Saturday, October 12, 2002

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SHOOTINGS DAY 10

You look at how much petrol is in the car, how much stuff is in the refrigerator and figure you can last another day or two without going out. Not being melodramatic, but these things do occur to you. I wouldn't not go out, but I'm not real happy about it either. Certainly I was glad to see that the fuel tank was nearly full this morning when I drove down to Safeway. We've reached day 10. Somehow this guy/s got through the massive road blocks set up at the entrances and exits around the Beltway. No new shootings, but the TV is on in the background. Also, reading this morning's paper I've found this incredible breakthrough revealed in a headline on the op-ed page: He is not God.

Well, that's a relief. That Tarot card thing really had me going there for a while. The columnist explains in some detail the reasoning that led him to this useful conclusion:

That gun-toting punk running around the Washington area callously killing and maiming innocent and defenseless people is not God or anything close to it. God creates, restores and sustains life. The shooter is doing just the opposite. But even in his murderous rampage, he reveals himself to be far less powerful than the Almighty. He began by missing one of his targets.

Well, at least we've ruled out God. Please keep phoning in those tips.

UPDATE

Max Sawicky has up a piece sent to him by a SWAT sniper with some tips on how not to get shot:

My advice to you all is to consider the following.

1. Avoid unnecessary errands.
2. Bring someone along.
3. Do not stand outside your vehicle grabbing things out the car.
4. If you go to the store, put items in back seat of car (nothing in trunk) so that you can grab items and exit quickly.
5. When slowing down or at a stop, keep windows closed (glass deflects bullets, he knows this and he is not shooting through glass anymore).
6. Never walk straight to a door more than 20 feet away. Zig zag and walk at angels. The shooter is setting up on doorways/entrances and waiting for victims to line up on entrance. The hardest shot for a sniper is a target traversing laterally to his/her position (perpendicular, see Diag. 1).


The lead-lined cupboard in the basement with the 'gone fishing' sign hanging on the doorknob is also good.



Friday, October 11, 2002

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JUST GLAD TO SEE YOU

I normally like what Skippy has to say and I like what he says here. Maybe someone should make an updated list of fallacious arguments and include things like "it's a slippery slope"; "it's the thin end of the wedge"; "if it ain't broke don't fix it"; "the best way to protect against Middle Eastern terrorism is to blow up Middle Eastern countries"; that sort of thing. Tangentially: don't you think The Straw Man is a good name for a blog?
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SHOOTINGS DAY 9 -- UPDATE

There are almost certainly two people involved in this. Witnesses to the latest shooting report seeing a white van with two men inside leaving the scene at speed. It was a Chevy Astro van according to two guys who worked at a nearby gas station. I think they are mechanics, so we can take their description as pretty accurate. All in all, whoever is responsible is getting more brazen: this was in the middle of the day, in a crowded area and in fact, with a state trooper on the other side of the road. But this means they are being more reckless too, as the number of witnesses this time attests. An element of control is being lost.

I just saw a Vietnam veteran, a military sniper, being interviewed and he said a couple of interesting things. First, that he seriously doubted anyone could shoot a person like this and then get in a van and drive himself away. He described how, in his personal experience, once the "target" was in the sites of your gun, your heartrate jumped incredibly, and how you tended to hyperventilate once the shot was taken. It was quite horrifying actually, as he was, as I say, recounting his own experiences. This also reinforces the idea that there are two people involved - one who shoots and one who drives. Perhaps they take it in turns and are keeping score?

The vet also said that as part of the psychological warfare, they left, when they could, an ace of spades on the victim's chest. Given the tarot card clue and this murderer's sniper-like behaviour, it seems reasonable to conclude that he is thrall to some sort of sniper mentality. Again, according to the vet, he seems to be a sniper wannabe rather than a professional. Apparently he is working too close to his victims to be considered a serious marksman. Certainly "sniper groups"--you know people who join groups that practice being snipers--understandably want to disown the Maryland killer:

"This guy is not a sniper," said Rodney Ryan, who runs a sniper training center in Elk Garden, W.Va....The term sniper, Mr. Ryan said, refers to a military and law enforcement specialty. "He is just a crazed gunman, and he is giving snipers a bad reputation."

In the same article they interview a gun seller about selling sniper weapons to non-professionals: But Mr. Barrkman said he had no qualms about about selling such a powerful and accurate weapon to civilians. "Why shouldn't civilians be able to buy such guns?" Mr. Barrkman asked. "As a citizen of the United States, a person doesn't have to have a reason to buy a gun." Well, I can think of about 9 reasons off the top of my head, but perhaps this is because I am hopelessly mired in the logic of less guns less gun deaths. As I am constantly seeing pointed out, with pretty selective evidence imho, the reverse of the equation is actually true: Mass murders have one thing in common, said Kelleher. They happen in places where people are forced to be disarmed, he said. "You don't hear about shootings at NRA conventions and gun shows."

Well, there's one to fact check. In the meantime:

A Second Amendment group says the shooting of a 13-year-old boy outside a Maryland middle school on Monday bolsters its argument for allowing parents and teachers to carry guns on school grounds - specifically, in the parking lot outside....Ed Kelleher, president of the pro-gun group GrassRoots South Carolina (GRSC), believes the presence of legally armed parents in the parking lot at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, Md., could have provided a "deterrent effect" on the still-unknown sniper who shot and seriously wounded the child.

Good guns make good neighbours, as the NRA might say. I won't rehash the arguments, but I will point you at this piece by excellent blogger Thomas Nephew who, like me, argues that it is foolish to think that by allowing the Second Amendment to be interpreted as protecting the individual right to a weapon that you are suddenly going to get the NRA and other advocates agreeing to gun control. This was an argument, you might remember, put forward by William Burton, which I argued against here.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 9

And while I was writing that previous post on the finer points of historical reasons for gun control in various countries, another person has been shot and killed at a service (gas) station in Virginia. A single shot. A white van. Police are saying, nay, stressing, that no positive link has been made with the other shootings. I'll retract if need be, but let me go out on a limb: it's the same guy. If so, he appears to be trying to keep up his daily average of a "hit" a day. It seems he has no intention of stopping, or even of leaving the area. It seems he will continue until caught.
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GUNS AND GOVERNMENT

The gun debate here is inextricably it is tied up with attitudes towards government. Again, it is an area where there is a vast cultural difference between my current adopted country of America and back home in Australia. I don't pretend to be an expert on American gun laws or, indeed, the American psyche, but looking at attitudes to government might be one way of understanding how different countries end up with different approaches to this vexed issue.

