TCS Daily

Mourning in America

By Michael Rosen - April 19, 2007 12:00 AM

One might have thought, in the wake of the worst shooting incident in American history, that we would have paused for sober reflection and sincere mourning. But no sooner had the smoke cleared from Virginia Tech's Norris Hall than the furious and vitriolic debate got underway.

We might have occupied ourselves by listening quietly to the stories of the survivors, admiring the heroics of ordinary folks (including a 75-year old Israeli professor and Holocaust survivor who threw himself in front of the gunman), waiting for the complete story to unfold, and comforting the families of the fallen.

Instead, the commentariat immediately got to work dissecting the impact the tragedy will have on gun control, homeland security, sexism, and even the War in Iraq.

Accelerated by the 24-hour news cycle and a blogosphere on steroids, gun control advocates launched an immediate offensive:

* At the White House briefing just hours after the shooting, press secretary Dana Perino was asked "Does there need to be some more restrictions? Does there need to be gun control in this country?" (Is there none now?)

* The New Republic's Michael Crowley lamented how long it's been "since there was a real national conversation about guns."

* Meanwhile, on the Huffington Post, one liberal blogger called for stricter federal gun control laws and blamed the NRA for having "too much campaign cash and lobbyists on the payroll to allow for any change in the nation's gun laws." The author shrugged off "right-wing" suggestions that television violence contributes to the problem by countering that "it is also fair to place some of the blame on our political leaders who called for us to invade and occupy Iraq." Well, then.

* Echoing the HuffPo, John Nichols of The Nation lambasted the NRA for "being beyond shame -- or education -- when it comes to peddling its spin on days when it would be better to simply remain silent" and for doing "anything to avoid taking a piece out of the profits of the corporations that manufacture and sell deadly weapons." (Why not just come out and blame Wayne LaPierre himself for pulling the trigger?) Nichols was effectively preempting nonexistent NRA preemptions of unfounded demands for tighter guns laws—a veritable theater of the absurd.

Nichols then commended to his readers Michael Moore's 2002 movie "Bowling for Columbine" for its "nuanced" exploration of "the role that America's mad foreign policies and obscene expenditures on weapons of mass destruction might play in fostering a culture of violence."

Other political correctness doyennes got into the mix, too. In a blog post entitled "The Policy Implications," the American Prospect's Garance Franke-Ruta pointed the finger at sexist campus police who "failed to warn the campus there was a killer on the loose because they failed to understand that men who kill their [domestic] partners are also threats to society."

It's truly breathtaking how rapidly activists on the Left pounced on the tragedy while the bodies were still warm - and while details of the shooting remained shrouded in mystery.

It turns out that the mass-murderer was a South Korean student who carried a green card. How did he obtain the guns he used to carry out his diabolical attack? Legally or illegally? (Credit Crowley for observing that "whether the [gun control] debate re-emerges likely depends on what we learn about how the gunman acquired his weapon(s), and if he did so legally.") What kinds of guns did he use? Handguns? Assault rifles? Semi-automatics? Until we can answer these questions, and many others, there's no cause for pontificating.

And how exactly did our invasion of Iraq or the failure of Virginia Tech police to complete sensitivity training contribute to the massacre? Perhaps "24" is to blame?

Also unsettling was the knee-jerk reaction of others who took the opportunity to advocate for wider dissemination of concealed-carry permits.

In a post on National Review Online entitled "Right On Cue, Virginia Tech Shootings Spur Calls for Gun Control, Even Though Gun Control Ensured The Victims Couldn't Defend Themselves," Jim Geraghty cited a recent failed attempt in the Virginia legislature to prohibit universities from banning guns on campus. The article specifically described Virginia Tech's policy of requiring all students and employees to check their guns into a secure storage compartment before entering campus.

But Geraghty took this chilling story a step further, suggesting that "[i]f the student referred to in that January 2006 article had been near the shooter on campus today, and was permitted to carry his or her handgun, this killer might have been stopped before he took 31 innocent lives."

Geraghty's heroic fantasy beggars the imagination. Yes, there have been celebrated instances in which concealed weapons-carrying citizens have averted tragedy. But for the most part, this is the stuff of movies. Until we learn more about the murderous events on campus, Geraghty's speculation is just that.

And while the issue of expanding concealed-carry permits merits its own honest debate, the likelihood that armed civilians could have prevented the Blacksburg bloodbath seems remote.

Ultimately, the tragedy is a simple reminder of how far beyond our control such events truly are. There's really nothing stopping lunatics with a death-wish from inflicting mass-mayhem, whether they're jilted lovers or jihadists. Our shopping malls, movie theaters, and sports stadiums are warmly inviting soft targets for terror attacks, and it's nothing less than a miracle that we have eluded much greater calamities thus far.

So when tragedy strikes, we can take comfort only in knowing that God grieves along with us for the loss of His innocent creatures. In the immortal words of Ecclesiastes, "to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven." There will be time to examine the important policy ramifications of this horrific tragedy. But now is the time to mourn.

Michael M. Rosen, TCS Daily's intellectual property columnist, is an attorney in San Diego.


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