Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Just (yet) another college shooting

I feel I should write something about the latest US college shooting at Virginia Tech yesterday. 33 are dead (including the perpetrator) and at least 12 wounded, making it the deadliest ever, even by America's horrific standards.
However, I really can't think of anything apposite to write. Commiserations to the relatives? Ban all guns? How is America failing its disaffected youth? None of it really seems appropriate right now.
Maybe just a little resumé of recent occurrences to try and get some perspective.
According to the Globe's Editorial, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (bizarre that this should be the organization keeping track of all this stuff) apparently documented 220 school-based shootings involving 253 deaths in the 6 short years between 1994 and 1999 (almost one a week). In overall terms, however, these events become lost in the stat that 15 young people (between 10 and 24 in age) a day are killed in the US as a whole. CDC also reports that over 5% of US high school students regularly use firearms.
Probably the best known individual incident (until this one) was Columbine in 1999, with a total tally of 15 deaths including the 2 perpetrators, but a handy, if rather gruesome, Globe and Mail interactive graphic shows that things have shown little or no improvement since then.
Although the occurences are less frequent, Canada is by no means exempt, culminating in Marc Lépine's Montreal rampage back in 1989 (resulting in 14 deaths) and, more recently, Kimveer Gill's inept attempt (mercifully occasioning just one death). Arguably, Canadian gun control laws in recent years have kept the numbers down, but it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions.
It may be instructive to look at some of Virginia's gun laws: anyone over the age of 12 may own and possess a rifle or shotgun, but only those 18 and older may have a handgun; permits are not required, but without one only a single handgun can be bought per month; no training is required to buy, use or carry a concealed gun provided the user has a permit; paperwork on handgun sales is kept for 12 months so the one-gun-per-month law can be enforced, but registration is not required.
No doubt, in the coming days, details will emerge, as they usually do, of the tortured soul who carried out this latest incident, and no doubt the words "ordinary", "reclusive", "loner"and "alienated" will surface, as they usually do. But it seems that the innocent days (if indeed there ever were any, except in my imagination) when alienation manifested itself in eccentric dress or, at worst, excessive alcohol intake are long gone.

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