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April 18, 2007

A Data Point of One?

I very, very much agree with Ross on this:

I'm extremely skeptical, though, that there's actually anything significant to learn about gun policy from yesterday's violence: Extreme, unpredictable events like this one seem like precisely the kind of thing that shouldn't dictate lawmaking decisions (though of course they inevitably do). If there's a case for gun control, it's in the daily run of shooting deaths that don't make the front page; if there's a case against gun control, it's in the daily run of crimes deterred by an armed citizenry (and in more abstract questions of personal liberty), not in the faint chance that a kid with a conceal-and-carry permit might have taken the Virginia killer down.

When I read about the character being created out of Cho -- a morose, depressed, hateful, anti-social, quiet, loner -- all I can think is how common such characteristics are. There were kids who fit the bill in my high school, in my neighborhood, in my colleges. There must be thousands, possibly millions, of kids who are seen, at least by some, as fitting this description.

Which is why we have to remember that Cho is the only person who's ever done a spree killing of this size in America. Ever. The data shows that Cho was a danger to society, but the data also shows, overwhelmingly, that most kids who seem like Cho aren't. This was an awful event, but for now, I think it's better treated as an anomaly rather than a precursor or part of a pattern.

April 18, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Thank you. This logical perspective is a welcome relief from the usual reflexive exploitation of tragedy to push for more gun control.

Posted by: FoolsMate | Apr 18, 2007 2:23:33 PM

I think Cho was already demonstrating behavior way past the "Anti-social loner" phase. Apparently his classmates in Creative Writing were terrified of him, and more than one teacher had reported her fears to the school administration. Since Creative Writing teachers are qute accustomed to having anti-social loners in there classes (that probably describes 50% of the students in the average creative writing class), Cho must have been exhibiting truely alarming symptoms. I think there may be valuable lessons to learn from his case, assuming we don't overreact and start calling out the SWAT teams for every garden-variety neurotic goth on campus

Posted by: Paul Gottlieb | Apr 18, 2007 2:27:49 PM

The info that has come out about the concern of some of faculty about this guy's mental health as reflected in his writing, and the difficulties of non-physicians doing anything regarding an adult who is potentially a social concern is a topic worth discussing generally, since it is not a data point of one.

I don't have a solution in mind, but if co-workers, fellow students, or teachers suspect a mental health issue, there needs to be some responsible thing they can do without running into a potential legal suit from the subject. There are some difficult personal versus society issues in this situation and many others. Gun issues are irrelevent in my opinion.

This guy needed help, but he clearly didn't know it, and surely something needs to be available to remedy the situation without major loss to the subjects privacy or society's need to both help him and protect others within his orbit.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 18, 2007 2:30:07 PM

yes, people go crazy.

but ezra's lame kos-like "let's not think too much about this" makes no fucking sense.

along with reid's capitulation to the nra bullies, the so called liberals are revealing themselves to be as short-sighted and unenlightened as conservatives.

but i better not think about this anymore.

Posted by: christian | Apr 18, 2007 2:33:32 PM

I find this to be bs. This isn't a rare occurence that happens across the planet. It's a rare one that happens all to frequently in the US. Why?

Posted by: akaison | Apr 18, 2007 2:33:42 PM

I think what you're saying here yourself is basically right, but Ross' point that we should therefore not discuss Virginia in relationship to gun control is very, very wrong. While the shooting spree shouldn't be the determining data point in any discussion of guns, it is very much an important part of any such conversation: a demonstration of how very, very much damage a person with guns can do.

And -- and this makes it especially pertinent -- *will do*. You endorsed Atrios' statement here yourself -- if guns are available and people are imbalanced, as does happen, guns are going to be used periodically as they were here. The inevitability of this kind of shooting spree in a US gun control non-regime is very, very relevant to such conversations.

Look at it this way -- nuclear bombs almost NEVER kill anybody. Those times we dropped them on Japan, killing more than a hundred thousand people? A statistical anomaly. Just one data point.

But absolutely essential to remember and discuss if you're going to say one single word about nukes.

Posted by: Mike Meginnis | Apr 18, 2007 2:49:34 PM

I don't know, but you twenty-something liberals are strange. Peace was a mantra in the 60's-70's. It has become my complementary close today. Gun control was another.

