Culture of Fear

May 27, 2014 at 9:40 pm (Politics) (, , , , )

Friday, one Elliot Rodgers decided to go shoot up innocent people at a school; in this case, UC Santa Barbara.  Unlike most of his fellow former oxygen burners, there’s not really too much question about “why” this time.  He left behind a 140 page manifesto explaining why for those who might have that question.

Not that it prevented certain individuals from speculating that maybe there was another reason, like this expert who provided the worst psychological diagnosis since Francis Tumblty was accused of being Jack the Ripper.

Short version:  After a lifetime of being rejected by women he never asked out, Elliot Rodgers got told to move out by his mother and decided that the only logical response was to take a gun and go ventilate a sorority house and anybody who might happen to be nearby.

Now, you may be thinking of several other logical responses to his situation.  Say, actually asking a girl out, or maybe trying to find a new place to live.  But then, you’re not inside the head of Elliot Rodgers, who in the opinion of this commentator was a textbook case of an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic.

Of course, this commentator is not an expert.  So for a moment, let’s refer to a true expert, Dr. Kathleen Ramsland. As you might notice, in addition to being an expert on profiling, she can also tell the difference between “homosexual impulses” and a man saying “I wish girls would be attracted to me,” clearly marking her as one of the top in her class.  While she doesn’t provide a diagnosis (doing so would be highly unprofessional in such a case, which is why I did it), she does discuss the ability of the police to assess the risk that Elliot posed a month before his attack.

Her professional assessment?  Nobody could have predicted it that far in advance.

So, if nobody could have predicted it, what else could have prevented this tragedy?  And so the usual suspects come out….

Stricter gun control laws?

Restricting any weapons at all?

More people with guns on the UCSB campus?

Striking down the patriarchy and eliminating rape culture?

These are all things that have been seriously advocated to deal with tragedies like this, the Milwaukee day-spa shooting, and the recent senseless murder of a girl for refusing a prom date.

Christ, I’m getting really, really sick of always having new examples of senseless, violent tragedies to cite.

At any rate, the last of those comments came up in particular related to this case, because of Rodgers’ manifesto blaming his rampage on rejection by women.  Women who, I point out again, he never even bothered to ask out.  Shortly after this dangerous lunatic’s motivations were revealed, a hashtag was born, #YesAllWomen, trying to draw attention to the widespread cultural and societal flaws that encourage men to view women as property, trophies, and prizes instead of humans.  Others lashed out in response, pointing out things like that if a woman had just slept with Rodgers, he wouldn’t have done this.

That guy?  The guy who said that?  He should shut the fuck up, he’s not helping anybody.

As for the justifiably upset women who are blaming this on societal flaws… I’m sorry.  I really am sorry that there are so many assholes out there who have serious mental disorders.  So sorry that we, men and women, black and white, queer and straight, have been raised to live in fear.  And we have, on both sides of any divide.  Women fear, not without justification, that they might be raped.  Men fear, not without justification, of being falsely accused of rape, maced, or ending up on a sex offender registry because they unknowingly made somebody uncomfortable in the wrong way.

If a little old white woman crosses to the other side of the street when she sees a large black man coming down the street towards her, is she being racist?  Or is she afraid of him the way she’s been taught to be afraid of men who could easily overpower, rape, and kill her?

If a cop is on patrol and a black kid takes off running away from him, reaching into a pocket, is he justified in suspecting that the boy is reaching for a weapon and opening fire?

Or, when it turns out that the kid was unarmed and making sure he hadn’t dropped his wallet when he started running from a cop he thought was going to harass him, was the cop racial profiling?

Fear is a powerful emotion.  It motivates people to act, and it literally impairs decision making ability.  Fear results in quick, hastily thought out decisions made with a minimum level of data.  It encourages tribalism, banding together into like groups to stand against those who are less like you.  We’ve evolved to be really, really good at making snap decisions based on a minimum amount of information, which works really, really well when you live in a tribalistic society faced with enemies who are the dreaded other.

It doesn’t work so well when you live in what is supposed to be a civilized society that embraces the differences between people.  Society, civilized or not, always presents threats.  Those threats are harder and harder to recognize, but our primitive, hard-wired brains try to pick up on the patterns the same way they’ve always done it, and they look for differences.

