Thus Spake Zuska

Pennsylvania’s Gun Lobby Lynch Mob

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.


  1. #1 Gene Goldring
    April 26, 2007

    Unless any of these buffoons are in the National Guard they don’t have a good argument for their rights to own a gun. The Supreme Court has made this very clear. What they have is their respective States allow them to own a gun or a temporary right to own one or many.

  2. #2 Clark Goble
    April 26, 2007

    I don’t mind reasonable gun control (i.e. background checks) however there are some valid reasons to not want registration. The problem often is that the registration databases are not administered well. Now if the police make a typo you might be listed as owning a gun that was used in a crime. Or, if they start cracking down in future registration and they have you with a registered gun you no longer have then you can be liable.

    These aren’t paranoid fears either. These problems have crept up in most registration programs once the program gets expanded beyond the original intent.

    Government databases are simply notoriously inaccurate and when you can be judged a criminal due to a screwed up database it’s notoriously difficult to fix it. (Witness the no-fly lists and other database that I’d just as soon they not have in the form they do)

    Now if Government were more competent I’d probably not have these fears. But typically you have too many folks involved in getting the data into the database, too much bureaucracy to make fixing the database easy, and a presumed guilty mentality where the bureaucracy assumes the database is infallible.

  3. #3 Kristin
    April 26, 2007

    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.

    This also makes me think of a story I heard on NPR’s “All Things Considered” this past Tuesday, April 24, that told of how Native American women have a 1 in 3 chance of being sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Yes, one in three. Apparently up in Alaska it’s a real problem, and people don’t get prosecuted for these crimes against Native American women, because the attitude seems to be more like, well, these things happen, what can you do?

    Our culture has such a huge blind spot hiding people who aren’t valued in mainstream America.

  4. #4 Janne
    April 26, 2007

    Clark, why do you accept having owner registration, licenses, mandatory liability insurance and so on for cars then? The same arguments against it for guns should be equally applicable for motor vehicles.

  5. #5 Clark Goble
    April 26, 2007

    Mainly due to the relationship of these things to crime and how widespread they are. If something is mislabled in the DMV I’m far less likely to be accused of a hit and run than if the equivalent thing took place in a gun registry.

    Further there really is no worry about outlawing cars. However it is a valid worry that any gun registration will be used if certain guns are outlawed. This has happened in many places. So if I have a gun that becomes illegal then I am in trouble if there is a misentry in the database. I just can’t see how that applies to car licenses, drivers licenses, insurance or the like.

    So I’m certainly not opposed to Government databases in the least. It’s just databases where the consequences are high for false positives that I get rather worried. That’s why I’m worried about gun registration and elements of the Patriot Act.

    I should note that these worries of mine are not idle ones. Look to Canada and the mess they faced after their registration took place. (For the record, I’m Canadian)

  6. #6 nerdwithabow
    April 27, 2007

    I have to agree with Zuska on the Philadelphia incident. Bad timing and bad form. There are more appropriate ways and times to get one’s viewpoint across. I am a gun owner (rifles, shotguns, and handguns) and I think many of us would accept more controls if we thought they would be effective and if we thought Clark’s fears would be addressed.

    We have two good “case studies” on the effectiveness of controls; Canada and Australia. There is often “spin” in the interpretation of the data from both sides of the issue but I just can’t see that the controls have had any substantial effect on homicide rates. And this is what we should be comparing – homicide rates before and after controls, not just gun homicides before and after. People just tend to find other means.

    Here are some sources for the numbers:
    For Canada:
    For Australia:

  7. #7 Absinthe
    April 27, 2007

    Your post reflects what I have been mulling over for the past week. 32 people lost their lives, and it is indeed tragic. However, the news coverage of that tragedy and calls for prevention of future tragedies like it has been pretty overwhelming. But, realistically, if you are a college student or professor, what are your chances of being shot on campus in any given year by a gun toting madman (I’m guessing the chances are much less than 1 in 100,000 per year, and probably more like 1 in 1,000,000).

    However, hardly any press is given to promoting think-tanks to solve the problem of community gun related homicides that happen at a rate much greater than 1 in 100,000 per year (especially in some communities). From my perspective as a non-american living in america, I think it is because the crime is largely class-on-class and race-on-race; well educated, almost completely white policy makers pretty much don’t give a damn about black-on-black, hispanic-on-hispanic, or poor-on-poor crime. And they don’t give a damn because most of their voting base doesn’t give a damn. However, when 32 mostly white college students get shot, well, that’s a different story.

    Before reading your post I had not heard about the reference to lynching a non-white who is trying to get modest gun control restrictions passed into law. However, it doesn’t really surprise me…it is the strange fruit of race, guns, and american society.

  8. #8 Stephen
    April 27, 2007

    Today, over 100 people died in automobile accidents. Was it in the news? Not likely. 45,000 people die each year in the US. Each of us carries a one percent chance of death by car over our lifetimes. Is it worth it? I still drive. Some don’t.

    I don’t own a gun because i don’t want to increase my chances of being shot (or a family member), and hearing damage is cumulative and never heals – a deterant to play. YMMV.

    I try very hard not to dwell on the news. Anecedotes are often misleading indicators of what is really happening.

  9. #9 Zuska
    April 27, 2007

    I try very hard not to dwell on the news. Anecedotes are often misleading indicators of what is really happening.

    Well, now, that is depressing. If we don’t pay attention to what the press is reporting, what’t the point of having a free press?

    For the record, the incident I reported is not an “anecdote”, it’s a real life occurrence. It’s one more chapter in an ongoing struggle between Philadelphia lawmakers and the rest of the state over gun control, because of the terrible situation with gun homicides in Philadelphia. Real people made that banner, real people carried it to the state capitol, real people held it up at the rally, and real people defended it as a perfectly reasonable thing to do. There is a huge divide in Pennsylvania between the cities (Philly and Pittsburgh), where gun control is wanted, and the mostly rural rest of the state, where gun control is anathema (lots of hunters and NRA members who resist any form of gun control at all).

    As I said, people have a right to express their opinions, but this was going too far. I don’t think we can afford to NOT pay attention to things like this when they occur. Otherwise the perpetrators will think they can just get away with behavior like this, and worse. I don’t want people to think that talking about lynching is something that most people would approve of. Looking the other way to spare myself from being upset is shirking my duty as a citizen, in a sense.

  10. #10 Clark Goble
    April 27, 2007

    “hardly any press is given to promoting think-tanks to solve the problem of community gun related homicides”

    I’m not sure that’s true. They get press on all sides. However as with many issues the nation is sufficiently polarized as to make implementing these ideas difficult.

    Admittedly I gave up on TV reporting quite some time ago. So I don’t know what CNN, Fox, ABC or so forth do relative to gun violence. (Or how they dealt with the issue last week) But certainly in the printed press these issues are reported upon. Not always accurately or competently but then that’s a general problem with the press and isn’t really related to any one topic.

    I do agree that the idiots doing this particular kind of protest should be condemned. But then I’m against most protests and think they predominately are about making the protesters feel good about themselves rather than really enact change. Protesters to me always remind me of rabid sports fans who’ve had too much to drink and then have their team win or lose some major game against historic rivals.

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