Within hours of the Virginia Tech massacre, the New York Times had identified the problem:
“What is needed, urgently, is stronger controls over the lethal weapons that cause such wasteful carnage and such unbearable loss.”
According to the Canadian blogger Kate MacMillan, a caller to her local radio station went further and said she was teaching her children to “fear guns.”
Overseas, meanwhile, the German network NTV was first to identify the perpetrator: To accompany their report on the shootings, they flashed up a picture of Charlton Heston touting his rifle at an NRA confab.
Yale’s Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg reacted to the Virginia Tech murders with decisive action: She banned all stage weapons from plays performed on campus. After protests from the drama department, she modified her decisive action to “permit the use of obviously fake weapons” such as plastic swords.
But it’s not just the danger of overly realistic plastic swords in college plays that we face today. In yet another of his not-ready-for-primetime speeches, Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, started out deploring the violence of Virginia Tech as yet another example of the pervasive violence of our society — the violence of Iraq, the violence of Darfur, the violence of… er, hang on, give him a minute. Ah, yes, outsourcing: “the violence of men and women who… suddenly have the rug pulled out from under them because their job has moved to another country.” And let’s not forget the violence of radio hosts: “There’s also another kind of violence, though, that we’re going to have to think about. It’s not necessarily physical violence, but violence that we perpetrate on each other in other ways. Last week the big news, obviously, had to do with [Don] Imus and the verbal violence that was directed at young women who were role models for all of us, role models for my daughters.”
I have had some mail in recent days from people who claimed I had insulted the dead of Virginia Tech. Obviously I regret I didn’t show the exquisite taste and sensitivity of Mr. Obama and compare getting shot in the head to an Imus one-liner. Does he mean it? I doubt whether even he knows. When something savage and unexpected happens, it’s easiest to retreat to our tropes and bugbears or, in the senator’s case, a speech on the previous week’s “big news.”
Perhaps I’m guilty of the same. But then Yale University, one of the most prestigious institutes of learning on the planet, announces it’s no longer safe to expose twentysomething men and women to “Henry V” unless you cry “God for Harry, England and St. George,” while brandishing a bright pink and purple plastic sword from the local kindergarten. Except, of course, that the local kindergarten long since banned plastic swords under its own “zero tolerance” policy.
I think we have a problem in our culture not with “realistic weapons” but with being realistic about reality. After all, we already “fear guns,” at least in the hands of NRA members. Otherwise, why would we ban them from so many areas of life? Virginia Tech, remember, was a “gun-free zone,” formally and proudly designated as such by the college administration. Yet the killer kept his guns and ammo on the campus. It was a “gun-free zone” except for those belonging to the guy who wanted to kill everybody. Had the Second Amendment not been in effect repealed by VT, someone might have been able to do as two students did five years ago at the Appalachian Law School: When a would-be mass murderer showed up, they rushed for their vehicles, grabbed their guns and pinned him down until the cops arrived.
But you can’t do that at Virginia Tech. Instead the administration has created a “Gun-Free School Zone.” Or, to be more accurate, they have created a sign that says “Gun-Free School Zone.” And, like a loopy medieval sultan, they thought that simply declaring it to be so would make it so.
The “gun-free zone” turned out to be a fraud — not just because there were at least two guns on the campus last Monday, but in the more important sense that the college was promoting to its students a profoundly deluded view of the world.
I live in Northern New England, which has a very low crime rate, in part because it has a high rate of gun ownership. We do have the occasional murder, however. A few years back, a couple of alienated loser teens from a small Vermont town decided they were going to kill somebody, steal his ATM cards, and go to Australia. So they went to a remote house in the woods a couple of towns away, knocked on the door, and said their car had broken down. The guy thought their story smelled funny so he picked up his Glock and told ‘em to get lost. So they concocted a better story, and pretended to be students doing an environmental survey. Unfortunately, the next old coot in the woods was sick of environmentalists and chased ‘em away.
Eventually they figured they could spend months knocking on doors in rural Vermont and New Hampshire and seeing nothing for their pains but cranky guys in plaid leveling both barrels through the screen door. So even these idiots worked it out: Where’s the nearest place around here where you’re most likely to encounter gullible defenseless types who have forsworn all means of resistance? Answer: Dartmouth College. So they drove over the Connecticut River, rang the doorbell, and brutally murdered a couple of well-meaning liberal professors.
Two depraved misfits of crushing stupidity (to judge from their diaries) had nevertheless identified precisely the easiest murder victims in the twin-state area. To promote vulnerability as a moral virtue is not merely foolish. Like the new Yale props department policy, it signals to everyone that you’re not in the real world.
The “gun-free zone” fraud isn’t just about banning firearms or even a symptom of academia’s distaste for an entire sensibility of which the Second Amendment is part and parcel but part of a deeper reluctance of critical segments of our culture to engage with reality. Michelle Malkin wrote a column a few days ago connecting the prohibition against physical self-defense with “the erosion of intellectual self-defense,” and the retreat of college campuses into a smothering security blanket of speech codes and “safe spaces” that’s the very opposite of the principles of honest inquiry and vigorous debate on which university life was founded.
And so we “fear guns” and “verbal violence” and excessively realistic swashbuckling in the varsity production of “The Three Musketeers.” What kind of functioning society can emerge from such a cocoon?
Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.
© Mark Steyn, 2005