Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"At the wrong place, at the wrong time"

Yesterday, as I drove home after spending 24 hours helping care for my ten week-old twin grandchildren, I listened to snippets of speeches from the convocation in memory of the students who were killed at Virginia Tech on Monday. What I remember most vividly is Bush saying that the victims were “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” This is so true. They were hapless victims of a random killer, and we mourn their deaths and injuries.

My problem is that we in this country don’t appear to mourn the deaths of others across the world “in the wrong place at the wrong time ” like the Iraqi child in the photo.

I’m not alone. My favorite bloggers, Juan Cole of Informed Comment and Tom Engelhardt of feel the same way.

Yesterday Juan wrote Iraq has two Virginia Techs every day: “The profound sorrow and alarm produced in the American public by the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech should give us a baseline for what the Iraqis are actually living through. They have two Virginia Tech-style attacks every single day. …[by] next Tuesday I will…report to you that 64 Iraqis have been killed in political violence. And those will mainly be the ones killed by bombs and mortars. They are only 13% of the total; most Iraqis killed violently, perhaps 500 a day throughout the country if you count criminal and tribal violence, are just shot down. Shot down, like the college students and professors at Blacksburg. We Americans can so easily, with a shudder, imagine the college student trying to barricade himself behind a door against the armed madman without. But can we put ourselves in the place of Iraqi students?"

In his post yesterday, Juan linked to what he wrote On February 26: “A suicide bomber with a bomb belt got into the lobby of the School of Administration and Economy of Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and managed to set it off despite being spotted at the last minute by university security guards. The blast killed 41 and wounded a similar number according to late reports, with body parts everywhere and big pools of blood in the foyer as students were shredded by the high explosives.”

My question: How many of us paid attention to this “incident,” so similar to what happened at Virginia Tech?

In Tom Engelhardt’s excellent post, Words to Die For, published the same day as the Virginia killings, he states: “…. this Monday -- the "early" tallies showed 6 GIs and 69 Iraqis killed and 39 wounded (and we're only talking about immediately reported bodies here); while on the previous day, 5 GIs, 2 Britons, and 109 Iraqis died (with 173 were wounded), and on the day before that, 164 Iraqis were killed, 345 injured, and 26 kidnapped. In terms only of the recorded dead of those three "normal" days of "stability and security" under the President's "surge" plan, we're talking, in terms of the dead, about the equivalent of more than 12 Virginia-Tech-style massacres.”

This evening, as I checked the online news, I read an Associated Press story, Four bombs kill at least 178 in Baghdad, …”the deadliest day in the city since the start of the U.S.-Iraqi campaign to pacify the capital two months ago.

In the deadliest of the attacks, a parked car bomb detonated in a crowd of workers at the Sadriyah market in central Baghdad, killing at least 122 people and wounding 148, said Raad Muhsin, an official at Al-Kindi Hospital where the victims were taken.”

Certainly those who were killed in Baghdad were also “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

How does the world view the Virginia killings? According to this morning’s Washington Post article, Va. Killings Widely Seen as Reflecting a Violent Society, “Officials, newspaper columnists and citizens around the world Tuesday described the Virginia Tech massacre as the tragic reflection of an America that fosters violence at home and abroad, even as it attempts to dictate behavior to the rest of the world.”

It’s time to take stock of who we are and what we believe about the value of all human lives.


Anonymous said...

It seems intuitively obvious to me that guns and crazies don't mix. Consequently, I advocate getting rid of handguns to solve the problem.

Apparently the intuition of gun proponents doesn't work the same way. They would advocate arming everyone so that a crazy could be stopped by a gun shot. John Wayne, of course, would do the shooting, and no mistakes would be made.

It doesn't seem to matter that John Wayne is dead. Or, that other countries that do not allow private handgun ownership have far lower incidences of gun violence.

In this country, the gun proponents, supported as they are by the NRA and munitions manufacturers, and citing the Second Amendment to the Constitution, assert a right to bear arms.

The VA Tech Shooter came by his guns under the laws of Virginia and the Constitution.

Given the stranglehold the NRA has on our elected representatives I don't see any way to prevent the future incidents that are surely in the works.

It may be that the best that can come of the VA incident is real sympathy for Iraqis who suffer violence every day.


Gail Jonas said...

I recall that the message of Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" is that it's not guns but the fear level in the US.

Moore compared the number of guns/household in Canada with the number here, plus the number of deaths caused by guns in Canada and here: more guns, fewer deaths.

I'm pondering this. I've decided I'm a "pondit" (one who ponders and writes about what one has pondered.

Anonymous said...

Amen! ALT

Dragon said...

The problem is people, not guns. It was too bad that the university had a no guns policy. Of course, that is not going to stop a crazy person. But a good man (or woman) with a gun might have made a difference.

More than 20 states don’t report any mental health records—including court records of mental commitments—to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the central federal database for background checks on firearm purchases, according to Paul Bresson, a FBI spokesman. Other states, including Virginia, do report some records, but officials acknowledge that the state and federal databases are incomplete. Asked if Virginia should have submitted a record of the Temporary Detention Order on Cho to the bureau, Bresson responded: "We rely on the state to submit the data to us. We don't interpret the law. All we're doing is providing a database for them." Still, Bresson added, "based on what we now know, it would seem that it would have been a record that should have been in the NICS.”

The gun lobby—typically opposed to any attempt to tighten federal gun controls—doesn't disagree. The National Rifle Association has decided to make no public comment about any aspect of the Virginia Tech tragedy, according to a spokesman. But a source close to the gun lobby (who asked not to be identified because of the organization’s sensitivities about making any political points related to the tragedy), pointed out that pro-gun lobbyists and groups like the NRA have long supported adding all relevant mental-health records to background check databases. "We have no problem as long as one is adjudicated mentally incompetent [in denying gun purchases] and we have no problem with mental health records being part of the NICS," the source said. "The problem is not with the gun community. The problem is with the medical community" that has traditionally opposed making such records available on privacy grounds.

Whatever the reason, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York, contends that every year thousands of gun purchases by mentally unstable and other unqualified people have been falling through the cracks. McCarthy has been sponsoring legislation that would offer incentives to states to report more records of mental illness and commitments to federal and state databases.

If you are opposed to the right to self defense, then maybe you should lobby against the Second Amendment.