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April 17, 2007

Final Moments

Yikes, I forget how nutty John Derbyshire is. "Just jump [the shooter]. Handguns aren't very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can't hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am." I rather wonder how Derbyshire squares that with the fact that the guy managed to murder 30-some people with said handguns. The Derb also says, "I hope, however, that if I thought I was going to die anyway, I'd at least take a run at the guy."

To give this the patented Ezra Klein health care spin, very few people know when they're going to die. Whether you're facing down a gun barrel or looking at cancer, the human mind excels at hope. That's part of the reason the stats about how much we spend in the last six months of life are less illuminating than they're often touted as being. It's very easy to mark off the last six months of life when looking at a death certificate -- but not so simple when the person is still alive. If we knew when we were going to die, we'd probably act differently in our final moments, no matter whether they were in a shooting or a hospital ward. But when there's a chance we will die, most seek to maximize the chance they will live. We don't rush gunmen and we don't refuse treatment. It's human nature, and it deserves empathy, not scorn and derision from those who've never glimpsed the abyss lying beyond their own end.

April 17, 2007 | Permalink


Yes, he also stated that the "cowardly" Brits captured by the Iranians should, at a minimum, have been dishonourably discharged, whereas he would have liked them to see them tried for treason.

Nutty is a gross understatement.

Posted by: moo-cow | Apr 17, 2007 5:13:52 PM

Delusional old fart.

Posted by: nolo | Apr 17, 2007 5:18:09 PM

I remember that too, moo-cow.

The Secret Life of John Derbyshire.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Apr 17, 2007 5:19:19 PM

It would be easy to despise Derbyshire for that comment, if it didn't reveal with blinding clarity his essentially pathetic character.

Posted by: W.B. Reeves | Apr 17, 2007 5:24:49 PM

It's worth noting that Kip Kinkel, the perpetrator of a shooting in Springfield, Oregon was stopped by 2 brothers who recognized the sound of an firing pin on an empty chamber and were able to rush him. The Ryker boys are old enough to buy alcohol now; I doubt they've ever paid for a drink in the Springfield area.

Posted by: Klug | Apr 17, 2007 5:29:20 PM

Handguns aren't very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can't hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am

By all accounts I've heard, this shooter, tragically, was very accurate. Apparently Derbyshire cannot conceptualize someone who is a better shot than he is.

He also said that the victims should "count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands." As if (a) most people have any idea how many shots it takes to empty a 'clip' or whatever you call it, or (b) anyone but the most combat-hardened soldier would have the presence of mind to start counting shots when somebody walks into their 9 a.m. German class and opens fire.

I swear, every one of these wingnuts is Jack Bauer in his own mind.

Posted by: Jason | Apr 17, 2007 5:38:37 PM

FWIW, I had the same thought when I heard that 30 had been killed. In all that time, I imagined, didn't somebody fling a book at the guy or just rush at him? Apparently not. The difference between me and Derbyshire is that I suppose there must have been a reason nobody did, whereas Derb assumes the victims weren't superheroes like he is.

The reason, I guess, is that a lot of those crucial minutes were consumed by people going, "What the heck is that noise?" and wondering if they could get involved. When there was an opportunity to take action, it was too late.

That said, we have heard of some who barricaded a door with a table as the shooter tried to force his way in.

Posted by: Grumpy | Apr 17, 2007 5:50:06 PM

How wouold you even know how many shots had been fired? The guy had been firing earlier, there could have been more than one of them. This is just insane, as well as inhumane and deeply sick. But you can see why this crew jumped so fast to "blaming the victim" in the *rutgers* case--they don't know what else to do and its a central tenet of their world view. In fact, it almost has to be because the whole notion that they peddle in the realm of the economic (what they really care about) which is that this is a fair, meritocratic society stands or falls on the notion that whatever happens to the individual is the individual's fault or the result of the individual's actions. Win a million dollars? you are a hero. Get sick with cancer? its your fault if you go bankrupt. Get shot by a random sniper, there was something you could have done.