He had a gun, he was dangerous.  That guy has a gun, he might be dangerous.  People without guns aren’t as dangerous.  We need to prevent people from having guns.

He hated women, he was dangerous.  Men who view women as less than them are dangerous.  These men are not being punished.  Society must secretly agree with these men and we need to stop that to make our lives safer.

The majority of violent crimes are committed by poor people.  Poor people are dangerous.  Most people of other races I see are poor people.  Poor people are dangerous, and need to be kept away from good people who aren’t poor, especially poor people who don’t look like me.  There’s a poor person who doesn’t look like me; he could be a threat to me, I should be on alert.

You see how that can all go horribly, horribly wrong?

But here’s the problem.  We’re all reacting on instinct.  Largely obsolete instinct.  That instinct may be right sometimes, but a lot of the time it’s going to be wrong.  Occasionally, it’s going to be tragically wrong, as in the Trayvon Martin case.  Occasionally, it’s going to be manipulated, as in the case of the Iraq War.  Occasionally, it’s going to be partially right… but not really get at the problem.

Because here’s the thing – none of those cases are looking at the root cause.  They’re looking for early warning signs, and picking them out on the basis of fear.  In the middle ages, it wasn’t blonde guys with blue eyes you had to be afraid of, it was raiders who wanted to raid your village and take your stuff, and were willing to leave you a corpse to do it.  If the raider was a brunette, he’d kill you just as dead.  If the merchants coming to town were blonde, all they cared about was selling you things.  Of course, the next blondes to show up might want to kill you and take that stuff, but that was what happened living in a raiding zone.

Ultimately, is it blondes who are dangerous?  Or is it people who want to kill you for your stuff?  Maybe if there was some other way for them to get that stuff, they wouldn’t want to kill you for it.  But, when the other guy has a sword and is trying to stick it in you, there’s not much time for rational discourse.  These days, there’s more time for rational thought, rational response to threats, but we’re still reacting with instincts that were fairly useful up until just an eyeblink ago in the grand picture of things.

We need to get beyond the culture of fear.  We need to stop reacting on gut instinct, and look at the actual root causes.  Why?

We’re living in a world with thousands, even millions of bombs just floating around the streets, looking for something to detonate with.  Some of them are time bombs, and they’ll go off eventually no matter what.  Some of them have fuses and are looking for matches.  Others will be set off by being tipped, or by a radio signal, or a cell phone, or a code word, or what the Hell ever.  Most of them have multiple detonators they could use, they’ll just go off when they find the first one that’ll work.  Some of the bombs are just packed with blasting powder, won’t do too much damage unless you’re right there.  Others are packed with nails, screws, radioactive isotopes – something that makes them more damaging than normal.

The problem with how our society handles things right now is that every time one of these ‘bombs’ goes off, people try to find ways to stop the explosions… but they try to do it by banning matches, or by regulating radio signals, or by banning timers, by getting rid of the detonators.  Or they try to ban nails and screws and PVC pipe, try to reduce the damage that they’ll do when they go off.

But nobody seems to want to stop wasting time playing whack-a-mole with detonators and shrapnel long enough to find the goddamn bombs, defuse them so that nothing else is going to set them off, and then stop the person making them.

There are people who are really sick.  Some of them are violent.  Those who are, can be just one little trigger away from blowing up and hurting somebody.  Maybe that trigger’s going to be reading through Catcher in the Rye.  Maybe it’s going to be watching Natural Born Killers.  Maybe it’s going to be playing Manhunt 2.  Maybe it’s going to be a lifetime of being too scared of rejection to actually try and get a date.  Maybe it’s going to be finally working up the courage to ask a girl out, and getting shot down.  Maybe it’s going to be a fight with his sister, or violent political rhetoric.  Maybe it’s going to be a brain tumor, or the fear of crippling poverty, or the whisperings of an angry God into the ear.  Maybe it’s getting turned down for a promotion.

My point is that people who have violent tendencies are always going to be out there.  They’re always going to be dangerous.  Maybe Elliot Rodgers wouldn’t have mailed a 140 page manifesto about his feelings of rejection out if he didn’t feel that his value as a man was based on his ability to fuck or fight.  Maybe he came to that conclusion because of deeply ingrained fucked up values in society, maybe he came to it because he was a deeply disturbed individual who took the wrong message out of society.

