U.S. gun culture produces killers

Recent events on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) campus - where an "isolated, scary loner," according to the dailies, ran amok and killed 33 folks (if you count his own life) - allow the mass-media pundits with more subdued corporate flash than intelligence or real concern to once again weigh in for days about the tragedy.

The thing pundits like best is to ask a really stupid question over and over. In cases like this it is always "Why?" closely followed by "How could this happen?"


I remember the first time in my lifetime a loner with guns went nutso on an American college campus.

It was 1966, when Charles Whit-man climbed onto a tower at the University of Texas and, using his military training, began picking off the innocents of academia hundreds of feet below.

Whitman killed 14 people and wounded scores of others before the local cops got him.

But except for running a brief, grainy, black-and-white film clip of Whitman's massacre, to compare the number of victims, no one really seems to want to talk about the common denominator: multiple firearms in the hands of antisocial, unhappy people.

Then, of course, there is Columbine High in Colorado, 1999: sociopaths once again coupled with an arsenal of automatic weaponry.

That's "why."

How it happened is easy, too. Virginia Tech has a public campus near a couple of expressways in a state where nearly everyone is armed and potentially dangerous. This shooter killed two people in a dorm and then two hours later surfaced in a classroom and murdered 30 more innocent people while the campus police did nothing.

The excuse the cops and school officials used immediately after the carnage was, "We thought it was an isolated incident."

When two people are murdered in their college dorm, slaughtered by automatic weapons, the entire campus should be shut down. Two killings is not an incident.


All of this is more pointedly poignant for us here in the Northwest because just a few weeks ago a young woman was murdered on the University of Washington campus by yet another disgruntled man with weaponry at his beck and call.

The young local victim did all the right middle-class-striver things. She talked to counselors. She got restraining orders and no-contact orders against her possibly violent ex-boyfriend.

(Can there be anything more sad and more futile than taking out a restraining order against folks who cannot even restrain themselves? Restraining orders work only against the already law-abiding.)

In a reporting career of 30 years and counting, I've covered more than 200 murders - overwhelmingly committed with firearms - and 20 first-degree murder trials, including that of a disgruntled engineer who shot and killed four of his six bosses during his own termination hearing.

People kill one another - they have since the dawn of time, starting with Cain killing Abel.

But it is countries where everyone has access to firearms - like the United States, Iraq and Mexico - that feature scads of mass murderers.

Even Britain's soccer hooligans (a fearsome bunch) seldom rack up a kill total of more than two or three people - despite all-day, group, hand-to-hand berserkos in some of the prettier cities in old Europe.

From Charles Whitman to Virginia Tech, innocent Americans are mowed down by suicidal angry individuals, wielding weapons specifically created to kill human beings.

When I lived in rural Idaho, there was an outcry when some rich tourists started gunshooting elk from the side of the highways without leaving their cars. The argument was it ain't sporting or fair to the elk.

It ain't fair to students, either.

Freelance columnist Dennis Wilken can be reached at needitor@nwlink. com.

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