Thursday, June 3, 2010

One more tragedy too many

What a truly horrendous day it's been. I'm usually able to retain a sense of distance when I hear about tragedies on the news, but as with Dunblane fourteen years ago, this sort of incident seems different somehow. It brings home once again the devastating capacity of a gun to snuff out multiple lives in a matter of minutes or seconds, in a way that few other weapons can match. Not for the first time, the oft-heard line of defence that 'guns don't kill people, people kill people' rings sickeningly hollow tonight. Derrick Bird simply would not have succeeded in killing as many people with a lower grade of weapon, no matter how murderous his intent. As a poster on a Dunfermline Athletic forum rather pointedly put it -

"Not to persecute anyone, but I have never heard of any spree-killings carried out with anything other than a gun or guns. I'd love to hear about any pool cue massacres that went unreported."

Of course it remains to be seen how Bird obtained his weapons, but there does seem to be one clear pattern in the limited number of these massacres we've seen in the UK - they tend to be carried out by 'ordinary' people, in other words not the sort who would be likely to have easy access to illegal stockpiles of guns. The idea that gun control laws have no impact at all on the likelihood of these incidents occurring is therefore very difficult to sustain. It's far too early to judge whether a further tightening of the law would have made a difference in this case, but the notion that more legal gun ownership would have helped matters I just find utterly incomprehensible. It may seem bizarre to us in the UK that anyone would advance such an argument, but as I discovered last year, it's a frighteningly common attitude beyond these shores.

21 comments:

  1. Horrendous is right, and such a lovely part of the world.

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  2. "I have never heard of any spree-killings carried out with anything other than a gun or guns."

    No?

    "In the latest of a series of attacks that have raised concerns over the stability of Chinese society, Zhou Yezhong killed his wife and child, four neighbours and a migrant worker during the attack on Saturday evening before being arrested by police two hours later.

    No motive has yet been given for the killings in the southeastern province of Jiangxi which come after five stabbing attacks in as many weeks against schoolchildren that have deeply unnerved parents in China."
    - UK Telegraph, 9 May, 2010

    Derrick Bird's shooting spree lasted three and a half hours, apparently. I was ended, as these things generally are, by a man with a gun - in this case, Mr. Bird himself, once he'd decided he was finished shooting defenseless victims. He was not shot by an armed police officer - he wasn't even confronted by a disarmed police officer. His lifeless body was found some time after he'd killed himself.

    Would more legal gun ownership have helped matters? Not as it stands in England now. You're still prohibited from defending yourselves with firearms, or knives, or pepper spray, or sharp pointy objects - pretty much anything more than foul language is prohibited to you.

    And you like it that way, apparently. It's how you've been trained.

    Bird was a licensed gun owner. I'm sure the "next step" to make you all "safer" will be to make acquiring and keeping a license the next best thing to impossible.

    And when gun crime and injury in the UK continues to increase? What will your response be then?

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  3. Ed "What the" HeckmanJune 3, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    "Derrick Bird simply would not have succeeded in killing as many people... if someone had been able to shoot back."

    There, fixed it for you.

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  4. There was a killing here in the US just yesterday with what's being reported as a "Samurai sword." Two other people were stabbed; one so badly he may lose his hand.

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  5. I thought you'd "finished" with me, Kevin? I'm in a rush, so I'll have to save my response for later, but Rick C - it's just as well that attacker wasn't carrying a gun, otherwise in all likelihood there would have been three fatalities rather than one.

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  6. Your blog ate my comment (error 503) so I'll try again. Apologies if there is a double-post.

    "Derrick Bird simply would not have succeeded in killing as many people with a lower grade of weapon, no matter how murderous his intent."

    This is what we were told about Hamilton after Dunblane, and I'm sure that it is what people were told after Hungerford (but I was way too young to care at that time). When will you people realise that gun control is the problem, not the solution?

    All that needed to happen to stop Bird's spree dead in its tracks was for one individual to fire back and kill or disable him. But no-one is armed. That possibility has been effectively removed by gun control. The police were unable to respond effectively (of course, because they are a small, rural police force) and the spree only ended when Bird ended it.

    Even in the US, where guns are more readily available, the majority of successful spree killings happen in "gun-free" zones such as schools, or in one case (somewhat perversely) a military base. These are areas where the killer is guaranteed free reign until the police turn up.

    It's all very well for those of you up in Scotland to imagine that gun crime is solved by gun control, but for those of us down here in South London where gun crime is a regular occurrence and gang members have easy access to automatic weapons despite gun control it's a different matter.

    Gun control only disarms us and lets criminals do whatever the hell they want.

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  7. All that needed to happen to stop Bird's spree dead in its tracks was for one individual to fire back and kill or disable him.

