Measured Against Reality

Monday, April 16, 2007

Thoughts on VT

By now we have all heard of the tragedy at Virginia Tech. As soon as I saw it after returning from class today, I immediately thought of a friend who goes there. Thankfully she's ok, but there are (so I've heard) 33 people who should still be alive right now. I wish there were something I could do for them, or for their families, but nothing I can say will do justice to the magnitude of the loss.

There have already been some inevitable reactions. People are calling for gun control, people are blaming videogames, and people are blaming the current US culture. I want to say a bit about these points.

First, gun control may have prevented this. We need to remember that while gun control is remarkably good at keeping guns away from people who obey the law, it's not particularly good at keeping them out of the hands of criminals. I'm not entirely sure where I stand on the issue, but I ask those who hear this to remember that we can't be certain about how things would be different with gun control. As one commentator said, "Don't fear guns, fear cars." We hear about shootings but not fatal crashes, 42,884 Americans die in car crashes a year, which is almost 5 per hour. Just something to keep in mind.

Second, videogames almost certainly had nothing to do with it. A recent study found that videogames don't influence people with "stable" personalities, and that those who are influenced can be made calmer or angrier, and that it's a passing effect. However, the study was done with fairly small samples (22 in the "influenced and angrier" group), so it might not be right. Even so, the evidence indicates that videogames do not cause violent behavior.

Lastly, is our culture to blame? Perhaps we do ingest too much violence for our good, perhaps the murder just snapped under the weight of his failure to meet society's standards. It's entirely possible, and I'm not going to say that I love the US's culture right now; it is despicable in many ways. But I'm hesitant to blame society for this one. While we don't know who this young man was or why he did it, it's best to assume nothing about him. I think the most likely scenario is that several bad things happened to him in a row and he just snapped.

I know that people don't like to believe that extraordinarily bad events can be explained by mundane reasons, they like big events to have big causes. They also like to find blame, whether it be lack of gun control, videogames, or a bad culture. I hope we can move the blame to the back of our minds and instead grieve for the dead, and save reactions until a time when the facts are known and can be weighed with calm minds.

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  • We're not blaming video games or a "bad culture"--we're blaming easy access to guns for everyone from drunks to morons.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:12 PM, April 16, 2007  

  • "42,884 Americans die in car crashes a year, which is almost 5 per day"

    You might want to check your division. It's about 117 per year, and almost 5 per hour.

    By Anonymous N. Johnson, at 8:24 PM, April 16, 2007  

  • N. Johnson, that's what I meant. I've fixed it.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 8:27 PM, April 16, 2007  

  • I live in Montreal, Canada. Canada has some very strict gun laws and this hasn't stopped us from becoming the school shooting capital of the world.

    I don't know what the solution to this problem is, but I caution against believing that controlling the sale of firearms is the answer.

    I am not a gun-owner, nor do I wish to see my country relax the law. But we have to look at the deeper issues, not just hope that it will go away with restrictive legislation.

    By Blogger DV8 2XL, at 3:11 AM, April 17, 2007  

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