There are many angry people out there. There are 30,000 gun deaths per year in the US. There would be a lot fewer without guns. The Colt, Walther, Glock, Winchester lobby is more lethal than the Philip Morris lobby. Why are the gun manufacturers given a pass? Why are there no limits on manufacturing--why are automatic weapons allowed to be sold? What is the purpose of any hand gun? How many people are saved by using their hand guns in a self-defense situation as opposed to how many dispatch their loved ones by using them in a fit of momentary rage?

Diane Feinstein, whose career was changed when she was thrust into the San Francisco mayorship after the Moscone and Milk assassinations, has called once again for reason. I support her efforts.

I just do not get it. Ezra Klein gives gun control short shrift? Why, because, like Kos, he is a pol first, and he knows it just hurts progressives who call for gun control. What about capital punishment? What about peace?

Posted by: Ernie Fazio | Apr 18, 2007 3:04:29 PM

sadly I agree with Ernie. I don't know what I think about gun control, but this diary is beneathe what I expect when I come to this blog. Let's not think about it- is not something I expect to find. I have to wonder why. And the only thing I can come up with is that politics of the answer. If I am wrong, please let me know- but it does seem rather counter to the nature of this site.

Posted by: akaison | Apr 18, 2007 3:13:39 PM

While handguns do a lot of damage, by no means are "The Colt, Walther, Glock, Winchester lobby is more lethal than the Philip Morris lobby." Nothing comes close to the killing power of the All American Cigarette.

Posted by: Paul Gottlieb | Apr 18, 2007 3:23:18 PM

There are 30,000 gun deaths per year in the US. There would be a lot fewer without guns.

Do you mean wave a wand and put the make them disappear? Here is some research that you may not have seen:


while in 1993
there were about four hundred thousand crimes committed with guns, there were approximately 2.5 million crimes in which victims used guns for self-protection.

First, there is a very close relationship between the number of permits issued in a state and the decline in violent crime rates. Those states that issue the most permits have had the largest drops in violent crime, and over time as more permits are issued there is a continued drop in violent crime.

These are both gun violence researchers that have pretty much come to the same conclusion and that is guns do, indeed, have an overall positive value in society. Besides that, let's all remember poor ol' France when they were occupied by "you know who". They waltzed into Paris, and found the gun registry with every registered owner's name and address and what weapon he owned.

Guess what they did next?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 18, 2007 3:40:32 PM

The NRA consists of ~3.8 million members with a 95% voting rate. (Bullies!)

"How many people are saved by using their hand guns in a self-defense situation as opposed to how many dispatch their loved ones by using them in a fit of momentary rage?"

Guns are used to prevent crimes 3-5 times more often than they are used to prevent them. 58% of gun deaths in the USA are suicides (gun laws will not solve these). Armed citizens accidentally killing family members account for <2% of fatal firearms accidents (1 per 90,000 defensive gun uses).

Posted by: FoolsMate | Apr 18, 2007 3:41:10 PM

I disagree with Ezra... but not on guns; I disagree about Cho. In fact, you do not find "thousands, possibly millions, of kids who are seen, at least by some, as fitting this description" of Cho Seung-Hui; this is a specific description of mental illness, and we can identify people who seem mentally ill separate from the usual teen. Person after person has come forward to say that Cho did not just behave like some angry teenager, but rather like someone who was deeply, deeply disturbed. It says volumes about how Americans dismiss and ignore mental illness that we'd rather make this about the guns rather than the boy who carried them. "He's a loner," and "He's angry" are just the tip of this iceberg, and there was a systemic failure here to adequately identify and treat a person with an illness. And that, Ezra, has everything to do with the healthcare reforms you talk about so regularly, and I'm surprised you'd casually dismiss a severe mental illness as something similar to the angst most teenagers have. Most teenagers are not mentally ill, although the late teens and early twenties are prime time for the onset of many mental illnesses. Knowing that, we should be doing more. That we didn't, and we don't, is a major part of what went wrong leading up to this week's events.

Posted by: weboy | Apr 18, 2007 3:43:29 PM

cite your stats

Posted by: akaison | Apr 18, 2007 3:43:34 PM

Oh, and I forgot to mention that Diane Feinstein has a concealed carry permit from California, a "may issue" state. If you are a powerful politician, famous actor, or othewise well connected, then you will be approved. If you are not, you won't, and as we all know, crime only happens to well connected people.

