Connecticut, gun-control, and human nature

LAWS are written for the average citizen, the meaty portion of the demographic bell curve, but a referendum on a law usually springs from something an outlier does. It may be subtle, like someone exploiting a tax-loophole, or in-your-face, like someone walking from classroom to classroom firing multiple rounds at cherubic victims.

Adam Lanza (Wikipedia)

Adam Lanza discharged a firearm on innocent children, teachers, and his mother, before killing himself. Twenty eight people died, fourteen of them children. We have seen this before. The Virginia Tech shooting happened about five years ago. And a few months later—not nearly as gruesome, but closer to home—a man had sneaked a gun into my university campus before he was apprehended. Luckily there were no casualties. These, with the Gabrielle Giffords case,  and the Aurora shooting, have ensured a stalemated gun-control debate, with one side claiming it’s too soon to talk about it and the other questioning the logic of civilians carrying assault weapons. What we have here is a nation divided, with most participants refusing to budge, on an issue that isn’t elucidated as much as we’d like to believe.

For every gun-owner who kills innocent people, there are thousands who don’t. That we cannot ignore. Instead of restricting the sale of weapons, let’s collect and publicize information on gun-owners. Nancy Lanza was a survivalist who owned over a dozen guns and stockpiled food in preparation for the ‘apocalypse.’ She also took her sons to shooting practice. There are fewer red flags at a communist rally. Instead of banning assault weapons for civilians, why not use the information? Put someone such as Lanza’s mother on a watch-list. When a twenty-year old has access to and carries semiautomatics, in violation of Connecticut law, follow him around in a chopper if you like. The Second Amendment prohibits none of that.

The more regulatory hoops people have to jump through to get whatever they want, the likelier that they pursue illegal methods to get it. And shadow economies that fly under the radar use violence as currency. The drug war and Prohibition have taught us that. Let people buy the weapons legally, but keep tabs on them. Educate them that the Second Amendment doesn’t protect them from a tyrannical federal government that possesses nuclear weapons. Nothing does. It was drafted back when the government and the people had the same weapons. Today, you have the right to own a gun, not the right to keep it secret. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s something.

Some say that had twenty-eight people died in a terrorist attack, the people drooling all over the Second Amendment right now would have gladly forfeited what’s left of their Fourth Amendment. That, I believe, is a false equivalence. Terrorists are malevolent but sane people who kill in cold blood. Every single terrorist act must be punished swiftly and harshly, or more will happen. But this man was crazy, and besides his mother, he didn’t know his victims; so this wasn’t personal.

It is a natural human tendency to take for granted the good things that happen and to regard as the workings of the devil the bad things. And that if a bad thing comes along, you say, my God, we ought to pass a law and do something. — Milton Friedman

Gun ownership prevents crimes too. Sure, fewer guns are fired in defense than offense, but the presence of a gun, or even the possibility of one, makes a person less of a sitting duck. We cannot know of all the attempted burglaries, rapes, and muggings thwarted by the victim’s possession of a gun, without even firing it. While this argument does not justify a 20-year-old carrying a Bushmaster XM-15, it does muddy the issue.

It’s human nature to make sense of tribulation—a significance, anything to escape the sad truth that we are but dots on a tapestry, whole lives without meaning to anyone except those living them. (Perhaps that’s why our ancestors invented religion.) I don’t mean to insult the loss of life, or those that died. But these events are an aberration. It’s unlikely and unfortunate when an earthquake or a tsunami occurs, and similarly, now and then someone, somewhere snaps and hurts people without reason. This wasn’t an act of terrorism, not a murder for profit, nor anything preventable. This was a tragedy. Let’s grieve with all of our hearts and comfort the bereaved.

Source: abcnews.com

Let’s not forget, in our sorrow for the victims and our indignation on guns, that there were heroes in that school. It is often said that heroes are those who put themselves in harm’s way. The teachers and aides, the principal, and the school psychologist showed outstanding courage as they selflessly rescued as many children as they could, often paying with their own lives. Victoria Soto actually misdirected Lanza by telling him that her students were in the auditorium, while she hid them in cabinets and cupboards. She probably knew he’d kill her, but she protected the tots in her charge anyway. These women did more than save lives. They did wonders to conserve my faith in humanity. And probably yours.