Now, most people in the countries I've visited or lived in don't have much time for "government". It can easily be a pejorative term, synonymous with inefficiency, sloth, dishonesty and imposition. No-one likes paying taxes even if they begrudgingly recognise that it is the only way of providing, at the very least, the infrastructure that makes civilised life possible. Nonetheless, dislike and distrust of government does reach a higher pitch here in the US than any other first world country I've ever experienced.

This quote from Garry Wills seems pretty accurate to me:

Henry David Thoreau put in extreme form what many Americans
want to believe about their government:
I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs
least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and system-
atically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe,
"That government is best which governs not at all."!

Government is accepted as, at best, a necessary evil, one we must put up
with while resenting the necessity. We want as little of it as possible, since
anything beyond that necessary minimum instantly cancels one or other
liberty. There is more to this attitude, in our culture, than the normal and
universal resistance to authority. Americans believe that they have a government
which is itself against government, that our Constitution is so distrustful of
itself as to hamper itself. The great Supreme Court Justice Louis
Brandeis pronounced, in 1926, that "the doctrine of the separation of powers
was adopted by the Convention of 1787, not to promote efficiency but
to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power." So common is the assumption
that the Constitution is deliberately inefficient that Chief Justice Earl
Warren could echo Brandeis in 1965, saying that the Constitution was
"obviously not instituted with the idea that it would promote governmental efficiency."


Such an attitude does not pervade Australia. Even in these neo-liberal days of "mutual obligation" outsourcing, privatisation and meritocracy, "egalitarianism" is a concept that has more resonance in Australia than "individualism". Of course, egalitarianism doesn't negate any respect for "the" individual, but it does shift the emphasis to what I would call a more social understanding of individualism.

Thus, for a whole bunch of historical reasons, we have a much more benign--I'd actually call it positive--attitude towards government. In fact, the state was often seen as a positive good, a bulwark against the uncertainty of isolation and, in the decade before federation (1890-1900), a source of order and stability in a country being damaged by a depression and the perceived threats inherent in frontier existence--attack from without and attack from within. This relationship suggests a paradoxical mixture of liberal individualism and an almost social-democratic belief in the efficacy of government. It was described (famously) by Australian historian Keith Hancock in this way:

Australian democracy has come to look on the state as a vast public entity, whose duty it is to provide the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers…[and] this attitude… deriv[es] from the levelling tendency of migrations which have destroyed old ranks and relationships and scattered over wide lands a confused aggregate of individuals bound together by nothing save their powerful collectivity. Each of these individuals is a citizen, a fragment of the sovereign people; each of them is a subject who claims his rights…from the State and through the State…To the Australian, the State means collective power at the service of individualistic ‘rights’. Therefore he sees no opposition between his individualism and his reliance on Government.

Or as another writer put it: “In contrast to post-revolutionary Americans, who regarded government as ‘inherently dangerous’, Australians had a far more trusting attitude towards government…the emphasis was not so much upon the need to ‘distribute and separate mistrusted governmental power’ but rather to ‘make it [government] a more effective instrument of the popular will’”

It is within these two very different attitudes that discussion of guns take place.

Thus Lefty Libertarian (LL) writes:

At this point you can interpret that two ways. Either you can say "and so, we must take firearms from the populace and make sure that only the Police and Army have them", or you say "and so we must ensure that the right of the people to bear arms must never be infringed, to protect us from tyranny of every sort".

I'm of the second stripe. A few dozen men (or women, for that matter) with rifles can make any form of oppression of the populace in an area difficult and deadly. Enough people armed with rifles make it simply impossible: rather than an oppressed populace, you get a populist uprising or a civil war. All ugly things, but much less ugly that being killed by the secret police, starved or gassed. Remember: we lost a hundred million people to this kind of stuff in the last century. That's a sizeable percentage of the human population at the time. I don't understand why people don't take it more seriously, to be honest.

Were a dictatorship to arise in Britain, the people could be herded up like cattle. Were a dictatorship to arise in America, they would have to fight for every inch of territory they wanted absolute control over.

If you believe it could never happen here, please continue with your day. If you wonder, perhaps, if the civilized, western Germans, the ancient culture of the Chinese - if these could turn to this sort of horror - could we too? If you wonder that? Buy a rifle and learn to shoot it well. A decent rifle can be had for less than you would think, and if fascism comes (remember that we already have citizens indefinitely detained without trial: Jose Padilla and others) at least you'll get a chance to die on your feet.


Another American blogger, Armed Liberal, expresses similar views.

I can only say that in Australia, and I would suggest very many other places, the thought does not arise. Not because Americans are inherently more individualistic or love freedom more than other people, but because, as always happens, different places have different histories and people find different ways to deal with the same problems. Scott Wickstein has this to say about LL's concerns and I'd reckon it would echo the instinctive feelings of many Australians: This is one of the more ludicrous things I have ever read to be perfectly honest. The notion that armed civilians can adequately resist a tyrannical government is one of the more precious myths of the gun loving types (To be fair, The Lefty Libertarian favours gun ownership for ideological reasons, not because he's a gun hugger).

This civil exchange (LL's response is here) rests not just on Scott's practical concerns about the effectiveness of armed civilians against a tyrannical government, but on a completely different conception of government itself.

A country the physical size of Australia with such a relatively small population (around 20 million) that was as disinclined as America to see a positive role for government would be left in the stone age. The kind of infrastructure we have that allows us to be a first world country could only be provided by collective effort. The fact that this collective effort has been institutionalised in a democratic form of government is a strength. It allowed other positive developments that are taken for granted in democratic countries around the world, many of which had their origins in back home: Australia pioneered a number of parliamentary and democratic reforms that enhanced the practical meaning of democratic citizenship: these included universal suffrage by 1904 (it happened earlier in NZ); the secret ballot, which for a number of years around the world was known as the Australian ballot; the equalisation of territorial constituencies; the abolition of plural voting whereby university graduates and business proprietors could vote more than once; and the payment of members of parliament (actually introduced at a state level in the 1880s), which allowed other than the individually wealthy to run for parliament. Government has been seen as a essential good, not a necessary evil.

In Australia, guns are therefore just another issue that people require governments to deal with. Lacking the antagonistic attitude towards "the government" in general, the issue ceases to be a symbolic touchstone of individual freedom and becomes a pragmatic matter of democratic will.

But it goes deeper than this. Apart from a few loons on the left who like to think of anyone who wants a gun as a redneck crime wave waiting to happen, and a few loons on the right who seem to actually think that the Second Amendment of the US Constitution applies in Australia, most people don't care if some have guns for use in sport, in hunting or in their business (particularly on the land). They do mind if the general population is armed, and they have been forthright in their insistence that government regulate the ownership of guns. It was never a matter of whether we trusted the government to do this job or not: it was simply a matter that we expect them to do it; we expect government to be "an effective instrument of the popular will." And everytime Australian TV screens fill up with the latest massacre story from America, most Australians are glad they've gone the path of gun control. This is not to take a superior attitude; it is simply to point out that another "free people" have taken a different route on their own behalf.