Rosie O'Donnell as armed bodyguards. If you can't afford bodyguards, then you will just have to fend for yourself.

Yes, if you're rich, famous and powerful, then you probably want more gun control because it will disarm others, but will not affect you much.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 18, 2007 3:44:59 PM

Since Creative Writing teachers are qute accustomed to having anti-social loners in there classes (that probably describes 50% of the students in the average creative writing class), Cho must have been exhibiting truely alarming symptoms.

Having taken three creative writing classes in college, I'm tempted to feign umbrage.

More seriously, your use of the phrase "anti-social loners" jumped out at me because it's so vague. By some definitions that sound reasonable at first, sure, maybe it could be applied to a lot of creative writing students, but a definition that fits only 10 percent of creative writing students might be just as meaningful. Or one percent So it's possible that there actually are valuable lessons to be learned from this, but they'd fall between the cracks or beyond the reach of the likes of us. I will not be surprised if the psychologists and college administrators and lawyers fail to draw valuable lessons from this random disastrous incident, but I will not be surprised if they succeed either.

Posted by: Cyrus | Apr 18, 2007 3:45:25 PM

Guns are used to prevent crimes 3-5 times more often than they are used to prevent them.
[Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, N.Y.: Aldine de Gruyter, 1997, p. 160; FBI Uniform Crime Reports, Crime in the United States, annual reports.]

58% of gun deaths in the USA are suicides
[National Center for Health Statistics, 1999]

Armed citizens accidentally killing family members account for <2% of fatal firearms accidents (1 per 90,000 defensive gun uses).
[Gary Kleck, "Keeping, Carrying, and Shooting Guns for Self-Protection," Essays on Firearms and Violence, by Don B. Kates, Jr. and Gary Kleck, San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1995, p. 208.]

Posted by: FoolsMate | Apr 18, 2007 3:52:22 PM

I'll let others argue about gun control (to put this very succinctly: I'm not at all convinced that it makes a difference, and the politics are horrible -- I think it's something that feels right but hasn't been proven to work), my main point was about Cho. And while I agree he was (obviously) uniquely disturbed, I fear that putting in place systems to catch future hims will just snag and harass those with ordinary angst and unrest.

Posted by: Ezra | Apr 18, 2007 4:04:43 PM

I don't know, but you twenty-something liberals are strange. Peace was a mantra in the 60's-70's. It has become my complementary close today. Gun control was another.

I don't know, but you fifty-something liberals are strange. With your childish antics that scared the pants off of Middle America, you allowed the New Deal consensus to be lost to Nixon and Reagan. You fucked up, and my generation is paying the price. Why should we listen to anything you dope-smoking hippie losers have to say?

Why are there no limits on manufacturing--why are automatic weapons allowed to be sold?

They aren't. The sale of new fully-automatic weapons has been banned since 1986 (although old weapons have been grandfathered in). Anyway, automatic weapons weren't used in these shootings. Try reading something other than Abbie Hoffman.

What is the purpose of any hand gun?

Target shooting, self-defense, for the hell of it. Who knows? The fact is that enough people want guns that you can't outlaw them. Did you learn anything from the lessons of Prohibition and the 55-mph speed limit? Anyway, Canada has plenty of guns and they generally don't have this kind of crap, as Michael Moore pointed out in Bowling for Columbine. We need to look to different cultural factors rather than blaming fetish objects.

I just do not get it. Ezra Klein gives gun control short shrift? Why, because, like Kos, he is a pol first, and he knows it just hurts progressives who call for gun control.

Yes, young liberals actually want the Democratic Party to win elections. Imagine that.

What about peace?

Most Americans want the Iraq War done with.

Posted by: Josh G. | Apr 18, 2007 4:05:23 PM

Both Fred Jones and Foolsmate seem to be relying heavily on "studies" conducted by the now thoroughly discredited "scholar" John Lott, author of "More Guns, Less Crime." Unfortunately, there seems to be overwhelming evidence that Lott's research was bogus, and the surveys he supposedly conducted didn't actually exist

Posted by: Paul Gottlieb | Apr 18, 2007 4:07:26 PM

Lott's research was bogus.

