All last week I was silent on my blog because I wasn’t feeling well enough to spend much time on the computer. So I didn’t post anything when many other people were writing about the horrible tragedy at Virginia Tech. I thought about what I might say if I were well enough to blog and I concluded that I was not up to the task. I just didn’t have words that seemed adequate, beyond expressing my grief and shock, and my sympathy for everyone at Virginia Tech. I know some people who work there and I can’t imagine what this has been like for them. And I can’t think of anything I can possibly say that would be helpful; I can only offer my consolations and say that I am thinking of them. It doesn’t seem like much.
Watching and reading all the news coverage over the past week, several things bothered me. One was, of course, how so many people rushed to use this tragedy as an illustration of their pet theory of whatever. But the other things that bother me have more to do with my own reactions to the ongoing coverage.
Of course, I tell myself, I am interested in learning more about what happened because this happened on a college campus, and I care about academia in general, and the aftermath of this tragedy is likely to have consequences on college campuses across the nation for some time to come. And all that is true.
But then I asked myself, why care so much about what has happened so far away from me, yet be moved so little by what is going on in my back yard? As of Monday this week, there have been 128 murders in Philadelphia so far this year. That’s four times as many people as were killed at Virginia Tech. If we keep up this pace, we will set a homicide record for the past decade. Of course, they weren’t killed all at once; shot (and they were mostly shot) one by one, they are easier to ignore. Their impact is not felt so strongly.
In the case of Virginia Tech, we seem to believe that we can learn some lessons from what happened. That we can take actions to make our college campuses safer, do better to protect our students and faculty, be more efficient and effective in getting out warnings. In the case of inner-city violence, we seem to think we’re just stuck with it, that that’s the way things are, and there’s nothing much we can do about it.
In the case of our college campuses, we are calling on experts, interviewing people, collecting information, trying to figure out what lessons there are to learn, and where we go from here. In the case of gun violence in Philadelphia, what are we doing? Well, one PA state representative, Angel Cruz (D., Philadelphia), recently introduced legislation proposing that people register their guns and pay a $10 fee to the state police. A fairly modest proposal, and you could argue as to whether or not it would actually have an impact on gun violence in Philadelphia. It’s generally agreed the legislation has virtually no chance of being passed. Yet members at a gun-rights rally felt the need to make it absolutely clear just how taboo it is to even think about such things:
Two participants in a gun-rights rally Tuesday at the Capitol held up a banner calling for a Philadelphia lawmaker to be “hung from the tree of liberty.” Black lawmakers denounced the message as racist and “a terroristic threat,” and demanded a police investigation.
The banner said Rep. Angel Cruz, a Democrat of Puerto Rican descent who is sponsoring legislation to require gun registration and a $10-a-gun annual fee, “should be hung from the tree of liberty for treasonous acts against the constitution.”
Yes. Threatened with lynching because he had the audacity to propose a modest form of gun-control legislation.
Paul Estus, of Ridgway, one of two men who held up the banner, said during the morning rally that the lynching tree was “just a figure of speech.” “You’ve got to make a stand,” he said.
Well, I’m sorry, but a bunch of gun-totin’ (yes, they brought their guns with them to the Capitol) white Americans threatening to lynch a non-white American just does not go down well. Making an intimidating threat like that and then hiding behind your claim that it is “just a figure of speech” is just too precious. A lynching tree is a “figure of speech” with a long, ugly history in the U.S., and one that ought not to be invoked by anyone – certainly not in the cause of demonstrating for one’s constitutional rights! If you’ve got to make a stand – do you want to make your stand next to the racists and bigots who actually lynched real human beings?
I’m not using this post to advocate either for or against gun control, so please don’t swamp the comments thread with your testy arguments as to why you think I am wrong on whatever position you think I am taking. What I am saying is that the gun lobby has just gone way too far in this case. People are free to oppose gun control legislation if that’s what they believe. They just shouldn’t express their opposition through intimidation and terroristic threats.