The ultimate point is this, I guess, though of course there are other issues as well: if you really believe that your government is likely to turn tyrannical you are probably more likely to want to be armed.
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GOOGLE to CHARGE for SERVICE

The Daily Telegraph in London is reporting that Google is thinking of charging for parts of it's service, like the News section. I've actually seen online surveys where I've been asked if I would pay for a service "like Google" which at the time, about a year ago, seemed like kite-flying. As sure as Rush is right, some sort of fee will be introduced, I'd guess.

And herein lies the future of blogging.

If you have to pay for your blog (highly likely, as the free services degrade or disappear) and then you have to pay for a Google search, many bloggers will be forced out of the game. The whole process will necessarily become professionalised (already some journalism courses are introducing units on blogging) and only those with the money will be able to participate. Of course, our rightwing friends will tell us this is just how it should be in a market society.

Plenty of journalists will be happy with this too. For instance, C.W. Nevius from SFGate.com not only hates Google News because it "lacks an editor" but thinks that journalism in general is suffering from such developments:

What you'd be more likely to get, courtesy of the brainy Google computers, is the most recent story about the Middle East, not the most relevant. How would we decide which is most relevant? We need a human with good judgment. That's the job description for a good editor....If you'd like further proof, we suggest that you check out the other medium that is going to end journalism as we know it -- blogs. These are sites set up by energetic and often very opinionated souls who want to pass on interesting facts, stories and opinions. They can be very interesting....They can also, as one of my old editors used to say, "wear you slick in a hurry." Self-indulgent claptrap would be the kind description. Hundreds and thousands of words about waking up a little late this morning and deciding to have a second cup of coffee....What these people need is someone with a discerning eye who can say, "Cut this in half. It is nowhere near as amusing and clever as you seem to think it is." This is a painful message which is unlikely to make the writer happy, but it must be said.

Completely true and completely false at the same time. This guy really needs to do a bit more research and read a better class of blog. As John Quiggin notes here, there is some extraordinary work emerging from bloggers. Having said that, let me say something I've said previously: no journalism no blogging. We bloggers do leech off the professionals, but given that our practice is not really journalism but more simply democratic participation in public discussion, people like Nevius are really missing the point.

Anyway, "market forces", as always, are a threat to this latest form of participation and a fee-for-service Google model would be the death of the blog as we know it.

BTW: I love this small quote from the Telegraph article:

Omid Kordestani, senior vice president, said: "We may experiment with ways of monetising after we have got the service right. Charging would be one approach. So far we have found it better to keep the service free and charge for targeted advertising."

Which reminds me, if anyone would like to monetise my PayPal button, it's right there at the top of the page.

Links via: Mark Glasser.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

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SHOOTINGS 8 -- UPDATE

It seemed likely and now police have positively linked the Manassas killing to the others. Just go about your normal business. It's bad enough being in the area where all this happening, but my heart really goes out to the families of the victims. And I guess what I really hate is that even once this guy/s is caught we'll never quite get back to square one, to quite the same feeling of safety that existed a mere eight days ago. You don't have to be melodramatic about this to be aware of what a thin material the veil of civilisation is. One person properly motivated can do deep damage.
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NEPOTISM

Early risers in Australia may have just heard me interviewed live on Channel 7 morning television about the shootings in DC/Maryland/Virginia. I probably sounded like a goose. And they cut me off just as I was about to give out the URL for this blog. Bummer!
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NATIONAL PRIDE: kinda leaves you with a lump

This is the sort of thing that really gets the patriotic blood pumping. Thanks to Jay Leno, Australia is able to share with Americans one of its great cultural exports: the penis puppeteers:

US television network NBC defied protests from religious groups and allowed two Australian comedians on to its top rating talkshow.

David Friend and Simon Morley, who have travelled the world with their stage show Puppetry of the Penis, were guests on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Friend and Morley kept their clothes on last night for their ten minute chat with Leno. But they managed to make another guest, Hollywood actress Jamie Lee Curtis who was sitting on a couch with them, blush while describing their act.

Friend and Morley describe their stage show as the ''ancient Australian art of genital origami''.

The pair have entertained crowds around the world by bending their private parts into shapes similar to hamburgers, the Eiffel Tower and the Loch Ness monster.


I hear they even stand up for the national anthem.

In fact, one council in New Zealand did ban the act: Councillor Roy Stevens told TV3: "We do have a moral obligation to set the standard in the town." The council has plenty of support, according to locals interviewed by TV3. "It's corrupt and it doesn't give a good image to this town," one woman said. "Your body's a sacred thing. It's wrong, that's all there is to it," said a man who wished only to be identified as Tiny.
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I ME MINE or OURS NOW HIS

The Victorian State Government in Australia is refusing to say how much they are paying to subsidise a concert being given in Melbourne by Paul McCartney. More annoyingly, they are refusing to say why they are subsidising the richest musician across the universe. I'm all for spending taxpayers' money on frivolous matters that only benefit a few citizens (such as steel and agricultural subsidies and corporate welfare in general) but Paul McCartney hasn't written a decent song since 1963 and he's a vegetarian. He even insists that his roadies be vegetarians. This is cruel and unusual punishment: how are they expected to lift anything? What's more, he's gone a bit loopy:

Speaking yesterday via satellite link from the United States where he is touring, McCartney said he was looking forward to playing in Melbourne again and promised "the Beatles concert that we never got to see".

Um...unless the subsidy is being spent on the latest cryogenic breakthrough, I seriously doubt either George or John are going to show up.
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JUST CARRY ON WITH YOUR NORMAL LIFE

A decree: the term fisking is so five minutes ago. (So is the expression so five minutes ago.) I was going to call what John Quiggin does to Andrew Sullivan fisking, but it was inadequate to the task. Then I saw that Ted Barlow has linked to this spoof fisk. As parody so often does, this reveals the fatal flaw, in this case, that fisking is a first-rate name for a second-rate critque. It was fun while it lasted; let's move on. I think "blosphere" might also be in this category and should be replaced with blogtopia (Skippy invented that term!), at least for a few minutes. However, the general fecundity of the root-term "blog" is remarkable and should continue unabated. To whit: blognesia: leaving a comment on someone's comments box and then forgetting which blog it was.