ITs all the same thing.


Posted by: aimai | Apr 17, 2007 5:51:41 PM

There were some other conservatives spewing the same line. One thought they don't seem to have come up with: they don't know that someone didn't try to rush the guy and is now dead. They just assume academia = liberal = cowards. What they really wanted was a replay of flight 93- someone on their cell phone saying they're going to rush the guy. Not everything in life is a made for TV movie.

Posted by: SP | Apr 17, 2007 5:52:56 PM


To add to that, it's not like clip loads are standard. You can get after-market extended clips. And, I'm sorry, you gonna poke you head up to see if he's got a standard clip or an after-market extended clip, you gonna get your head blown off.

Derbyshire reminds me of a 12 year old boy I once told to put on his seatbelt, who refused because he wanted to be fully free to get himself out of the way in a crash.

John Derbyshire is like the Dwight Schrute of punditry.

I can imagine him saying, in all seriousness: "I come from a long line of fighters. My maternal grandfather was the toughest guy I ever knew. World War II veteran. Killed 20 men then spent the rest of the war in an allied prison camp. My father battled blood pressure and obesity all his life. Different kind of fight."

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 17, 2007 6:02:30 PM

To give this the patented Ezra Klein health care spin, very few people know when they're going to die.

I've wanted to make points like that, but I guess I'll have to wait 17 years to make them in America. Would've said something similar in India, but now they're enforcing TRIPS...

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Apr 17, 2007 6:12:44 PM

To be fair, this isn't the most unreasonable question that Derbyshire's ever asked. There are enough examples of the sort of behavior that he describes, that it's not as if he's describing something totally unheard of.

Posted by: TW Andrews | Apr 17, 2007 6:28:06 PM

Is Derbyshire pretending to make a break with the GOP? A real Republican would shout "he's reloading! rush him!" even (or especially) when it wasn't true. But not actually do the rushing, you see--they'd have "other priorities."

Posted by: calling all toasters | Apr 17, 2007 6:37:14 PM

Since the MD's are only slightly better at being able to mark the month when one will die, even with a terminal prognosis, the patient and his family rarely know if six months is the time left - more likely they will be told something like 'months to a few years', unless they are really close to death.

A likely major reason people are treated extensively at the end of a long life is that the medical establishment doesn't like to concretely outline the patient's options for palliative care, and refusal of certain procedures (artificial breathing, etc.). And some providers will not observe (or not see) DNR orders.

State law and admin. procedures can help solve this problem by giving patients firm control in advance that applies to all medical providers including EMT personnel.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 17, 2007 6:41:45 PM

we have heard of some who barricaded a door with a table as the shooter tried to force his way in.

That was a professor who barricaded the door and gave his time for the students to jump out the window. The professor himself was killed. There's the story of bravery for Mr. Derbyshire to chew on.

Posted by: Constantine | Apr 17, 2007 6:45:51 PM

I will admit though, that I have a certain admiration for people who are willing to forthrightly state their views, no matter how putridly repugnant they are.

I can't stand people who won't stand up for what they plainly believe. Say, Pat Buchanan, denying he's an anti-semite. Does anyone believe him??

So thanks to John Derbyshire for articulating so clearly why no one with a functioning brain should pay attention to him.

Posted by: moo-cow | Apr 17, 2007 6:49:48 PM

"In all that time, I imagined, didn't somebody fling a book at the guy or just rush at him? Apparently not." How do you know they didn't and got shot anyway? What the hell is flinging a book going to do besides drawing attention to yourself?

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Apr 17, 2007 7:17:06 PM

CNN right now is talking about 'extraordinary stories of heroism,' - they mention
students thowing a table up against a door, while the shooter was firing at/through it
Prof Libresci, mentioned above by Constantine
Ryan Clark, dorm RA, rushed towards the gunshots to find out what was going on, was shot and killed.

