Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Only Solution?

Boise State University is unveiling a new mass notification system designed to alert students and staff in the event of an emergency on campus. Prompted by the recent spate of murder sprees on university campuses, the system would enable instantaneous, mass notification of any emergency via voice mail, email or text message. Because the system requires access to private cell phone information, students must opt in to participate.

There is certainly reason for Boise State to be concerned about homicidal spree attacks: just this year alone, there have been no less than ten throughout the country. An instant warning system would help keep innocent people from blundering into a deadly situation. The reality is that it could take some time for people to realize the danger: security video from the courthouse shooting in Moscow in May of 2007, for example, showed someone casually wandering in and out of the lobby of the 911 center, in between shots, apparently unaware that the center was under attack.

But should we just stop with a warning system? The mind turns to a rundown of notorious murder sprees in recent U.S. history:

July 27, 2008, Knoxville, Tennessee: shooter, who claimed to be acting on an imperative to kill liberals, who were ruining the country, murdered two and wounded seven at a Unitarian Universalist church before being tackled and arrested.
July 4, 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: anonymous shooter murdered four at a street party.

March 3, 2008, West Palm Beach, Florida: shooter murdered one and wounded three at a Wendy's restaurant before turning the gun on himself.

February 14, 2008, DeKalb, Illinois: shooter with a history of mental illness murdered five and wounded 18 at Northern Illinois University before turning the gun on himself.

February 7, 2008, Kirkwood, Missouri: shooter, a construction company owner who believed he had been done out of construction work and who received $20,000.00 in citations for municipal code violations, murdered five and wounded two at a city council meeting before being shot to death by police.

December 9, 2007, Colorado Springs, Colorado: A gunman opened fire at the New Life Church, killing four and injuring two. A female security guard carrying a concealed weapon ended the attack by shooting the gunman. The shooter appeared to be the same who had murdered two people at a missionary training center in Arvada, Colorado earlier the same day.

December 5, 2007, Omaha, Nebraska: A 19-year-old hoping to become famous opened fire at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska, murdering eight before turning the gun on himself.

May 19-20, 2007, Moscow, Idaho: shooter with a history of mental problems and domestic violence murdered his wife, then stationed himself across the street from the Latah County Courthouse and fired dozens of shots at the 911 dispatch center. Two officers and an armed civilian were wounded in the attack; one of the officers died of his wounds. The shooter then went to a Presbyterian church where he murdered the sexton, then dispatched himself.

April 16, 2007, Blacksburg, Virginia: the Virginia Tech massacre, the deadliest in American history. The shooter, a student with a history of mental illness, murdered 32 and wounding 23 before turning the gun on himself.

March 25, 2006, Seattle Washington: the Capitol Hill massacre. The shooter, who apparently objected to the rave lifestyle, murdered six and wounded two at a rave party, then turned the gun on himself while being confronted by police.

March 12, 2005, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: shooter, suffering from depression and apparently upset over a sermon two weeks earlier, murdered seven and wounded four members of the Living Church of God at the Sheraton Hotel before turning the gun on himself.

September 15, 1999, Fort Worth, Texas: shooter murdered seven and wounded another seven at a See You at the Pole prayer rally, then committed suicide the next day.

April 20, 1999, Jefferson County, Colorado: the Columbine massacre. Two juvenile shooters murdered 12 and wounded 23 at Columbine High School before turning the guns on themselves. Various explanations for the crimes were advanced, from depression to school cliques to bullying.

October 16, 1991, Killeen, Texas: the Luby's massacre, the worst shooting spree in American history until the Virginia Tech massacre. The shooter drove his car through the front window of the restaurant, shouted, "This is what Bell County has done to me!", and murdered 23 and wounded 20 before being wounded by police and then turning the gun on himself. One woman, whose parents were murdered, had a handgun, but had left it in her car in order to comply with state law.

December 7, 1993, Garden City, New York: the Long Island rail road massacre. The shooter, allegedly suffering from black rage, murdered six and wounded 19 before being tackled by three passengers while he paused to reload his gun.

July 18, 1984, San Diego, California: the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre. The shooter, a man with a history of violence who had told his wife he was going out to "hunt humans," murdered 22 and wounded 20 before being taken out by a SWAT team sniper.

August 20, 1982, Miami, Florida: shooter, upset over a repair bill, entered a machine and welding shop and murdered eight employees. He was pursued by two witnesses who ran him over and killed him when he took aim at their car.

July 12, 1976, Fullerton, California: The Cal State Fullerton massacre. The shooter, a custodian whose wife had just filed for divorce, and who suspected that his wife was appearing in porn films, murdered seven and wounded two at the university library, then surrendered to police.

August 1, 1966, Austin, Texas: the University of Texas clock tower massacre. The shooter -- a Marine Corps veteran who was afterward found to have been suffering from a deadly brain tumor -- stabbed his mother and wife to death as they slept, then climbed the University of Texas clock tower with a pair of rifles and other firearms and began shooting people at random. Police below returned fire, as did armed civilians, whom one officer later credited with aiding police by making it difficult for the shooter to take careful aim. The shooter murdered 14 and wounded 31 before being shot to death by police.