But something else still could have set him off.  Maybe a breakup.  Maybe losing a job.  Maybe getting kicked out of school.  Maybe watching a movie that he thought glorified violence.  He would still have been a threat to society for his entire life, if he had the sort of underlying mental disorder that seems to have been there.

We can keep playing whack-a-mole with the things that could set off people like Elliot Rodgers, Ted Bundy, Albert Fish, Andrew Cunanan, Harris and Klebold.  We can keep trying to disarm them, to make it so that when they do go off, they don’t do as much damage.

Or we can devote those resources to finding out what is wrong with these people.  Finding out how to detect the dangerously violent more quickly, how to improve threat assessments.  How to improve a mental health system that literally turned away Jeffrey Dahmer as “just having fantasies,” rather than treating him.  How to improve a legal system that handed an escaped victim back to him to be butchered.  How to get people to seek the help that they desperately need, or improve treatments so that they benefit more from that help.

How many tragedies does it take for us to ask what’s really causing them?

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I don’t see what’s so surprising about this….

April 3, 2013 at 9:39 pm (Politics, Religion) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

The media’s all in a hubbub today about Rep. Louis Gohmert of (of course) Texas.  And it’s all about the following comment (all quotes sourced from CBS News, just so nobody accuses me of piracy!):

“Well, once you make it 10, then why would you draw the line at 10? What’s wrong with nine? Or 11?” he asked, referring to the possibility of banning high-capacity ammunition clips for non-military citizens. “And the problem is once you draw that limit; it’s kind of like marriage when you say it’s not a man and a woman anymore, then why not have three men and one woman, or four women and one man, or why not, you know, somebody has a love for an animal?”

“There is no clear place to draw the line once you eliminate the traditional marriage and it’s the same once you, you draw, you remove, the – or you start putting limits on what guns can be used, then it’s just really easy to have laws that make them all illegal,” he added.

I mean, really, I don’t see what everybody’s so confused about.  It’s very simple and straightforward.  I refer, of course, to Rep. Gohmert, rather than his tortured logic.  But, lest you assume that he was trying to bash homosexuals while making a poorly thought out argument against gun control, his spokesperson Kimberly Willingham reassures us:

“He was clearly making the slippery-slope argument that if the factual definition of marriage, that pre-exists governments instituted by men, is changed to suit the desires of the few, then there is no limit to where the lines are drawn,” she said.

Because, you know, there’s one universal definition of marriage out there, all across the vast history and cultures of mankind, and even beyond!  Marriage is factually defined, and predates governments, which were instituted by men.

And you know, she’s right!  Marriage does pre-exist governments, and other things instituted by men!  Just look at how common monogamous, heterosexual relationships are among God’s other creations!  Why, just the other day, I had to turn down an invitation to the wedding of two charming squirrels down the road.  You see, one of them was a grey squirrel, and the other one was a black squirrel.  Now, I’m not against the mixing of the blood, but it’s very clear in the Bible that marriage is supposed to be within your own tribe, not with outsiders.

That, and I was a little worried that I might run into Rep. Gohmert on the buffet table.

Now, after reading all of that, you might be joining some of my friends in being ashamed that you share the same species as good ol’ Louis.  Well, I’ve got a theory about that.

You see, I’ve got this idea that’s forming in my head.  Gohmert and his ilk are actually trying to become a separate species, homo phobiens!  Note, if you will, the common shared species traits that aren’t held in common with the more common, and typically more evolutionarily successful, homo sapiens!

  • Tend to gather in insular communities of their own kind
  • Interbreed almost exclusively within their own kind
    • This is a clear precursor to speciation, when they will lose the ability to interbreed with homo sapiens altogether.
    • Note, if you will, the photograph of Rep. Gohmert in the linked article; I’d say he’s pretty good evidence that this point may not be that far off now.
  • Successfully occupy a very specific, very narrow ecological  niche in which homo sapiens cannot or will not compete (every ecology needs its bottom feeders)
  • Random mutations become more pronounced in the biological community
    • Consider, if you will, the impressive ability to truly believe in an omnipotent creator who can be stopped cold by an 1/8th of an inch of latex, clear evidence that the portion of the cranium devoted to the brain has begun to shrink to accommodate the larger mouth typical of the ecological niche they are attempting to fill!
    • Another branch of this species is clearly developing a very peculiar evolutionary trait, born with a natural body configuration that puts their head in closer proximity to the source of that which they consume.  I dub this sub-species homo phobiens ouroborous.

