“I also wondered what kind of society would permit this to happen to the treasured children they carefully nurtured for 18 years. Why is an AK-47 — or any gun for that matter — legal to buy and use? The only reason UT was not another Virginia Tech is that the gunman chose not to make it so. The fastest response team in the world could have done nothing about the first shots that were fired with students, faculty and staff nearby. He could have fired at people at will at any time.” These are the thoughts of University of Texas Classics Professor Thomas G. Palaima, responding to a very public suicide at his alma mater (via statesman.com). Those of you with more than a passing familiarity with guns, or common sense, will see the logical fallacies embedded therein. Allow me to share with the group . . .
First, let’s deal with the question “Why is an AK-47 — or any gun for that matter — legal to buy and use?” The best answer is no answer. It’s no use trying to explain to a cloistered, tenured, liberal arts professor why the Second Amendment exists. I’m sure Professor Palaima has already heard the arguments. With a copy of Plato’s Republic by his side, he’d be ready, willing and able to cast doubt on the value of democracy itself, never mind our founding father’s desire to empower what the good professor might secretly call “dumb fucks.”
The no-answer defense of the right to buy and use (gasp!) a gun in America is what the French call a fait accompli. It’s done. It doesn’t really matter why it was done. For whatever reason, it is what it is. There are an estimated 300 million firearms out there, somewhere. The number’s increasing by around 11 million per year. Assuming you banned all guns today and stopped all production tomorrow, it would take, what, 500 years to remove them from the landscape? Research that one at notgonnahappen.com. Meanwhile, deal with it we must.
Thankfully, the good prof is not completely divorced from reality. “The only reason UT was not another Virginia Tech is that the gunman chose not to make it so.” To use African-American slang from a slightly earlier time, true dat. Although academics prefer to study why people go off the rails (wouldn’t you?), it might be a good idea to find out why the UT gunman didn’t shoot anyone but himself. But then you’d have to study why so many millions of American gun owners don’t shoot anyone at all. Where’s the fun (i.e. grant money, political kudos) in that?
Professor Palaima is not entirely unfamiliar with the practice dipping his toes in the pool of unvarnished truth. To wit: “The fastest response team in the world could have done nothing about the first shots that were fired with students, faculty and staff nearby.” Again, absolutely correct. But the professor needs to purse this line of logic further, following in the footsteps of his pro-gun antagonists. If guns are a done deal, and the world’s fastest response team can’t stop the slaughter soon enough, what then? What do you do?
Prevention is an excellent prescription, of course. You could put armed security personnel and metal detectors outside every University of Texas campus building, and hope that the men in charge aren’t quite as gormless as the average campus cop. That would work. At least inside the buildings. Unless the shooter was really clever. Anyway, somehow I think the Professor and his pals would bristle at the idea of turning UT’s open campus gestalt into something a lot more Tel Aviv University.
You could also enlighten the University’s community to the dangers of psychologically damaged individuals, and encourage them to report said individuals to authorities, and charge said authorities with investigating the potential perpetrators of MSBNs (Mass-Shootings By Nutjobs) with an eye to involuntary commitment, incarceration and/or expulsion. Of course, any such effort runs head-first into civil liberty issues, which many college professors hold near and dear to their heart (even in Texas).
Alternatively, you could arm every UT student, faculty member, administrator and employee with a Smith & Wesson 640 (engraved with The Mighty Bevo). Oh, and teach them how to safely store and effectively use the gun. That way, if some Nutjob—I mean, “psychologically distressed student” decides to go all Virginia Tech, someone could shoot him or her. That would help on the prevention side of the equation (c’mon, you know it would) and solve the rapid response problem.
Obviously, there are downsides. Students could shoot each other in temper. They could shoot themselves in despair. UT’s unionized workforce could wrest even more absurd wage and benefit packages from taxpayers. But life’s like that: you have to balance one thing (safety from MSBNs) with another (dangers of gun ownership). I know that the yin – yang thing is an oriental philosophy, but I’m betting there’s a Greek equivalent. ‘Cause that the way human society’s been since there was a human society.
I’m no classicist, but I did study Latin. As you might expect, I mastered some ancient expressions which Professor Palaima might wish to contemplate if/when he chooses to give full consideration to the idea that armed self-defense is not only acceptable, it’s desirable. Stultum est timere, quod vitari non potest. As Brad pointed out yesterday, it is foolish to fear what can’t be avoided. To which I’ll add Ille qui docturus est alium prius seipsum doceat. The one who is going to teach another should first teach himself