On the subject of John Quiggin, he also links to this William Saffire piece on the inaccuracy of lie-detector tests. No really, he does. Truly. Anyway, reading the Saffire piece I was intrigued by parts of this paragraph: Casey, just appointed C.I.A. chief, told me he was going to challenge Baker to a polygraph test to show who was lying. Figuring my old pal Casey was the culprit, I wondered why he would take the gamble. He reminded me he was an old O.S.S. spymaster, and that by using dodges like a sphincter-muscle trick and a Valium pill, he could defeat any polygraph operator.

The things they teach you in spy school.
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"AN ARMED SOCIETY is a POLITE SOCIETY"

According to The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, this is a slogan used by the NRA. I guess you just better hope that the person with the gun shares your definition of polite. As this guy says: "I'm not saying that packing heat is never having to say you are sorry, it's just that it is pretty spectacular how a little inanimate metal lump in the proper hands can instill so much of Miss Manners into even the worst societal misfits."

The slogan actually comes from SF writer, Robert Heinlein, whose books, incidentally, first introduced me to the idea that everyone should be armed. It sounded pretty cool to a 15 year old Australian living in gun-free suburban middle-class comfort in a city where there was barely any crime, let alone sniper shootings. Now I'd put it up there with other famous quotes such as "save on pet food expenses, kill your dog", "dead men don't rape" and "a breath-holding society is a non-anthrax inhaling society." Truly, is there anyone out there who is impressed with this sort of bumper sticker argumentation and who seriously thinks that it is acceptable that wholesale arming of ordinary people is a way to maintain a civilised society? Isn't this just mutually assured destruction brought down to the suburban level? I know not all gun users subscribe to the NRA doctrines, and even that the NRA runs more, um, profound arguments, but the NRA run the public policy agenda on guns so doesn't it concern people a little that they promote this sort of over-simplification?

The Brady Campaign has issued this statement about the Maryland shootings. Big deal. And as noted earlier, the updating news section of the NRA frontpage still has no reference to the Maryland murders. They do however link to this story, replete with another wondrous slogan: A Handgun is a Girl's Best Friend.
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SHOOTINGS 8

Eight days of this nonsense now. Schools are still "locked down", though if my son's school is anything to go by, it is a woefully inadequate measure. In fact, Arlington County in Virginia has even cancelled the lockdown and is allowing outdoor activity, according to a news report I heard. It is contradicted by this information. If they are letting kids outdoors during the day, it is reckless in my book. Police are yet to confirm a link between the latest murder in Manassas, Virginia, but you almost hope it is the same person. Please let it be just one person doing all of this. They have also revealed that the infamous "calling card" had further information written on it. It said something about not telling the media about the card. Somebody did though, and I guess if I was a reporter I want to make the announcement. BTW: it has been noted that another killer back in 1970 used tarot cards as a signature, but there seems to be no link. In the latest shooting, they have a witness who saw two men in a white van--a Dodge Caravan--driving away from the scene. The shot was also probably fired from a grassy area around a 100 yards away. Sound familiar?

Although this is really obvious, I don't think anybody has said it clearly. Although they seem random, all the murders have taken place in areas that people cannot avoid--shopping centres, petrol (gas) stations and schools. Seems to me that if your aim is to scare people (as well as kill them) then this is a good way to do it: target areas that people simply cannot avoid.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

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SHOOTINGS 7 -- UPDATE 2

A cable news program has just reported there has been a shooting at a service (gas) station in Manassas, near Washington DC. Of course, no-one will/can say if it is connected and it isn't even clear if anyone has been injured. Interesting to note that a van had its windows shot out in the same area earlier today but that was very quickly deemed not to be related. So, now we wonder. The search in the wooded area that I mentioned earlier has also been called off with police "confident" no-one is there. Anymore, I guess. Police have also taken away a man who fired shots inside his own house. He is believed to be mentally disturbed. But they are about to search his house because they believe he might have more weapons than the one he did the shooting with. Mentally disturbed and guns in the house. Some of that story is here, but some I got the rest from the television news.

UPDATE 3

Usual provisos apply, but the shooting reported above is confirmed as fatal.

A man was shot and killed while pumping gas at a suburban Virginia gas station Wednesday night, and police were investigating to determine whether the sniper that has terrorized the Washington area had struck again.

Virginia State Police said two males were seen driving away in a white vehicle after the shooting at the station in Prince William County, near Manassas, 25 miles west of the nation's capital.

Prince William County police spokeswoman Sgt. Kim Chinn said one man was killed. Chinn said she had few details to release. She said police did not know where the shots came from, or how many shots were fired.


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SHOOTINGS -- MATTERS ARISING 6

NOTE: This post has been up for a while but I've added quite a lot of other stuff to it.

I've been trying to pen a response to this take on guns and government posted by Lefty Libertarian over the last few days. I've been giving it lots of thought and will respond with a bit of comparison between circumstances here and those back in my home country. So many issues arise, but it's fascinating to look at the cultural differences. In the meantime, go and have a read of what LL has to say.

BTW: Scott Wickstein takes LL to task here and LL responds here. I'd reckon Scott's is pretty typical of how most Australians would react to such arguments.

Part of my response will also include some thoughts on what Armed Liberal says here. He makes the case for gun ownership on a number of grounds, including fear of government tyranny.

Meanwhile, lots of people are blogging about the Maryland/DC/Virginia shootings. One of the oddest stories belongs to Hesiod at Counterspin Central who believes he is being watched by the authorities or the shooter. That is, that they are reading his blog.

Although a number of people have suggested the terrorist connection, none has put the case with such certainty as Isntapundit (careful on the spelling). I think the latest revelations (tarot card etc) mitigate against this, and I didn't think it highly likely in the first place, but you can't rule anything out, I guess. Still, it's hard to figure why some people are so keen for it to be terrorists. Spleenville has this rant and concludes that even if it isn't terrorists she has hurt anyone by saying that it is. Well, except the facts.

For some wide ranging speculation on the IRA, the Aryan Republican Army and other possible suspects, you could read this longish post. It's a bit all over the place, but that happens with blogging. One line in there that you might want to think about is this: "I regard guns as no more responsible for these murders than I regard airplanes as responsible for September 11." Nice bumper sticker but not terribly compelling. Let's talk about relative levels of regulation. Or what happened about plane security in the wake of September 11 as opposed to what will happen to gun control in the wake of this latest serial killing.

This guy thinks that Chief of Police Charles Moose lost the plot this morning by taking a big swipe at the media who reported the tarot card information and ex-cops and others who go on TV and speculate about the identity, motives and m.o. of the killer. Moose did get a little carried away, but under the circumstances, I'm willing to cut him some slack. Such criticism sounds a bit like Monday morning quarterbacking to me (is that the right American expression?)