Where I was today, eleven years ago

9/11:  As the eleventh anniversary is upon us, I thought I would recount my 9/11 story.

September 2001. I was in eleventh grade, or First Year Junior College as we called it in Mumbai. I was checking my email on rediff.com on a cranky dial-up—which is irrelevant except to highlight that whole idea of checking email back then was to get-in, read, and get-out lest someone calls the land-line and I might have to start again.

Before I logged in, I read something like “Plane crashes into New York World Trade Center Building.” I didn’t click on it. I thought it was a tasteless joke by some writer who should not have followed his dream. When I was done, and I logged out, I read that the second tower had been hit.

I had never felt such horror. As everyone else, I was appalled by the loss of life, but what distressed me was the randomness of this brutality. This could hit anyone, anywhere. None of those victims provoked this. Their existence was unjustly halted—not to mention the loss to their loved ones.

My emotions weren’t nearly as complex as they are now, but I also remember this feeling of foreboding. Even before 9/11, we knew what terrorism was in India. We had faced bomb blasts and our constant friction with Pakistan meant that anybody in Mumbai could someday become a target. But America couldn’t be touched. No one would dare attack the USA. It would always be a beacon of the future, a vanguard of technology, and the truest practical representation of liberty in the real world. And it was strong. Call me naive, but it meant something that an almost-utopia existed.

Every anniversary of this fateful day, all I can think of is that no one is safe. Now, intellectually, I’m aware that the probability of dying from terrorism is minuscule compared to many other risks we take everyday. But I’m sorry; dying of lung cancer or heart disease or the complications of diabetes is not the same as a plane crashing into your building. Dying prematurely from an unsafe lifestyle is not the same as the existence of malicious people in this world who want to hurt us.

The impact of a terrorist attack is farther-reaching than any other calamity. It travels through time too. Not to take anything away from the victims or their loved ones or from the heroic firefighters, but on that day, we were all victims. At least a bit.

Related posts:

Today I’m thankful — Geminigirlinarandomworld

Remembering — Kitchen Slattern

The aftermath

The ISI has leaked to the media the name of a CIA agent stationed in Pakistan as some sort of childish retaliation to American forces violating the sovereignty of their country. Apparently, the fact that the world’s most wanted terrorist was hiding in their country in a large villa opposite a military base isn’t bothersome enough for them. They are way more worried about how US helicopters entered their country undetected, and executed a surgical mission to kill a man who was responsible for the death of many Americans directly and indirectly responsible for bankrupting the country by leading them into two wars.

What I don’t get in this whole scenario is why America keeps funding Pakistan so much when it is seems that the Pakistani army and intelligence are definitely incompetent, and/or quite likely that there are some bad apples in the ISI.

Who cares? Let them cry foul and throw a tantrum. When they want to buy weapons to arm themselves against India, they’ll know whom to kiss up to. Cui bono is an important question to be asked in political debates. It basically means to whose benefit? It is in Pakistan’s financial interest and political expediency to foster terrorism within their borders. Keeping militants happy in their country ensures the death of a few Indians every year and guarantees the flow of cash from Uncle Sam to stem terrorism as it were.

The sovereignty of Pakistan is a tricky question. In a civilized world, it shouldn’t be legal for agents from one country to enter another and commit murder. Surely there’s something wrong with that. It would have been a different thing if CIA agents in disguise had entered the compound and killed bin Laden in some guerrilla way and quietly exited the country without a trace. Kinda like how Mossad runs things. The Obama administration needed a nice victory. No one would say that they killed bin Laden to increase polling numbers but publicizing this as an American effort and painting red, white and blue all over the news does reek of opportunism.

On the other hand, had this been a special OPs kind of operation, the Pakistani intelligence or army would’ve taken credit for this, further obfuscating their role in the war against terrorism. It must have been a dicey situation.

Now we have another question to answer. Did the enhanced interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration directly or indirectly lead to this operation? If it did, is it still fair for a democratic civilized nation to torture people for information, whether it is reliable or not?