    I'd say the main problem with that sentence is the word 'all'. An absolutely extraordinary level of training would be required to be sure of staying cool enough to deal with Bird in the stress of that totally unanticipated situation. The likelihood is that people trying to end the situation with guns would just have put themselves in more danger, and would also have been a danger to others.

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  8. "I'd say the main problem with that sentence is the word 'all'. An absolutely extraordinary level of training would be required to be sure of staying cool enough to deal with Bird in the stress of that totally unanticipated situation. The likelihood is that people trying to end the situation with guns would just have put themselves in more danger, and would also have been a danger to others."

    How could it have be a danger to others? THERE ALREADY IS A MAN SHOOTING AT PEOPLE. The question is how to stop it. And nobody needs an "absolute level of training to deal with it." Its not easy mind you, but you don't need a high level of training. Just enough to at least be able to aim the gun. Most of the time the shooter stops when confronted by someone with a gun (either by surrendering or killing themselves.

    This happens ALL the time. More than you realize actually. Banning more guns won't stop this. Allowing more guns WILL.

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  9. "This happens ALL the time. More than you realize actually."

    ALL the time? Are you talking about in the USA? I can assure you these incidents are much rarer in the UK. Now, I wonder if there's some difference between the two countries that could possibly explain such a disparity?

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  10. Ed "What the" HeckmanJune 3, 2010 at 8:41 PM

    "I can assure you these incidents are much rarer in the UK. "

    Well, gee. I wonder why…

    Could have something to do with law abiding people being disarmed?

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  11. I'm glad you've finally seen the light, Ed. It certainly ought to be a no-brainer that the fewer guns there are around, the smaller the likelihood of someone going on the rampage like this.

    OK, as promised, a response to Kevin. I have to hand it to you - your doomsday database is so impressive you were able to track down one extreme example of multiple people being killed in a short period of time with a knife. Even at that, you weren't able to come up with something on the scale of the Cumbrian incident, so I think we can safely infer that the facts do indeed chime with what common sense tells us - it is simply much, much harder for a single deranged individual to kill multiple individuals if he is armed with a lower-grade weapon than a gun.

    More broadly, I'm afraid this incident causes considerable problems for some of your pet theories. Was this attack carried out with the types of weapons that were banned after Dunblane or Hungerford? Nope. So no indication there that the bans, so far as they went, have not been effective. Was the attack carried out with some other illegal weapon? Nope again. Jaw-droppingly, and as you've noticed yourself, it's transpired since I wrote my post that this was yet another instance of a 'law-abiding gun-owner' turning his weapon on further citizens. So much for your claim that it's only the illegal weapons that are the problem, with misdeeds by legal owners a peripheral issue. Hungerford, Dunblane, Cumbria - all legally-owned weapons.

    As for your assumption that there will be further legislation, my guess is you're wrong - I've written a new post on that very topic.

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  12. In recent incidents (of far lower body-count except for the perp) in the US, such a rampage wouldn't have endured 3-1/2 hours or with such effects because he would have been stopped by a citizen with a gun.
    It seems like the only people in Britain now who are willing to stand up for what they believe in are the predators. Everybody else is huddling and paying the Danegelt. My Grandfather wouldn't recognize his own country anymore - it's all Euro-weenie passivism.

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  13. Wow, Americans never cease to amaze me with their stupidity. Pity there's not a way to ban comments coming from certain countries.

    There is one simple, undeniable fact which Americans need to realise, and I'll put it in bold letters for emphasis: you have more gun massacres than anywhere else.

    If lax gun controls are the answer to fight gun crime then, err, why does America still have gun crime? Aren't solutions supposed to solve problems?

    Ed "What the" Heckman said...

    "I can assure you these incidents are much rarer in the UK. "

    Well, gee. I wonder why…

    Could have something to do with law abiding people being disarmed?


    Err... your point is what exactly? These incidents are rarer because people don't have guns. Err... thanks for confirming that?

    Oh wait, you're trying to suggest that it's a bad thing that "law-abiding citizens" are disarmed. Hmmm. Derrick Bird was what you might call a law-abiding citizen" until he went nuts. I quote from the BBC website: "But no-one has yet spoken of a man who showed any sign of being capable of mass murder, and police have said he had no history of mental illness"

    The term "law-abiding citizen" is meaningless, because everyone has triggers that can be set off somehow, thus turning them into "non-law-abiding citizens". This wasn't some psycho nutcase who got hold of a gun; this was, by all accounts, a generally nice guy who, for some reason, completely lost it.

    If he'd used a knife or something, he could have been disarmed by people with no weapons - anyone with a small amount of martial arts training would stand a good chance. How about this: rather than letting everyone have a gun, why not get everyone trained in self-defence techniques? Then, even if someone does go on a killing spree, they are unlikely to kill so many, and they are more likely to be brought down alive, and thus brought to justice properly, and we might even learn something about why they went nuts in the first place.

    I'm guessing that wouldn't go down well in somewhere as barbaric as America.