A quick note, too, to say thanks to the many people who have written to see if things are okay with me and my family. It's appreciated and they are. Although I have to say that last night was probably the worst of the last week, today sees things as close to normal as I've seen since this began. The street is parked out with cars again and there are even kids playing out on the front lawns. What has caused this ratcheting down of the fear level, I don't know.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 7 -- UPDATE

The TV news is reporting that a woman is being questioned by police. She was seen in Clinton, Montgomery County, dropping a man carrying a long case at a park/wooded area that is close to a school. The police are searching the area for the man. Sounds ominous, but the police are stressing that they have nothing definite as yet. They are also refusing outright to speculate on the release of the tarot card information. This seems fair enough.

UPDATE 2

There is a fuller account of this latest development here:

A woman was detained for questioning Wednesday in the search for the serial sniper who has killed six people and seriously wounded two others in the Washington, D.C., area....Prince George's County Police said the woman may have dropped off a man seen walking into a wooded area near a high school in the county....Police, FBI and ATF agents were searching the woods behind Friendly High School after getting at 911 call about a white man wearing a baseball hat, blue jeans and a blue jacket seen getting out of a blue car and carrying a long, black bag.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 7

I discover this morning that there is an error in the post immediately below this: the police did not announce the information about the killer's "calling card". In fact, it was leaked and the police, understandably, are none too pleased. I saw the report on the local (DC) Channel 9 news and, as you can see by the date stamp, blogged it immediately. The news reported it as "an exclusive" but there was, of course, no hint of it being against the wishes of the police. In a sense, I'm glad to have the information, though I'm not sure why. I guess in a situation like this, every bit of evidence casts some sort of light and you can feel a little more in control, however false that feeling might be. On the other hand, I can see why the police might want to keep the information secret as part of their investigations. I guess so far as this case is concerned the point is now moot. The police's displeasure is discussed here.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

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AWFUL UPDATE

Police have just announced that they have found a tarot card at the scene of yesterday's shooting. It has written on it: Hello Policeman, I am God. This is the killer's "calling card".

It just gets sicker.
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THE MARYLAND SHOOTINGS

I'm getting a lot of questions about the series of posts on the shootings and where it starts. The first post is here and then you can then scroll upwards. I've rejigged the preferences so that all the posts should be on this single page.
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SHOOTINGS -- MATTERS ARISING 5

Just going back to William Burton's response to some of the stuff I've written over the last few days. He writes:

If we want to limit gun ownership to people who aren't a proven threat, then the first thing we have to do is guarantee to law abiding citizens that they do have a right to bear arms. That's right. If we affirm, once and for all, that the 2nd Amendment gives a personal right to gun ownership, this would be the best way to garner support for gun control. Let me explain.

Many gun owners see every gun control measure, no matter how benign, as another step towards taking away their right to bear arms. This is true both because of paranoia whipped up by right-wing politicians and pundits who want to manipulate gun owners into supporting their other causes (regressive taxation, reversing environmental laws, et al) and because some gun control advocates sincerely do want to ban all guns. As long as a complete ban on gun ownership is even a possibility, then many (if not most) gun owners will oppose any attempts at gun control.


I must admit that on the surface it is a very compelling argument and he puts the case well. I wonder, however, how valid it is.

Consider the difficult position in which such an argument puts gun advocates like the NRA. They have argued for years that (1) the government can't be trusted and, in fact, it is in anticipation of a tyrannical turn on their part that we must be allowed to keep our guns; (2) that the Second Amendment should be interpreted as an individual right to bear arms; and (3) that any form of gun control is just the thin edge of the wedge, and that any restriction on use just puts us on a slippery slope to confiscation.

Okay, so having argued all that, and keeping William's position in mind, wouldn't an individual interpretation of the 2A have to come under the NRA's definition of a "slippery slope" and wouldn't the NRA and like-minded gun advocates therefore have to oppose it?

That is, if William is correct, and that having won a constitutional right to individual ownership, many gun owners would be willing to accept stricter controls, then the NRA is in a bind. Sure, the judicial branch of the government has guaranteed your right to individual ownership, but you can't trust the government, can you? That's one of the reasons you need the guns in the first place. But even if we discard that argument, they are still left with the fact that an acceptance of an individual right to bear arms is potentially the thin edge of the control wedge, putting the country on the slippery slope to confiscation. This is the point of William's argument, the one that in some ways make it so compelling, especially to those in favour of tighter gun control. But it would be fatal to the NRA position.

Does William really think that, having spent so much time and effort and money on making such arguments that the NRA et al will suddenly accept stricter controls just because of a shift in the interpretation of the constitution?

On their own logic, they can't afford to. Therefore I would suggest that William's argument, although elegant and compelling in some respects, is fatally flawed.
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SHOOTINGS -- MATTERS ARISING 4

Although I mentioned earlier that some have taken the opportunity provided by the deaths of 6 people and the wounding of 2 others by a gun-toting sniper to argue for more guns in the community, I notice that the NRA has not. Even though they have a regularly updated news/comments section on their homepage, there is not one mention, after nearly a week, of the Maryland shootings. Probably just an oversight.

You can, however, sign up for their very own ISP: "We're excited about NRA Online," says NRA Treasurer Woody Phillips. "So many people have requested a high-quality, pro-gun alternative to the mass market ISPs that we felt the time was right to launch one.

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SHOOTINGS -- MATTERS ARISING 3

I know there is now a reward out for the Maryland shooter, but if there is a reward for the riskiest post on the topic, it might go to Tbogg. Will he get away with it?
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SHOOTINGS -- MATTERS ARISING 2

I've been reading some more opinions on US gun control and have decided it reinforces a point I made earlier: that in any wider debate on gun control, Americans have nothing useful to add. This does not mean, as William Burton suggests, that I think they have nothing useful to say about gun control in their own country. What I suggested was that the circumstances in the US are such that the toothpaste probably cannot be put back into the tube. Guns outnumber people; there is a well-organised and well-funded lobby industry aimed at promoting gun use; there is an (arguable) constitutional right to bear arms: it all adds up to being damn close to the point of no return, where serious reform is probably impossible. This, however, is not an argument in favour of gun ownership as William basically suggests. It's not an argument at all. It's just an admission of defeat.

Consequently, the arguments sensible people like William put forward within in this context sound faintly ridiculous to someone who has experienced an alternative context and knows that, in some countries if not the US, gun control can work pretty well.

