There’s no reaction quite like a knee-jerk reaction…

I received an email today, another forwarded message with someone’s teary reflections on how sad the world is. This one dealt with the recent Westroads mall shootings in Omaha, which are still pretty fresh in our minds. Locally, at least – the national news has pretty much forgotten them already and moved on to the next catastrophe. Part of the email read:

“We’ve learned that while the gun lobby keeps saying “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” that in this case “people with guns kill people.” We need to find a way to keep adolescents and guns away from each other, and that no hunter needs a semi-automatic assault rifle with armor-piercing bullets to kill Bambi.”

It saddens me to see that some people are shifting the focus away from the human reason for this tragedy, and onto the convenient scapegoat again. I’m not the least bit surprised, of course; it was only a matter of time. Usually this time is measured in minutes, if not seconds.

Let’s start with the glaring factual errors first: The moron was 19, not an “adolescent”, a mentally disturbed adult. There have been no reports I’m aware of that indicate he was using “armor-piercing bullets”, not that it would have mattered. And tens of thousands of adolescents safely handle and shoot guns of all sort every single day. I spent a good deal of my youth – before I started mis-spending it – at various rifle and archery ranges, and haven’t killed or wounded anyone yet. Adolescence is probably the best time to teach young people how to safely handle and shoot guns, to help them develop a deep respect for what they can do.

It is entirely correct that no hunter needs a semi-automatic “assault rifle” with armor-piercing bullets to kill Bambi – in fact, that would be a poor choice indeed. But to use this as justification for gun bans is simply erroneous. It’s also not an accurate reflection of real life. The disturbed moron who killed nine people (including himself) in Omaha used an SKS, which is an older Soviet-bloc rifle. While rifles similar to the SKS were once used as a military weapon, the same could be said of a single-shot, bolt action hunting rifle or a flintlock musket. It’s not a particularly powerful weapon. While so-called armor-piercing ammunition is available for the SKS, the same can be said for most hunting rifles — and there is no word (other than hysterical speculation) that either hollow point or armor piercing rounds were used.

I can certainly sympathize with those who are deeply disturbed by the fact that this person was able to go to a shopping mall armed with a semi-auto rifle and apparently plenty of ammunition, and kill nine people. The fact that he didn’t kill more, actually, is no less than a testament to the fact that he had no clue what he was doing; anyone familiar with the weapon would have been able to wreak far more havoc. What really disturbs me is that apparently a number of people KNEW that this kid was deeply disturbed; they KNEW he was a nut case. They KNEW he could go off like this. Yet they did nothing.

The step-father failed to keep a dangerous weapon out of the hands of a disturbed, dangerous person. Maybe he doesn’t keep track of his guns, or maybe he does and just didn’t want to hurt the poor lad’s feelings by suggesting that he wasn’t stable enough to be trusted with a firearm. Shame on him.

His family and friends either failed to realize how dangerous this person was, or simply failed to act on their knowledge. Maybe they didn’t want to see it; maybe they just hoped for the best. In either case, shame on them.

The state mental health system either is capable of identifying dangerously unstable individuals when they come into repeated, prolonged contact with them, or they’re not. If they’re not, why are we keeping them on staff?

The mall management company, like most, hired low-wage, marginally trained “security” personnel, then failed to arm them. Even if they had been close by when the shooter started killing, they could have done nothing more than stand by and watch – or get shot first. Shame on the cowards who put the lives of their customers and employees at risk by failing to provide for their safety.

The gun was not the problem in this little drama, and banning them would make us no safer. The problem here WAS the person. Had anyone bothered to do what was right — to keep this kid away from dangerous weapons, to get him the mental health treatment or commitment he needed — there would be nine more people alive today. I haven’t been there in quite a while now, but I suspect there may be signs posted on the doors at Westroads – as with many other places in Nebraska now – prohibiting the law-abiding, responsible adults shopping there from carrying concealed weapons. So in effect you have a guaranteed safe killing field for deranged bastards who feel like killing people.

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution is the one that protects and guarantees all of the others. It guarantees a basic right enjoyed by US citizens since before there WAS a United States. We have the right to defend ourselves, our homes, our families, and our country. Had there been just one person in Von Maur that day exercising his or her right to defend themselves, the story could have had a very different ending. Just ask the people who would otherwise be dead in Colorado.

The fact remains that there are nearly 300 million people in this country, far too many of whom are living disconnected, isolated lives in cities and on the Internet. On occasion, some people go nuts and try to kill other people. There are really only two ways to minimize this: Find the crazies before they start killing people, and do what you can to keep them from killing you or those around you.