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  14. Ed "What the" HeckmanJune 4, 2010 at 5:19 AM

    You misunderstand me. Matt was pointing out that when someone chooses to go on a killing spree (and laws against such sprees do not prevent them) and finds themselves faced by an opponent with a gun, they tend to stop.

    My point is that the stops don't happen in the UK because there's no one with a gun to do the stopping. Such stops do happen here.

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  15. Well, I was only mischievously pretending to misunderstand you, Ed, but the point is bogus anyway. As Anon has underlined, even if it was true that gunmen are routinely stopped in their tracks in the USA and prevented from carrying out this sort of multiple killing, Matt has unwittingly given the game away that this (apparently) happens "ALL the time". In contrast, this is only the third incident on this scale in the UK in the last twenty-five years. No wonder people are far more likely to be shot in the US, and I don't think it's too bold a suggestion that the mind-boggling abundance of firearms in your society is the principal reason for that.

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  16. Hi James,

    It would never have occurred to me that such a silly argument as "If more people were armed somebody could have shot Derrick Bird before he killed so many." could be applied against gun control legislation.

    Mind you, this is Britain and if somebody had perchance shot Bird dead in mid-rampage, they themselves would have been up in court for murder and in all probability been found guilty on a technicality and sentenced to life.

    And quite right too. Nobody has the right to shoot anybody else unless they are a properly sanctioned and trained police officer and even then we have seen some tragic mistakes.

    Regards,

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  17. It is quite clear that guns don't kill people. *Gun fetish wierdos kill people.* The obvious answer is to ban people who like guns a little too much from owning them. To actively want to own a gun should automatically disbar you from ever having one.

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  18. Ed "What the" HeckmanJune 4, 2010 at 4:06 PM

    "I was only mischievously pretending to misunderstand you, Ed"

    It's pretty obvious to me that you're deliberately "misunderstaning" far more than just my post. When you ignore everything you don't like (such as the total violence rate in Britain vs. the U.S., or the difference between shooting someone in self defense vs. assault) it is not possible to reach a valid conclusion.

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  19. Ed, I presume after the exchanges we had here last year you'd say the killing of the innocent, unarmed Scottish businessman in Texas in 1994 was "self-defence"? Evidently that's a rather broad category under the American usage.

    As for your point about the wider rate of crime, given the fact that a) I replied to that point endlessly last year, and b) I've just done so again at Kevin's blog, I'm not sure the 'ignoring' charge is really going to stick. For convenience, here's what I just wrote -

    Britt - leaving aside your delightful personal observations about me (as ever I'll take it as a compliment), we went over all this area of the broader crime rate last year. Basically for all his bluster that he is literally able to prove such things beyond all doubt, Kevin didn't even come close to establishing a causal link between the rate of other crimes in Britain and our tight gun laws - and that's hardly surprising, given that it's such a contrived proposition. Incidentally, you clearly didn't bother to check up on some of your assumptions - the rate of rape in the US is considerably higher than in the UK. But no wonder everyone feels the need to change the subject from the fact that gun crime is so much higher in the US than the UK.

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  20. Ed "What the" HeckmanJune 4, 2010 at 4:48 PM

    You're bringing that up again? Talk about a perfect example of you ignoring everything you don't like!!!!

    Replying is NOT the same thing as ignoring _E_V_I_D_E_N_C_E_, which is what you do. Just because you assert something does not make it true. And when you assert something which is contrary to the _E_V_I_D_E_N_C_E_, you just look like a fool.

    Since you posted your comment from TSM, it seems appropriate to post my replies:

    "Kevin didn't even come close to establishing a causal link between the rate of other crimes in Britain and our tight gun laws"

    Actually, he did. You just deliberately "misunderstood" it. A refusal to accept an argument does not make an argument invalid. Philosopher Antony Flew put it this way:

    "The attempt to show that there is no philosophical knowledge by simply urging that there is always someone who can be relied on to remain unconvinced is a common fallacy made even by a distinguished philosopher like Bertrand Russell. I called it the But-there-is-always-someone-who-will-never-agree Diversion. Then there is the charge that in philosophy it is never possible to prove to someone that you are right and he or she is wrong. But the missing piece in this argument is the distinction between producing a proof and persuading a person. A person can be persuaded by an abominable argument and remain unconvinced by one that ought to be accepted."

    "Because I said so" is always a lousy argument.

    "You'll find that simply asserting you've proved something and then sitting back to admire your handiwork is regarded as insufficient by most philosophers as well."

    I agree. So why are you using this tactic?

    A valid argument consists of as much evidence as possible (both pro and con) plus a valid logic argument based on that evidence. Kevin has repeatedly posted such arguments. You have not.

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  21. Ed, you've already seen my responses to those points on Kevin's blog, so I won't bother repeating myself. However, my response to the point you made later in the afternoon is in a new post here.

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