There is no credible evidence of that. Would you also like to say that Dr.Gary Kleck's work was also bogus?

Hey, why don't you offer up some studies by reputable researchers that say guns suck.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 18, 2007 4:16:14 PM

Both Fred Jones and Foolsmate seem to be relying heavily on "studies" conducted by the now thoroughly discredited "scholar" John Lott, author of "More Guns, Less Crime." Unfortunately, there seems to be overwhelming evidence that Lott's research was bogus, and the surveys he supposedly conducted didn't actually exist

Posted by: Paul Gottlieb | Apr 18, 2007 4:24:32 PM

Both Fred Jones and Foolsmate seem to be relying heavily on "studies" conducted by the now thoroughly discredited "scholar" John Lott, author of "More Guns, Less Crime." Unfortunately, there seems to be overwhelming evidence that Lott's research was bogus, and the surveys he supposedly conducted didn't actually exist

Posted by: Paul Gottlieb | Apr 18, 2007 4:24:34 PM

Ezra - that's almost absurd. Surely if the worst thing that comes of better mental health screening is that some kids with "minor teen angst" get counseling that would hardly be a neagtive result. And I don't think Cho was, or will turn out to be, "uniquely" disturbed - depression leading to a major psychotic break is identifiable, and hardly unique (especially in someone, if suggestions from his writing seem to hold up, who may well have been molested as a child). He was disturbed like other people who are disturbed, what is different is his manner of acting out. What astounds me is that we cannot face up to dealing with mental illness, when we do, infact, know how to spot it, and have some indication of how to treat it. If Cho had been expelled, if he had been hospitalized... if anything more had been done to deal with him sooner and more comprehesnively, we might well not be where we are now, looking at such tremendoua tragedy. If we can't get the gun out of the hands of a kid like this - and I'd say, more than likely, we can't - then we need to find him, and stop him, before he shoots. If we're serious. And I'm not sure we necessarily are, because I think acknowledging mental illness and dealing with it more comprehensively is not somethng we're yet comfortable with. But I think we need to get there... soon.

Posted by: weboy | Apr 18, 2007 4:30:19 PM

Iraq: I.E.D.s Don't Kill People, PEOPLE Do
Posted by Rosa Brooks

If that sounds like an idiotic and insane thing to say, ask yourself how gun control opponents can continue to make the equivalent claim in the domestic context.

No, hunters, I'm not after your shotguns: keep 'em with my blessing. But how many more school massacres is it going to take before this country figures out that yes, there is a connection between the number of automatic weapons sloshing around, the laws that enable their easy purchase and concealment, and the amount of lethal violence? Sure, you can kill someone with a knife or a shotgun or by squishing them to death under sixteen tons of marshmallows, if you're really bent upon murder-- but without easily concealable automatic and semi-automatic weapons, it's a whole lot harder to kill 30+ people in a few short minutes.

Factoid: fanatical as the Bush Administration is about the right to bear arms-- and opposed as they are to the most common-sense of gun control laws, one of the very first orders promulgated by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq was... yes, that's right, an order stating that "no person shall possess, carry, conceal, hide, bury, trade, sell, barter, give or exchange" heavy weapons, defined to include "all weapons firing ammunition larger than 7.62 MM." CPA/Ord/23 May 2003/03 also prohibited the possession of small arms in public places and the carrying of concealed weapons.

Funny, our commitment to bringing freedom to the Iraqis didn't include a commitment to guaranteeing the right of the people to bear any old arms they felt like bearing. On the contrary-- in the Iraqi context, even the Bush Administration readily understood that a society awash with weapons is more likely to see a lot of lethal violence than a society in which deadly weapons are more strictly controlled. Of course, we didn't do a very good job confiscating or controlling weapons and materiel in Iraq, but that's another story...

Posted by: Ernie Fazio | Apr 18, 2007 4:35:13 PM

Both Fred Jones and Foolsmate seem to be relying heavily on "studies" conducted by the now thoroughly discredited "scholar" John Lott, author of "More Guns, Less Crime."

I have cited my sources and none of them are John Lott.

Posted by: FoolsMate | Apr 18, 2007 4:43:41 PM

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