Though this is by no means an exhaustive list of murder sprees from 1966 to the present, one notices two things. First, except for the incident in Moscow, and possibly the incident in Kirkwood, Missouri, most of these attacks occurred in places where the shooter could reasonably expect to encounter no armed resistance (in the case of the University of Texas massacre, where the shooter actually met with armed resistance, this may or may not have been a factor, inasmuch as the shooter seems to have been driven by the cancer in his brain). After decades of gun control legislation, many law-abiding people are unarmed in public these days; but even gun owners, motivated by laws and perhaps by social pressures, are unlikely to pack in churches, at prayer services, in restaurants -- and especially school campuses, where zero tolerance policies bordering on insane frequently prevail. However twisted and deranged the shooters may be, they frequently (though by no means always) seem to have the presence of mind to choose situations and places where their rampages will not be stopped too soon.

Second, in most of these cases, it took either the shooter's death, whether at his own hands or at the hands of the police or an armed civilian, or some other physical force, to end the attack. This raises some questions:

-- When a crowd of people is faced with an armed lunatic, deranged either by mental or organic illness or by evil dispositions, and determined to take out as many people as he can, could guns in the hands of at least some of those people possibly make matters any worse?

-- Who would be in a better position to take out a shooter: a police sniper who has to wait for a clear shot through a door or window, which the shooter may have enough sense to avoid; or an armed civilian in the same building as the shooter? Granted, an attack on the shooter by one of his potential victims would be extremely risky; but is it more risky than having nothing to fight back with?

-- Given the difficulties and limitations the police face at the scene of a horrific, ongoing crime like a spree killing, is it reasonable and realistic to expect them to function as our personal bodyguards?

-- How many lives would be saved if more potential victims of spree killers were in a position to put an end to their predations before their force was spent?

-- Back before we were flooded with gun control laws, when many high schools had rifle clubs (some still do), Americans were sending private firearms to Britain for home defense, and being armed was more common and accepted than it is today, were spree killings the national plague they have now become?

A mass warning system on campus is a good idea -- provided people have the sense not to make a mockery of it by abusing it -- if only because it will reduce the odds of innocent people walking blindly into peril and either getting themselves killed or spoiling a counter-offensive. But it still seems to me that even mass communication is not a panacaea; that in addition, we ought also to overcome our new-found societal paranoia over an armed populace.

Because in the end -- pending the moral regeneration of American society -- the best cure for an armed spree-killer is a gun in the hands of a law-abiding citizen.


  1. We need more gun laws, silly! That'll save lives. Guns kill people by themselves; didn't you know that?


    An armed society is a polite society, I always say.

  2. It's somewhat amusing to see right wingers try to use these shootings to argue that somehow there should be MORE free access to guns in this country. Unfortunately this asinine argument blurs things and ultimately makes it more difficult for this society to deal with this problem in an intelligent way.

    Sure, give everyone a gun. If everyone had a gun, then no one would ever use a gun and we'd all be safe! Why not give everyone a pocket nuke so the concept of mutually assured destruction can be tested.

    I also find it hillarious that the "arm everyone" argument is posited on a Catholic blog. Somehow, I think Jesus would be against everyone being potentially lethal towards each other. Maybe Sean Hannity has taken over and Jesus has been deposed. Hannity seems much more in touch with the modern conservative Catholic than liberal Jesus could ever be.

    It would be entirely too logical to look at other nations for a solution. Countries such as Canada and Great Britain, which limit gun possession and manufacturing very rarely have these massacares. Sadly, in this country the gun manufacturers have used the Second Amendment to make a killing (both figuratively and literally) by using saps to argue that it's unconstitutional to in any way limit firearms production. This nation's obsession with firearms shows me that we have a very long way to go.

  3. Spitfire, my whip weapon-wielding, hell-threatening Jesus smacks your liberal wuss-jesus on the snout.

  4. Where do I begin?

    So, Spitfire, are you saying that guns are NEVER used in self-defense? And that they NEVER defuse situations without a shot being fired?

    And I guess you won't care to hear this from John R. Lott:

    A recent study by the Institute of Economic Analysis in Britain on the U.K.'s total handgun ban beginning in 1997 concluded the prohibition had been counterproductive.

    "The ban's ineffectiveness was such that by the year 2000 violent crime had increased so much that England had the developed world's highest rate of violent crime, far surpassing even the U.S.A."

    If someone breaks into my house wanting to do harm to my wife or me, what am I going to rely on: the police, who MAY get there in 15-30 minutes; or my Smith and Wesson, which I may not even have to fire?

    Finally, upon what do you base your assessment of Jesus as a pacifist? Kindly reconcile that with Mt. 10:34-36. And His triumph of the Cross was the ultimate act of violence, putting sin and death to death.

    I don't want to live in your world, Spitfire, but here in gun-hating Maryland, I already do.

  5. In your list of shooters, you forgot to mention the Feb 12, 2007 Trolley Square shooting in Salt Lake City, which left 5 dead and 4 wounded, but would have resulted in many, many more deaths were it not for the off duty police officer who was packing.

    No Spitfire, the recommendation was not that everyone pack a gun. But if a number of rational and clear thinking people follow the lead of what US Senator Diane Feinstein does (carries a concealed weapon) instead of what she says (promotes repressive gun control laws), well, things might work out a little better. I'm not afraid of law abiding citizens who are gun owners; but I think that there is a greater threat to us all from Diane Feinstein's mouth than from her gun.