I could go further, but really, the evidence speaks for itself.  Unfortunately, I doubt that this new species is long for this world.  Their natural environment is constantly being eroded away in the name of progress and, eventually, there simply won’t be enough left for them to eat without being forced beneath a sustainable population.  Like the dodo bird, homo phobiens will be wiped out by another species that fills their ecological niche, perhaps a resurgence in the population of hobo sapiens.  I like to think that, when it happens, they will have no more understanding of their fate than that last dodo, standing there vapidly staring at the onrushing destruction of its species, wondering if this new creature with the long stick that made booming noises was friendly.

But honestly, I think they know it.  Consider, if you will, the sheer amount of effort expended to avoid being taught about evolution.  Clearly, they simply cannot accept the inevitability of their own extinction.

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A little extra food for thought….

January 9, 2013 at 9:43 pm (Politics) (, , , , , , , , )

My last post on here was a bit of home-brew analysis of readily available stats related to gun ownership and death rates.

Turns out, I could have just pointed everybody to this handy paper by the folks at Harvard Law.

In particular, I would like to draw attention to the following statement, which emphasizes the point of the article:

Although the reason is thus obscured, the undeniable result is that violent crime, and homicide in particular, has plummeted in the United States over the past 15 years.

The fall in the American crime rate is even more impressive when compared with the rest of the world. In 18 of the 25 countries surveyed by the British Home Office, violent crime increased during the 1990s.

This contrast should induce thoughtful people to wonder what happened in those nations, and to question policies based on the notion that introducing increasingly more restrictive firearm ownership laws reduces violent crime.

The point is this; gun control advocates believe that reducing or eliminating the presence of guns (or certain types of guns) will reduce violent crimes.  On the contrary, the evidence would seem to suggest that there is, at best, no correlation whatsoever between gun ownership and the homicide rate, once you stop limiting your data set to firearm-related deaths.  Reducing the number of firearms-related homicides and suicides doesn’t really matter if the people who are looking to kill just find another method to do so, and the data indicates that’s exactly what happens.

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Tragedy in CT

December 14, 2012 at 7:18 pm (Politics) (, , , , )

Before I go into anything else, let me make this clear:

What happened today in Newton, CT was a tragedy.  What I am about to say is not in any way intended to diminish that fact, but instead to ask a simple question; what are we supposed to do about it?

In my Twitter feed following the news, there were a lot of people calling for something to be done, preferably in the form of getting rid of guns.  As one person I follow said, “in Finland in 2009, there were approximately 4 deaths per 100,000 people.  In the US, it was an order of magnitude larger.  When will something be done?”

As another said, “this is exactly the time to be having this discussion – nobody wants to have it unless a tragedy has happened, and then we’re told to STFU!  When else are we going to have it?”

Well, here I am, having it.  I expect some people will think I’m callous for coming to the defense of gun ownership the very day of the nation’s second-worst school shooting, but as my friend said… when else are we going to have it?

First off, I’d like to address an order of accuracy.  In 2009, according to my quick Wikipedia research, the WHO said that Finland had 3.6 deaths per 100,000 people due to gun-related injuries.  This classification includes people killed in officer-involved shootings, accidents, suicides, any gun-related injury.

The same article cites 9.0 over the period 2008-2010, while the Kaiser State Health Institute cites 10.1 in 2009 specifically.  Neither of these numbers represents “an order of magnitude,” which would imply 36 deaths per 100,000, over 3 times the actual statistic.  I’m just asking for a bit less hyperbole when discussing these issues – “almost three times as high” is bad enough, don’t go saying it’s 10x worse.

Let’s take a closer look at some of those stats though.  Interestingly, looking at the Wikipedia article, there are no figures given for how Finland’s numbers break down in terms of suicide, homicide (“Any killing of one human being by another”) or accidents.  But if you look at the US numbers, over half of the deaths are suicides, so excluding those brings the gun death rate down to comparable to Finland’s.  So if the lack of breakdown indicates that the deaths due to suicides or accidents were statistically negligible, that actually raises some serious questions regarding the effect of the availability of firearms on homicide rates.  However, I think it’s more likely that the WHO simply didn’t break down the numbers for Finland, while the OAS did in the US.