Australia is held up by the likes the NRA as part of their "slippery slope" argument; of a country where the government has "disarmed" the civilian population. This is nonsense. In the wake of one of the few mass killings in contemporary Australian history, the "civilian population" demanded that government do something about the number of guns in the community. Unlike successive US governments, the Australian government (of a persuasion I oppose) responded with stricter laws, a temporary tax to fund a gun buy-back scheme and the actual buying back of guns:

In the 1996-97 Australian gun buy-back, two-thirds of a million semi-automatic and pump-action rifles and shotguns were sold to the government at market value. Thousands more gun owners volunteered their firearms for free, and nearly 700,000 guns were destroyed....By destroying one-seventh of its estimated stock of firearms (the equivalent figure in the USA would be 30 million), Australia has significantly altered the composition of its civilian arsenal....In addition, all remaining guns must be individually registered to their licensed owners, private firearm sales are no longer permitted and each gun purchase through a licensed arms dealer is scrutinised by police to establish a "genuine reason" for ownership. Possession of guns for self-defence is specifically prohibited, and very few civilians are permitted to own a handgun. All the nation's governments, police forces and police unions support the current gun laws.

See, under other circumstances, it can be done. Not only were people NOT outraged, worried about their freedom being impinged, or concerned about out-of-control "big government", they were well pleased. Government, being the institutional will of the people, had not shown itself to be a tyrannical threat to the citizens but had done precisely what it is was meant to do, reflect the will of the vast majority of the people.

And it had the desired effect:

---There was a decrease of almost 30% in the number of homicides by firearms from 1997 to 1998."
Australian Crime - Facts and Figures 1999. Australian Institute of Criminology. Canberra, Oct 1999
This report shows that as gun ownership has been progressively restricted since 1915, Australia's firearm homicide rate per 100,000 population has declined to almost half its 85-year average.

---The overall rate of homicide in Australia has also dropped to its lowest point since 1989 (National Homicide Monitoring Program, 1997-98 data). It remains one-fourth the homicide rate in the USA....The Institute of Criminology report Australian Crime - Facts and Figures 1999 includes 1998 homicide data showing "a 9% decrease from the rate in 1997." This is the period in which most of the country's new gun laws came into force.

---The Australian rate of gun death per 100,000 population remains one-fifth that of the United States...."We have observed a decline in firearm-related death rates (essentially in firearm-related suicides) in most jurisdictions in Australia. We have also seen a declining trend in the percentage of robberies involving the use of firearms in Australia."
Mouzos, J. Firearm-related Violence: The Impact of the Nationwide Agreement on Firearms. Trends & Issues in Crime & Criminal Justice No. 116. Australian Institute of Criminology. Canberra, May 1999; 6

---Those who claim that Australia suffered a "crime wave" as a result of new gun laws often cite as evidence unrelated figures for common assault or sexual assault (no weapon) and armed robbery (any weapon). In fact less than one in five Australian armed robberies involve a firearm...."Although armed robberies increased by nearly 20%, the number of armed robberies involving a firearm decreased to a six-year low."...Recorded Crime, Australia, 1998. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Jun 1999

---"A declining firearm suicide rate, a declining firearm assault rate, a stable firearm robbery rate with a declining proportion of robberies committed with a firearm and a declining proportion of damage to property offences committed with a firearm suggest that firearm regulation has been successful in Tasmania."...Warner, Prof K. Firearm Deaths and Firearm Crime After Gun Licensing in Tasmania. Australian Institute of Criminology, 3rd National Outlook Symposium on Crime in Australia. Canberra, 22-23 Mar 1999.

It even helped to get the government re-elected.

Of course, the results are not perfect, nor is Australia some sort of crime-free nirvana - far from it. But it is an example of what can be done before too much toothpaste leaves the tube. Personally, I have no problem with gun ownership per se, and I've no intention to teach Americans how to suck eggs, but maybe the example can show that majority of Americans who are in favour of much stricter gun control that there is perhaps an alternative, despite all the well-rehearsed arguments about slippery slopes and thin ends of wedges.

If the argument is about personal freedom, I reckon mine is enhanced by being less likely to be shot--accidentally or on purpose--than by letting ever-more people arm themselves. And if the NRA wants to hold Australia up as an example of what can happen when you have gun control, then let them at least tell the truth, not spread lies. And the truth is, people wanted gun control; people got it; and it works.
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SHOOTINGS -- MATTERS ARISING

Heretical thought from someone trying to figure a few things out: how many of those who tell us we have to trust the President and the Administration in their justifications for a full-scale war against Iraq are also of the opinion that we have to assert our individual right to bear arms because we can never trust the government?

ADDITIONALLY: A similar question is posed via Electrolite, I've just noticed.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 6

Good news and bad news. No-one else has been shot since yesterday and no-one has been arrested. The boy shot yesterday is okay, but I just saw an interview with his doctor who said that they had to remove his spleen, as well as parts of his stomach and some of his pancreas. He also said, as this report notes, "But those are organs all of us can live without." What the...?

A search was made of a house, but this story has disappeared from the website so I don't know anymore about it.

But, at the scene of the school shooting, they actually found a shell casing, about 150 yards away from where the boy was hit. This could be a big breakthrough, I guess:

Specially trained dogs found a .223-caliber shell casing in a wooded area about 140 yards from the Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, Md., where a 13-year-old boy was critically wounded Monday in the most recent shooting, The Washington Post reported today.... An investigator told the Post that a shooter would have had a clear sight line from where the casing was found to where the boy was shot....Prince George's County Police Chief Gerald Wilson would not confirm the report, but he said that evidence had been found and was being evaluated...."We did recover some evidence that I'm not at liberty to get into, but I can tell you that some was turned over to the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] and even some other we will share with our coalition partners this morning," Wilson said.

There is much speculation about "what will happen next" and the inevitable talk of "profiling". Some think he chose a child as a victim this time just to let us all know that he could, that no-one is safe. In other words, he is upping the ante and well and truly out to let us know how skillful, clever and unafraid he is. This suggests to me that he will continue to work in this vain, which means the next attempt will occur in a way that doesn't match in any respect what has happened so far. So, as all of the shootings have been from a distance, near a freeway exit and with good cover provided by the likes of a woodland area, I'd guess, for what it's worth, that these features will be ignored next time. I also suspect that his next victim will be an authority figure, probably a policeman at one of the previous sites, as what better way to show this is in your control?

BTW: this guy is probably angry that the last two people he shot have lived.

For what it's worth, a reward of $150,000 has been posted.

Chief Moose has also sent an official request to the Federal Attorney General requesting that this event be classified as a serial killing:

A federal law on serial killings underscores the important investigative role the FBI is playing in the terrifying sniper shootings that have left six people dead and two seriously wounded....The statute invoked Monday by Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Charles Moose says the U.S. attorney general and the FBI may look into serial killings if they get a request from the head of a local law enforcement agency....The law defines serial killings as a series of three or more such crimes, at least one of them committed in the United States....Moose's request in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft follows a substantial amount of assistance from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. ATF linked the bullets that struck most of the victims to the same rifle.