There is some evidence to say that important information obtained about bin Laden’s courier was a product of torture, but the people who were waterboarded the most like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, produced very little usable information at best. They also misled the investigation more. This leads credence to what was said by Nice Guy Eddie in Reservoir Dogs, “If you f**king beat this prick long enough, he’ll tell you he started the goddamn Chicago fire, now that don’t necessarily make it f**king so!”

It is expedient, and not just politically, to do whatever measures seem necessary to protect innocent people. I just end up thinking that in that zeal, we might turn into the very people we are fighting against. We must draw a line. There are some things that civilized people just won’t do. Something as barbaric as torture should be one of them.

I think it is best summed up by Tommy Vietor, the spokesman for the National Security Council, “The bottom line is this: If we had some kind of smoking-gun intelligence from waterboarding in 2003, we would have taken out Osama bin Laden in 2003.”

bin Laden ke: my thoughts

My first reaction to the news was surprisingly nothing. I mean, I wasn’t really concentrating. I was on the phone and simply checking my google news feed during a lull in the conversation, but I must say that it took me to the moment I was checking my mail in 2001.

I was still using a dial-up internet connection and was logging into my rediffmail account, for which I had to go through rediff.com. While I was entering my username and password, I inadvertently noticed a piece of news saying something to the effect of “Plane crashes into World Trade Center building”. I barely took notice of it, and the page refreshed quickly anyway to my email inbox, which preoccupied me completely. I basically did nothing productive, just replied to a bunch of emails and logged out. I was brought back to rediff.com and by now the news had changed to “Second Plane crashes into World Trade center” or something like that. Now, my interest was piqued.

As I read about what would probably be the largest single act of terrorism I will ever see, I felt a kind of fear I didn’t understand. Sure, people died needlessly on the streets of Bombay and Delhi etc, but America was untouchable…or so I had thought.

Living in a developing country makes us susceptible to a bunch of misunderstandings about the developed world. To us, places like America seemed like a large playboy mansion where everyone was comfortable and getting a lot of nookie. Of course, I was 16 in 2001, so you can excuse my sweeping generalizations. But most of all, I was under the delusion that people in the Western world were a lot safer than us. This event scared me a lot because I just realized how far from the truth I was.

While I was but 16, I couldn’t understand what force could be so strong as to motivate 19 young educated people to giving up their lives and their futures while taking so many people with them. It was later revealed by the media that the planes were to hit the buildings at exactly the right height and angle, and with the right amount of speed in order to inflict the damage that they ultimately did. So this wasn’t some spur of the moment hot-headed act. It was planned, cold-blooded mass murder.

And now the perpetrator of that was dead. What bothered me so much was that all we heard was that he died. Sure, there were some details as to the incident, but was there an attempt to capture him alive? They said he resisted, but he didn’t seem to have a weapon. Just how do you resist capture by armed forces without weapons?

The reason I did not feel the closure I wanted to feel was that I wanted him captured. I wanted him handcuffed, held against his will, pleading for the right to live and be free. I wanted him tried in a court, so that we can show the numerous other misled folk what happens to people who hurt us. I wanted it to be clear that while we will avenge our wrongs, we are not barbarians. We will not deign to deal with scum like him the way he deals with our people. And most of all, I wanted his followers to see what a common man he was, who lived secretly and died a joke, and not the martyr they probably think he is now.

While the Republicans are scrambling for photos of his body, I do believe that releasing them to the public would be a bad idea. Photos of bin Laden with a bullet hole in his eye are inflammatory. Representative Duncan Hunter of California says that terrorists who want to hurt innocent people will not be dissuaded by the lack of these photos. Perhaps. But photos like these are great recruiting material for the Muslim fundamentalists. These people are easy to rile up. Mere Danish cartoons generated unbelievable vitriol, and actual photos of their hero’s corpse will shore up Al Qaeda’s enlistment numbers.

While I’m pissed off with President Obama for a bunch of things, I do believe he made the right call here. We all just need to move on.

Update: Chembelle argues that bin Laden could’ve had bombs strapped to his chest which he could’ve detonated at any time. Maybe trying to capture him alive would’ve been too big a risk to take.

Either way, hope this issue is settled now, and we can focus on real stuff.