A more interesting statistic, and looking at things from an apples-to-apples perspective in terms of source data, is what we find at the Kaiser State Health Institute.

10.1/100,000 firearms-related deaths in 2009.  Roughly a .0101% chance, one in 10,000, of dying because of any gun-related injury.

The fatality rate due to motor vehicle accidents?  11.7/100,000 for the same time period.  Roughly the same, but a bit higher.

In my state, Wisconsin?  An avid hunting state, with a lot of firearms?  Firearms-related fatalities are 7.9/100,000, while motor vehicle accidents killed 10.1/100,000.  Which means that, while you’re less likely to die of either in Wisconsin, you’re more than 25% more likely to die because of a car crash than because you’ve been shot.

Sticking with the car comparison, a radio host I heard on the way home was talking about how 18,000,000 guns were sold last year alone, and this number is staggering evidence of how out-of-control and gun-crazy our society is.  Well, in the interests of statistical accuracy, I’m going to sliiiiiide our numbers back to 2009 again.

In 2009, in the throes of a recession, Ammoland says that we sold approximately 14,000,000 guns here in the US!  Isn’t that an awful, awful lot?

With approximately 305,000,000 people in the US in 2009, we come out to approximately… 3,050 sets of 100,000 people, so… 30,805 gun-related deaths in the country (BTW – go ahead, check my math!  I make mistakes sometimes.  I am, however, an accountant, so….)

That means that each of those 14 million guns was responsible for .0022 deaths.  So for every 450-ish guns sold, a person died.  That’s pretty horrible, I’ll admit.

Now, in 2009, the BBC says  that “just over 10 million” new cars were sold in the US.  New, mind you, not all cars, so we’re excluding the used car market.  But let’s say that “just over 10 million” means that it was within a rounding error’s margin – within 50,000, or about .05% of the number.  So that’s about 10,050,000 cars sold.

With 11.7 car deaths per 100,000 people, we have 35,685 deaths in 2009 from motor vehicle accidents, or approximately .00355 people killed by every new car, or one person killed for every 280-ish cars sold.

Which means that a new car is approximately 1.6 times more likely – that’s over 160% more likely – to kill somebody than a gun is.

And yet, when there’s a pileup, I rarely hear people talk about outlawing cars.

All of this is a nice little intellectual exercise, but doesn’t answer the core question of “how do we stop these sort of tragedies from happening?”  And we don’t know enough about the Newton shooting to say anything yet.  Were those guns bought legally in the first place?  Did the shooter have a history of mental illness?  It seems likely that he murdered his mother in addition to the others he shot at the school (where she worked), so how does that play in?

But that’s looking at this specific incident and dissecting it.  Let’s take a look at the broader picture, and what do we see?  We see that a lot of these shooters are people who have serious mental illness – no surprise there, I would submit that you are probably pretty typically insane if your idea of a reasonable course of action is to go out and murder as many people as you can.  So maybe we should focus on that end of things, more than on the gun end.  Yes, to some extent, on making sure that people with certain mental diagnoses don’t get guns – schizophrenics and paranoiacs, for example.  But moreover, how about on focusing on changing our society’s view of mental illness?

These days, a lot of people who desperately need mental help don’t want it.  Not because they can’t afford it, but because our society treats mental illness like a character defect or a weakness, something shameful that needs to be hidden.  Maybe if we can fix that, if we can start treating the mentally ill like… well… people who are ill, and need to receive proper treatment, we can keep them from becoming dangers to themselves, or others.

If Holmes had been diagnosed as the schizotypal/bipolar individual he seems to have been, and had received proper treatment, maybe it would have stopped the Aurora shooting.  Maybe it would have at least kept him from buying an assault rifle.  Maybe it wouldn’t have.

But it might have stopped a lot of other tragedies.  Not all of them, I’ll admit, but the same with outlawing firearms.  It won’t stop every shooting.

But here’s something that we have to grow up and recognize, as a society.  Freedom means that bad things can happen as well as good things.  Security is not intrinsically at odds with liberty, but total security requires no liberty.  And we need to decide, consciously, which one matters more to us.  Before you ask the government to fix our gun problem, consider what happened when we asked it to fix our terrorist problem.