It also looks like they are reinvestigating an earlier shooting (Sept 14) which fits the MO. It occurred close to the site of the first shootings. A guy in a liquor shop was wounded with a single shot.

In the meantime, life doesn't go as normal. I've kept Noah home from school today. I guess he'll probably go tomorrow. I don't claim that there is any logic in this.

Monday, October 07, 2002

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SHOOTINGS DAY 5 - EVENING

Police have now officially linked the most recent shooting--a 13 year old boy outside his school--with the other 7 victims:

At a press conference shortly before 5 p.m. today, Prince George's Police Chief Gerald Wilson said the bullet pulled from the boy had been identified by federal law enforcement officials as the same as those used in the killings last week. He said his department and police from Montgomery County would be working together to "marshal our resources" in the case.

At least we're still only looking for one suspect (though this guy may have a driver or something, don't forget). Small mercies, I guess. The boy shot this morning is critical, but expected to live. Some interesting exchanges are starting to happen in the comments boxes to these various posts on the shootings: please feel free to join in. If I sound a little frazzled, it doesn't mean I'm not willing to discuss the broader issues.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 5

NOTE: I'll just update this post on the topic as needs be, so scroll down: (so far 2 updates)

A thirteen year old boy has just been shot outside a school in Bowie, Maryland. I heard this on the car radio having just dropped Noah at school. I turned the car around and went back to the school and spoke to the security guard who would say little. I wasn't able to see the principal. Should I take Noah home with me? Again, I figured he is safer where he is, though if I had heard this before school I would've kept him home. I haven't got a clue what the best thing to do is. By the time I came out of the school, there were police cars parked on the streets. I came home and rang the school and asked what security measures were in place. I was almost given short-shrift. The woman on the desk actually said, "It's just a normal day." I said, well no it isn't, a boy has just been shot outside a school in Maryland. She was shocked, obviously hadn't heard. She went and spoke to the principal and came back and told me, in a much nicer tone of voice, that the school was in "lockdown" which means doors locked and kids not allowed outside during the day. I'm not angry at the school at all, and I'm sure they are doing everything that should be done. But what do you do?

The injured boy, who has been flown to hospital, was walking into school with his mum. No-one knows if its the same murderer, but if it is, this is the first time he has shot someone other than an isolated individual. Imagine being his mother and have that happen next to you. It seems to have happened from a distance, though there is no confirmation of that. It might of course be a copycat. Certainly no shortage of armed people to be inspired by this guy. Targeting children. Now it's back to the TV and please, a report of the capture of this person.

UPDATE 1

The boy shot this morning is still alive, though serious. There are conflicting reports about how many times he was hit: most say once, though some reports have said he is suffering from a chest and abdomen wound. It seems confirmed that he was with his aunt, not his mother, when he was shot. All schools have been locked down and police are requesting children be left at school, except at the school where the boy was shot - these parents are being asked to take their kids home. The usual calls for "calm" are being issued and I'm sure it will basically ensue as what else can you do? Be "calm".

The phone just rang and a woman said she was from my son's school. My heart did a backflip. Turns out she wanted to sign me up to give a presentation to the kids on Australia. Sure: my topic will be, we have gun laws and don't feel our freedom is restricted by not having the whole country armed to the teeth.

Blogging around, I discover my concerns make me a wuss. This genius, concerned that some politicians might use taxation as a backdoor way of limiting gun ownership (impose huge taxes on guns and ammunition to put them out of reach financially)--which strikes me as a very good idea--has proposed "national ammo day" as a way around this infringement of his liberties:

And I just got sick and tired of this nonsense, and wanted to strike back at these statist jerks, and say, "Here! This is the depth of popular resentment against that tripe you're talking!"

But what to do? What gesture could we gun owners in particular, and Second Amendment supporters in general, make that would smack these disgusting gun-controllers in the nose?

As usual, my Mrs. came up with a fine idea.

What if, on just one day of the year, every gun owner in the United States went out and bought a hundred rounds of ammunition?

Given that there are as many as seventy-five million gun owners in the United States, the net result would be that 7.5 billion rounds of ammunition would go into public circulation, in one day.

Now not every gun owner is going to do this. Heck, of the 75 million gun owners, only about 6% (4 million-odd) belong to a Second Amendment-supporting organization like Gun Owners of America, the Second Amendment Sisters, RKBA, and of course the NRA. Not everyone is going to get the word, either, especially as you would hear not a peep about this in the mainstream media.

But what if just 15% of all gun owners bought themselves a hundred rounds of ammo on the same day? That would be over a billion rounds of ammunition going into circulation -- and that's what I'm aiming for.

Heck, gun owners have to buy ammo all the time -- we're just asking that they all buy it on the same day.

Most importantly, however, is what a billion rounds of ammo does for gun ownership in the United States:

It sends a message to the local and international gun-grabbers that gun owners have considerable muscle.

If the country is awash in ammunition, it makes the prospect of punitive sales taxes a moot issue -- no point in hoping that people will run out of ammunition when everyone has a huge supply of it.

So I'm making a personal appeal to all gun owners and Second Amendment supporters in the United States:

Please buy 100 rounds of your favorite ammunition on November 19, 2002.

Why November 19th? Well, the best thing about November 19th is that it's just an ordinary day, this year a Tuesday, falling during the week before Thanksgiving week. There's no conflict with any holiday or other event -- it's just an ordinary day.

Actually, there's one thing about November 19th that does make it special.

It's my birthday.

And the very best birthday present I can think of would be a poke in the eye for all gun-grabbers, gun-fearing wussies and their media lickspittles. Just once, I'd like millions of ordinary, law-abiding people to stand up and make a defiant, and legal, gesture at the face of authority.

This is not being sponsored by anyone, and has no official anything. It's just plain old popular defiance -- and it's perfectly legal, requires no one to do anything out of the ordinary.

One hundred rounds. More if you can afford it. November 19, 2002.

We'll call it National Ammo Day.

One billion rounds of ammunition into private ownership, in one day.

Spread the word, tell everyone you know, post it up on bulletin boards, send emails, alert your friends and family. You might even want the NRA to know about it.


Note to genius: I might be one of your gun-grabbing, gun-fearing wussies but just remember, in all likelihood, the guy running around killing people near my house and taking shots at school children is one of your guys; that is, a second-amendment, NRA, no restrictions supporter, not one of us wussies. One billion rounds of ammunition into private ownership: what a great idea.

(PS: I just ran a spellcheck on this update and the alternative it gave for "wussies" was "Aussies". I guess the gun-genius quoted would agree. Ya gotta laugh.)

