another thriving blackmarket, as Jim Henley pointed out today.

I also don't think its a good idea to try to get rid of bullying. It doesn't serve any purpose. Bullying is human nature, you'd have more luck trying to teach people to do without breathing. Focus your attention on helping kids stand up to bullies, and help protect them from being punished for fighting back.

Frank, the murder rate in the US is skyhigher than murder rates in similiarly-developed countries, and something like 4/5ths of murders involve guns. It might be difficult-to-impossible to get rid of guns in the US, but there's no doubt that it would cut down on the murder rate.

If "bullying is human nature" how come most kids don't bully, and bullying is not endemic through all human institutions? Blaming the victim - telling a person being bullied that it's their fault for being bullied and they need to change - is obscenely the wrong thing to do, and it's shattering to see that people still casually suggest it.

something like 4/5ths of murders involve guns

To the extent that 60-65% is "something like" 80%, sure. "More than half" would probably have been sufficient language here.

On the bullying issue: Having read some of the news coverage of the last few days, it would appear that Cho was severely bullied and made fun of in school, which makes me very sad and angry. I like to hope that those doing the bullying -- particularly the ones quoted as laughing at his voice and telling him in class to "go back to China" -- were severely punished.

On the other hand, it also appears that Cho internalized a widespread narrative concerning Columbine, which is that the perpetrators were beleaguered outcasts striking back at their tormentors in one final blaze of glory. That narrative is wrong -- Eric Harris was a psycopath and Dylan Klebold an easily manipulated creep, and both were the kind of child of priviliege that Cho appears to have railed against in his videos. This illustrates the danger of letting a narrative like that become established so quickly and easily.

Jes- Not only is it not true that most kids don't bully, its not even true that most adults don't bully. Casual sadism against the helpless is widespread in all places and times, and I don't see how any inteligent adult could fail to see that.

I didn't say anyone needed to change, but I find it odd that you think that Cho didn't. Why do you think he was perfect as he was?

Frank: Not only is it not true that most kids don't bully, its not even true that most adults don't bully. Casual sadism against the helpless is widespread in all places and times, and I don't see how any inteligent adult could fail to see that.

I'm sorry that this has been your experience: it has not been mine. My experience has been that most people do not bully, and that most people are not guilty of casual sadism against the helpless. And it is certainly not true that this is widespread in "all places and times": there are cultures which have placed a high value on cruelty, and cultures which have not.

I didn't say anyone needed to change, but I find it odd that you think that Cho didn't. Why do you think he was perfect as he was?

I think you must be responding to someone else's comment in another thread, or possibly even another blog: a simple cut-and-paste mistake that anyone could make.

Frank:

I also don't think its a good idea to try to get rid of bullying. It doesn't serve any purpose. Bullying is human nature, you'd have more luck trying to teach people to do without breathing

Do you have any actual experience with anti-bullying programs? As someone with children in a school system with a very serious anti-bullying program (not at all uncommon in today's US schools), my observation is that they *do* make a difference.

The most important aspect of a successful anti-bullying program, it turns out, is *not* teaching bullies not to do it, nor teaching the bullied to fight back: it's teaching the bystanders not to just stand by or treat it as inevitable.

So in other words: your attitude supports bullying.

I supervised a bunch of 5th grade boys on a school camp out a few years ago, and two of the boys were very easy targets. One cried daily, was weak, and had anger management problems. The other was mentally challenged, and both were on behavior modification drugs. I thought for sure that I was going to have to step in and protect them both several times.

Our school had a daily indoctrination program regarding citizenship and bullying that the kids recited like the pledge of allegiance, and it was the dumbest thing I ever saw. The school itself was one of the poorer in the district with a lot of immigrants, and some of the kids seemed to be raising themselves, even at that age.

I was very surprised to see that it seemed to work. The other boys did not bully, were concerned for the other's welfare, and so far as I could tell never struck out at the outlier kids. It could be that my group was selected because they would not bully those two, but even so, any group of boys with a weak link would normally get a lot of shots in, especially when they impeded the performance of the group as a whole.

So I think anti-bullying efforts can be effective.

I still think that will change when they get to Jr. high and high school, but at least at the most vulnerable ages, anti bullying can be effective.

The only draw back I see is that it does not prepare the average kid to deal with a bully, and so when there is one there, he is not confronted and put down. I still think that a good smack on the nose from a peer is a good behavior modifier for a bully, and that does not seem to happen much anymore. But as a trade off, I would prefer my kids go to the anti-bullying school, and let the parents of the bully try and fix him, not my kids.

I do agree though that bullying continues through life, not just for kids. It just takes on a more subtle manner. And it appears to me that it is more prevalent among women than men (particularly when it comes to 'fitting in'), because women tend to remain in tighter groups of friends, whereas men typically have a wider circle of friends that are not as close, so bullying is not as effective. Certainly when it comes to office politics, it appears to be more prevalent that way.

Thank you, thank you, for attempting to get your friend the help he needed, and attempting to intervene. I live in a small town, and just a week ago I had to call for intervention on my own behalf.

Your friend accepted the psychiatric help because he saw he needed the help, but probably didn't know how to go about getting it on his own. Myself, I called my family doctor, got nothing, called our local hospital, was referred to another hospital, was transferred to their inpatient ward (who answers the crisis line after hours), and was given a therapist to talk to. They all asked the same question: "Are you going to kill yourself before Monday?"

The answer: "How am I supposed to know?"

I finally got an appointment with my doctor (it's harder to ignore a patient when they're in your office and look like they're about to cause a disturbance), and was referred to a psychiatrist and put on Zoloft.

My psychiatrist is disorganized and seems to be on something, but HE ACTUALLY CARES and he listened to me.

It's a shame that it's so hard to get the care you need in this country. There's been mental health awareness all around, but very little enlightenment about the people who are suffering, and the hoops they often have to jump through to get help, even at a very critical point.

Hilz, you're a damn good person for looking out for your friend. I would encourage everyone to do the same.

Dr. Science- I see your point and actually the program as described by Jrudkis sounds appealing. I still think that kicking the bully's rear is the best and most just solution though, and I worry since the system they had in place made things worse when I was in school. When victims are more likely to get into trouble than bullies you have a problem that I'm still bitter about.

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