The TSA still hasn’t caught a single terrorist, but a few days ago they interrogated a 12 year old in a wheelchair because she had “explosives residue” on her hands (read: anything from fingernail polish to fertilizer).

Our President is working on establishing a set of rules for drone strikes against suspected terrorists.  Which means that people he’s chosen and who are accountable pretty much only to him will decide whether or not he gets to tell somebody to go blow up a US citizen who hasn’t been convicted of a crime, and then to go blow up one of his kids three weeks later.

And, the last time we asked the government to fix our gun problem, over 76 people died at Waco, Texas, and on TV no less as government tanks rolled into the buildings, firing enough flammable tear gas into the building in the course of two hours to keep it filled for two days, and possibly mixing an incendiary grenade or two in there as well by mistake; there is literally no way to know because of lax munitions management.  Of course, why they even were given incendiary grenades to fire is another issue, but that’s a matter for another post.

Me… I think it’s about time that we sit back, take a deep breath… and try to fix our bad things happening by solving a root cause, rather than the end result.

Care to debate me?  There’s a comments section on here for a reason, people!  Have at it.

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Ten years later….

April 20, 2009 at 4:02 pm (Politics) (, , , )

Courtesy of the Times, a few thoughts about gun control after Columbine.

I went to high school at the time, and got to go through the collective panic attack after the Columbine attacks (along with the rest of the nation, if not world).  Profiles of potential school shooters were distributed.  Plans were made in case it happened.  Security cameras were placed throughout the building.  Once, the school was evacuated, not because of bomb threats, not because of shooting threats, but because a student with a reputation for being an outsider was seen taking a backpack into the restroom (not me, but somebody I knew.)

And a zero tolerance policy was put into place.  Now, a lot of people already have realized how meaningless these are.  My school was even more fun – it was a zero tolerance policy, unless your knife was under two inches in length.  Nobody was particularly happy when I pointed out that an inch-and-a-half penknife was more than enough to kill somebody with, or that our new plans (supposedly approved by the FBI) were largely useless.

And, moreover, none of these things got to the real heart of the matter.  Nor have any of the other solutions adoped after similar shootings.  The people in the article I linked to at the top are right about that.  But they’re wrong about how to actually get at the heart of it.

You see, if you’ve got somebody who’s sufficiently set on killing people, they’re going to find a way.  Ask the guys in Akihabara how much good Japan’s much-vaunted gun control laws did them.  Or maybe ask the people who took the Tokyo subway on March 20, 1995.  Ask yourself if Klebold and Harris would have stopped their massacre if they hadn’t been able to get guns… or if they’d have just used more homemade explosives. 

Of those attacks, only Columbine *might* have been stopped, and that’s questionable.  Virginia Tech might have been, but even that could be questioned – if somebody is dedicated to the idea of getting a gun and shooting dozens of people, are they really going to be stopped by the fact that the gun they’re using to commit mass murder is illegal, or being carried somewhere it isn’t allowed?

What *could* have stopped all of these attacks, with the exception of the subway attacks (carried out in a clandestine manner)?

Being armed.

If one person at Virginia Tech had been armed and willing to shoot to kill, the death toll could have been 1, not 32.  The death toll at Columbine could have been 2.  Akihabara, 1.

Some people have suggested that common gun ownership would lead to the high murder rates of the old west, but that’s more likely to be the perfect storm of widespread guns, sparse law enforcement, and rampant drunkenness.  Now, which of those three *can’t* be argued as having justifiable purposes?

What’s more, the stats don’t really argue in favor of it.  Switzerland has mandatory gun training and practically mandatory ownership – and their collossal gun-violence rate of 34 deaths in the course of a year (for the entire country) has spurred gun control advocates to lobby for the end of this policy.  Kennesaw, GA has extremely widespread gun ownership, and its crime rates dropped – they have one of the lowest in the entire Atlanta metro area.

Personally, I think it’s a good thing that it’s easier to get a gun now than it was when the Columbine attacks had happened.  Maybe, if somebody had been armed, 12 students and teachers wouldn’t have died at the hands of two depressive psychopaths with a taste for violence and the resources to make their own explosives, let alone access to guns.

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