UPDATE 2

Iris Metts, CEO of Schools in Maryland, said officials would be "very, very careful with dismissal today".

Well, not at my son's school. I went to the usual side entrance where I pick him up about 10 minutes ahead of dismissal time--going along with the constant requests for parents not to show up early. The door was wide open, nobody around. I was about to go inside when I saw one of Noah's classmates wander by with his mother. "Is their class out?" I asked and she said yes and pointed to the front of the school where, sure enough, the kids were lined up near the street. They were out earlier than usual, the school was wide open, and they were in the care of a woman I'd never seen before. I found out the teacher had left earlier in the day, but I don't know why. Not happy, Jan.

Just before I went to the school I saw police chief Moose giving a media update with tears running down his cheeks. He said that, in shooting a child, this guy had "crossed a line". Well, a line had already been crossed, let's face it, but I knew what he meant.

The only common feature anyone can find in this is that all the sites where people have been shot have had two things in common: a wooded area or some such nearby and proximity to freeway exits. You'll understand if I'm relieved that my son's school is an area with neither of these features.

The Mayor of Washington DC, Anthony Williams, said today: "We want to emphasize to people that we've got to . . . carry on with our regular lives......We don't want this person to be the victor here." What the fuck does that mean?

Sunday, October 06, 2002

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SHOOTINGS DAY 4

The number of victims still stands at seven, with five of them dead. No-one has been arrested, and a man initially thought to be a strong suspect has now been discounted. In fact, final forensic evidence has only linked 5 of the victims to the one gun, though there is little doubt the other two were shot with the same weapon.

And although the media and police have noted that all victims have been hit with a single shot, no-one seem to have commented on the fact that each victim was alone when they were shot. Surely this is worth mentioning and considering?

So what's it like on the streets around here? Noticeably quieter. The weather is beautiful at the moment, but the parks are almost empty and our neighbours, who generally live on their front lawns with their kids on days like this are nowhere to be seen.

But what do you do? The police encourage people to "not let this interfere with their normal routines" as if the sentence has some meaning. But the fact is, you can't stay in your house all day everyday. You do just have to get on with things. Though this involves taking your son outside the house that provides at least some protection, however modest. You hold his hand and kid yourself that this helps. You tell yourself that you're taller than him. It's irrational when you think about it. Why wouldn't you just stayed locked inside? Because for some reason you can't and at some level you don't really think it is going to happen to you. And in fact, the probability of it being you is low. Just like it was for the seven victims. It's the logic of the lottery: sure there is only a one in thirteen million chance of me winning, but somebody's got to win it. So we go outside.

Yesterday we went to a street market in Bethesda, in a shopping area a mile or two from the Rockville shootings. They had closed off a block of streets--an annual event--and many of the restaurants from the area had set up food stalls. There were also bands playing and school kids performing Irish dancing and Mexican dancing and the like. It was the sort of event that gives capitalism a good name.

There were quite a few people there, but less, I'm guessing, than you would normally expect. It certainly wasn't crowded--you could walk around quite easily and find a seat at the tables set up in front of the stages or on the edge of the trafficless roads. My wife, son and I found a bit of grass to sit on outside a hairdressers and leant back against the wall and scoffed truly delicious crabcake burgers. Without even realising I was doing it, my eyes were scanning the rooftops opposite. There was a block of flats (apartments), all with small balconies looking down over where we were sitting and where people were enjoying the market. There were other tall buildings which provided a good vantage points and easy cover.

Then, up on top of the tallest building, I sighted a face peeking over the wall. He had a black baseball cap on and sunglasses. He brought a up a gun (a rifle? something long and with telescopic sites) to rest on the ledge, though not to take aim. Then I was aware of another man beside him and another and another, all dressed the same way; all armed. These were good guys I realised, with a joint sense of relief and continuing trepidation. They were obviously part of a contingent assigned to keep watch over us. And by now, too, helicopters were flying low over the streets.

This is what it's like around here at the moment.

In the meantime, the deaths of the last few days are providing endless fun for the gun fetishists who are starting to fill up the blogs with speculation on the type of weapon and on the actual skill level of the murderer. I am amazed by disconnect that creeps into their conversations on this topic; the effortless way in which they can divorce their speculation from the awfulness of what has happened and their fascination with guns and shooting in general. For instance, here's a example from the comments box attached to this post:

.223 light for a deer hunter. I use a .243, but a .223 is a flat shooter, usually used on varmits and with hollowpoints would be suitable for sniping civilians. If any distance is involved, I would bet on a civilian type rifle. Although,I was deadly out to 300 meters with a M16, most of the "assault weapons" out here now are a piece of junk

I can almost imagine it written in a gun catalogue: "usually used on varmits and with hollowpoints would be suitable for sniping civilians."

Another contributor to the same comments box just has to tell us: "A Mini-14 is a superb semiauto varmint gun, in .223." That's his only comment. I'll keep it in mind.

On another blog, this guy actually makes an interesting point:

The news reports also said that the shooter was a "skilled marksman." I'll agree that he is a trained marksman, but I don't think the shootings indicate unusual skill in marksmanship.

In the urban areas the shootings occurred, I would be surprised if any of the shootings took place at ranges of more than 100 yards. (With a muzzle velocity of 3,250 feet per second, the bullet travels 100 yards in less than one-tenth second. That's basically instantaneous.) I once helped train raw Army recruits. They could hit at 100 yards almost all the time. And basic trainees are far from "skilled" shooters. It does not take a lot of practice shooting to consistently hit a person-size target (tragically, real persons in this case) from 100-150 yards.

Using a scope requires steadying the rifle so the sight picture doesn't jiggle. A simple, short snap-on bipod is made that takes maybe a second to clip onto or off of the barrel, and is designed to be used from a prone position. But from a distance of only 100 yards or so, an average marksman does not need a scope. Scopes are also easy to knock out of zero (or boresight) which would cause a miss. Accuracy with a scope requires re-boresighting every time it is mounted. So I would guess no scope was used because it would slow down the shooter.


If there is any truth in this assessment, then this could just be your standard suburban gun owner out shooting your standard suburban neighbours. I wonder, then, if I have a casus belli for pre-emptive action against anyone I find with a gun? This seems a more imminent threat than Saddam Hussein. Maybe I should enact my own localised version of the Bush doctrine? Maybe somebody already is. This might be a foolish comparison or even an offensive one. At the moment, though, it has a certain force to my way of thinking. Basically, it doesn't bear thinking about.

CORRECTION: You'd think I'd get this right: there are seven victims, six of them have died. The woman shot in the shopping centre in Virginia is in a stable condition in hospital. Apologies.