Posted by: Dan S. | Apr 17, 2007 7:29:20 PM

In the late eighteenth century, when the Second Amendment was written, prepping a gun for refiring took approximately 20-30 seconds. If the Virginia Tech massacre had been attempted then, someone like the Ryker brothers in Springfield, Oregon, would have jumped and quelled the assailant within 5 seconds after the first shot was fired. If Kip Kinkel had been firing an eighteenth-century gun in Springfield, Oregon, in 1998, there would have been 1 dead or wounded, at the most, instead of 2 dead and 26 wounded.

To me, this demonstrates that the application of strict constructionism to the Second Amendment may not always be apropos.

Regarding the timeliness of this debate, most of us are not in Virginia. Most of us have no family members or friends who were directly affected by this tragedy. Most of us who watch the memorials will be eating snacks while doing so, not praying or sending other telepathic condolences to the victims' significant others. So for most Americans, it is O.K. for this debate—especially this debate—to begin now. Setting timelines and ground rules for this debate is too officious and somewhat Emily Postish as well. More important, it's counterproductive.

Posted by: Ssquire | Apr 17, 2007 7:41:39 PM

"What the hell is flinging a book going to do besides drawing attention to yourself?"

A distraction, obviously, while you jump the guy. You're right, I don't know that somebody didn't try this and possibly get killed in the process.

Posted by: Grumpy | Apr 17, 2007 8:04:19 PM

the time to take action is not when they have a gun in their hands.
....people who want to take their own lives or the lives of others leave warnings,papertrails and cries for help before they commit suicide or take the lives of others...or both.
....we are a society in denial.
this was a person who was in desperate need of help.
from the descriptions of him, it must have been very clear to everyone.
where was the ball dropped?
did his parents not know he was troubled?
did his classmates not know there was a serious problem from his behavior?
did the counselling office not take appropriate action after he set a fire in the dormitory, stalked people on the campus, wrote seriously sadistic literature?
....think of the people in your circle of contact.
how many are suffering, giving off signals of despair, rage or other worrisome signs.
pay attention.
......try to do something.
dont turn away.
so many people in our midst are crying out for help.
when the gun is in their hands, it is too late.

Posted by: jacqueline | Apr 17, 2007 8:15:47 PM

To me, this demonstrates that the application of strict constructionism to the Second Amendment may not always be apropos.

In fact, I think this is a point in favor of very strict constructionism to the 2nd Amendment - that people have the right to bear late-18th century arms, and only late-18th century arms.

Posted by: Dan S. | Apr 17, 2007 8:29:58 PM

Jacqueline, thank you for that.

Posted by: W.B. Reeves | Apr 17, 2007 8:46:54 PM

Interesting point, Dan; in principle, I agree. Your suggestion would be a vast improvement over the status quo. I think the distinction you're making is between strict constructionism of the historical variety and strict constructionism of the textual variety. The Second Amendment states, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Both "militia" and "arms" are generic terms, and this "all-encompassing" phraseology was no doubt intentional to cover technological advancements in both. The Founders' ability to imagine the extent of those advancements, however, was probably limited. So, as you point out, applying the historical form of strict constructionism to the Second Amendment would be somewhat desirable among gun-control advocates. Applying the textual form would definitely be undesirable to them. But in the case of this particular amendment, less textual stringency is probably preferable to both of those approaches. It seems germane to point out that constitutional interpretation often has and probably always should walk a fine line between contextualizing constitutional writ and deifying its signatories.

Posted by: SSquire | Apr 17, 2007 9:01:45 PM

Reading an individual rights amendment narrowly scares me. I certainly wouldn't want the same approach taken to the First Amendment, or the Fourteenth.

If we don't like the Second Amendment, the ideal solution would be to repeal it. That's obviously not going to happen any time

Posted by: Jason | Apr 17, 2007 9:35:59 PM

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