Tuesday, April 17, 2007


If I told you there was a way to stop - or at least reduce the damage caused by - events like those we've just witnessed at Virginia Tech, would you book me a place at the funny farm?

To the 95% who've just said "Yes" to that, thankyou for coming, don't let me detain you any further. Have a safe trip home.

Now we're alone, I've got a couple of things to talk about. First we'll outline how Trusted Surveillance would NOT have prevented the first killings, but would probably have prevented the second and larger batch. Second, the event has finally crystallized my thoughts on gun ownership.

Essentially, though the TS system would not have known who was involved, it would - first - have detected that two people had been killed. No big deal, you might say, plenty of people must have heard the shots and the killings were certainly phoned in to the campus police at 7.15. The added trick which TS brings to the party is logging who was present when lifesigns terminated and actively - but still anonymously - logging the survivors' movements thereafter.

As an optional extra - which I would expect would be the default in places like a college campus - the lifesign signal could also trigger cctv and alert manual monitors to take notice. As a result, the system would not have made the mistake apparently made by the police - that the perpetrator had left the campus. The system would have known that one of the parties present at the first killings was not only still on campus but - either because he's now being tracked on cctv or because he is still conveniently carrying his own mobile phone - that he was also en route to the scene of the second slaughter. At the very least the police would have been on his tail well within the two hours.

The other trick could have been done yesterday - the system would text a warning to every one of the mobile phones belonging to every student or staff member on - or on their way to - the campus. Presumably they're now going to close that stable door and implement such an alarm system in time for the next time. (I haven't yet found any mention of that obvious use of the mobile network to broadcast alarms - let me know if you find it first)

Of course, even if they had already set up a text based alarm system, they wouldn't have actually used it yesterday because they had already made the mistake of believing that the killer had left the campus. So by avoiding that mistake, TS would have ensured that the alarm was sent out and that too would probably have reduced casualties.

I'll expand on all this some other time but you get the gist. By both raising a warning and tracking parties present at the first killing, Trusted Surveillance would have given the campus police far better real time intelligence and, hence, a far better chance of interdicting the second wave of killings.

Moving on...

The issue of Gun ownership/Gun control is one of the most awkward issues for a non American anarchist to address. I’m a hypocrite. I would be delighted to own a gun myself. I went to a military school and had 6 years firearms training. I’m a qualified marksman. I love guns. My natural inclination is to support the liberty to own guns yet I feel considerably safer by virtue of living in a society where we don’t have that liberty and, as a result, suffer significantly less harm than America.

No doubt someone will do a documentary, in the fullness of time, with a tacky title like I've created for this blog and which will, once again put American Gun Laws under the microscope like Michael Moore did, pretty effectively, with “Bowling for Columbine”. I wonder if they will dare to pursue that line of inquiry as far as it ought to lead.

For me, the most important result to emerge from Moore’s film was the stark contrast between the gun owning countries of Canada, Switzerland and the United States. What that comparison made clear is that the frequently repeated Statement of the Bleedin Obvious made by the US pro-gun lobby is absolutely correct: “Guns don’t kill people; People kill people”.

What we ought to be asking is why American people with guns kill so many more people than Canadian or Swiss people with guns.

The experience in those other gun owning countries makes it obvious that mere gun ownership is not the problem. The problem with American gun ownership is that it is amplifying a much more serious underlying problem – which is that, in America, there is clearly a level of aggression and lack of inhibition against violence which is dramatically different to the norm in all other western countries. Indeed, around the world, only South Africa and modern Russia have levels of social violence on a par with the United States.

The high prevalence of Gun related deaths are obviously a symptom of that underlying disease. Guns themselves are not the cause of that disease, even though they obviously exacerbate it. In the same way, alcohol isn't the cause of alcoholism (the cause is, primarily, overconsumption) though the free and legal availability of alcohol obviously exacerbates the problem. But as we learned the hard way: you can’t solve alcoholism by banning alcohol – the Americans taught us that lesson.

Which - as an aside - raises the obvious question: Why didn’t they apply the lesson they had already so painfully learned when it came to prohibiting other recreational drugs which are – mostly – much less harmful than alcohol? If you're in the mood to follow that line of inquiry, it's time you read my War On Drugs chapter.

Actually that chapter does include a discussion which is directly relevant to the argument over tighter controls which the anti-gun lobby are now frothing at the mouth to make.

People outside the United States "just don't get it" when - once again - it becomes obvious that despite this latest tragedy, apart from the ongoing campaign from the pressure groups, there will, once again, be no groundswell of support for further tightening of the gun laws.

Yet it is no more nor less rational than their - or our - continued support for motor transport. Traffic still kills about twice as many Americans as those who die by the gun. If we're all so keen to ban the gun, why on earth are we not seriously considering banning the car?

The answer is obvious. As I say in that chapter - (which is subtitled "Why don't we ban the car?") :

For the simple and same reason that we allow those legally damaging activities in the first place. Because we value freedom so highly that we are prepared to die for it, or to allow others to die for it on our behalf.

and the freedom and other benefits we obtain from car ownership clearly outweigh - in the average mind - the annual harm which results from our exercise of that freedom.

All we now have to understand is that a large number of Americans feel that they obtain an equally important set of benefits from gun ownership. You may disagree with them but their opinions on the matter are certainly no more obviously irrational than continued global support for the carnage-inducing motor transport industry.

As it happens, I don't disagree with them. The original case for gun ownership - the case spelt out in the arguments for the second amendment - has, in my view, become increasingly valid in recent years. I speak of the reasons for having a "militia":
The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facile means, which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample upon the rights of the people. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them. (source)
Who can doubt that we now in a period of ambitious and unprincipled rulers, who have already subverted the government, and routinely trample upon the rights of the people through the exercise of arbitrary power.

The gun lobby bases most of its case on arguments like the suggestion that Virginia Tech wouldn't have happened if everybody had been armed. This is another SBO. It ignores the fact that - given the aforementioned underlying disease of excess naked aggression - though you'd probably have less multiple homicides, you'd almost certainly have even more singles. I don't offer that in opposition to their argument, just as a dose of reality.

The plain fact is that the most obvious reason today that Americans need their guns in private hands is not to defend themselves against the occasional random psychotics. They are, of course, as tragic and even (fortunately) more newsworthy (because they happen less often) than a multiple pileup on the freeway. They are an inevitable price the Americans will have to continue to pay for letting 300 million very angry people have the freedom to own guns.

The real reason they need those guns is because, sooner - I suspect - rather than later, they're going to have to start defending themselves against their Police State.

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