Thursday, April 19, 2007

Matt 24 Watch, 17: On two massacres . . . and the civic duty of the protection of the public

Over the past two or so days, we have had saturation coverage, worldwide, on the sad case of the Virginia Tech mass shootings [latest here], but the case of the murder of several staff at a Bible Publishers' in Turkey has not at all been nearly so widely headlined.

Both are sad cases, revealing of the evil that can lurk in our hearts. They also call us to the duty to repent of evil before it gets out of hand, and rise up to build a society based on neighbour-love. For, it is the awesome and terrible power of moral choice that has in it the seeds of both nobility and the sort of horrors that are so rampant in our headlines. Under God, let us choose and do the good and the true.

However, there is also a telling contrast in coverage, which we need to attend to.

For, the contrast is telling on the agendas and spin games that lurk under what appears in our daily headlines and news stories. (BTW, kudos to Jamaica's Gleaner for the link on the Turkey story!)

Putting the wrenching images and emotion stirring rhetorical flourishes to one side, the obvious issue on the Virginia massacre, is how is it that a crazed lone gunman was able to kill so many people? The answer is sadly quite simple: such lunatics seldom target sites where they are likely to encounter armed opposition -- the murder of the defenceless is a part of their sick calculation. (It is possible to be both mad -- utterly irrational -- and bad, calculatedly, even cleverly violent and destructive of innocents.)

Glenn Reynolds has put a very interesting perspective on this:

Virginia Tech graduate student Bradford Wiles . . . has a permit to carry a gun, in Virginia. But on the day of the shootings, he would have been unarmed . . . Virginia Tech bans guns on campus.

In The Roanoke Times last year - after another campus incident, when a dangerous escaped inmate was roaming the campus - Wiles wrote that, when his class was evacuated, "Of all of the emotions and thoughts that were running through my head that morning, the most overwhelming one was of helplessness. That feeling of helplessness has been difficult to reconcile because I knew I would have been safer with a proper means to defend myself."

Wiles reported that when he told a professor how he felt, the professor responded that she would have felt safer if he had had a gun, too.

What's more, she would have been safer. That's how I feel about my student (one of a few I know who have gun carry permits), as well. She's a responsible adult; I trust her not to use her gun improperly, and if something bad happened, I'd want her to be armed because I trust her to respond appropriately, making the rest of us safer.

Virginia Tech doesn't have that kind of trust in its students (or its faculty, for that matter). Neither does the University of Tennessee. Both think that by making their campuses "gun-free," they'll make people safer, when in fact they're only disarming the people who follow rules, law-abiding people who are no danger at all.

This merely ensures that the murderers have a free hand. [Emphases added]
A no-brainer. Indeed, there are considerable facts to back up the point. As he goes on to summarise, in case after case, the massacre is stopped once a responsible armed person shows up:
. . . some mass shootings have been stopped by armed citizens. Though press accounts downplayed it, the 2002 shooting at Appalachian Law School was stopped when a student retrieved a gun from his car and confronted the shooter. Likewise, Pearl, Miss., school shooter Luke Woodham was stopped when the school's vice principal took a .45 from his truck and ran to the scene. In February's Utah mall shooting, it was an off-duty police officer who happened to be on the scene and carrying a gun.

Police can't be everywhere, and as incidents from Columbine to Virginia Tech demonstrate, by the time they show up at a mass shooting, it's usually too late. On the other hand, one group of people is, by definition, always on the scene: the victims. Only if they're armed, they may wind up not being victims at all.

"Gun-free zones" are premised on a fantasy: That murderers will follow rules, and that people like my student, or Bradford Wiles, are a greater danger to those around them than crazed killers like Cho Seung-hui. That's an insult. Sometimes, it's a deadly one.

But, the underlying challenge is, who do we trust, why -- the responsible citizenry, or the state apparatus -- which has consistently shown that "Police can't be everywhere, and . . . by the time they show up at a mass shooting, it's usually too late." Similarly, had the US long since decided that responsible frequent fliers should be co-opted into the sky marshal corps, it is seriously arguable that the 9/11 hijackings would never even have been attempted, as the risks of failure would then be far greater and incalculable.

So, that brings to the fore the Rom 13:1 - 7 issue that justice through the defence of the innocent is the first duty of the state, and the linked point that in a democratic state, the citizens constitute the base of that protection. I therefore think, it is plainly time to take a leaf out of the book of the Swiss, and recognise that in a world of crazies and terrorists, we have to rethink the business of security in the community.

Further to this, the consistent pattern is that ill-prepared, unarmed victims panicked or froze in the face of an armed crazy or terrorist. So, it is time to train and equip the people all across the world in the basics of civil defence and confronting terrorist-like incidents.

(In short, I am not arguing for a "right" to keep and bear arms or to undergo civil defence training and even basic military training, but a plain duty to do so to protect the community from predators, whether crazed or hateful or simply driven by out of control greed. In the words or the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution, 1787, "A well regulated [i.e. well-trained and equipped] Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State . . ." This is what sets the context for the US constitution's declaration that, as a result, "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Cf FP's discussion here on the all-too-predictable, and dangerously unworkable reactions from several mainline/liberal religious leaders. It also notes commendable exceptions.)

There is a second issue that lurks, and links the cases.

For, in the case of the murderous attack on a Bible publishers' in Turkey, "
Assailants killed three people yesterday at a publishing house that distributed Bibles, in the latest attack apparently targeting Turkey's small Christian minority . . . . The Zirve publishing house has been the site of previous protests by nationalists accusing it of proselytising in this 99 per cent Muslim but secular country, Dogan news agency reported." SO, let us ask: since when is it that seeing to the needs of the CHristian minority in Turkey and peacefully preaching the gospel, "justifies" murder? [Watch out for the predictable deafening silence and/or attempts to assert moral equivalency or otherwise blame the victims among most Islamic -- not just Islamist -- authorities on the case.]
In the Virginia case, it is noteworthy that not only did Cho make '. . .a snarling, profanity-laced tirade about rich "brats" and their "hedonistic needs" . . . ' but also that he evidently had a red-ink inscription on his body: "Ismail Ax." (NB: "Ismail" is the Islamic variant on the spelling of Ishmael [possibly a mis-spelling, though], and given that the writer is a lit student, perhaps it calculatedly echoes a James Fenimore Cooper story of a certain Ishmael Bush who heads to the prairies -- axe and gun in hand -- to escape civilisation and its hypocrisies. )

That is, we see here a deep-rooted hostility to and murderous resentment against Western culture, its wealth, its people and its historically vital institutions, e.g those of the Christian faith. This should remind us of the shameful incident that in several places in the Caribbean, Caribbean people were celebrating the"success" of the 9/11 hijackers in their mass-murder. In short, even justifiable feelings of outrage over the oppressions of the West can spin into a shocking breakdown in our own behaviour.

So, the major second lesson is that, even as we look at the many sins of the West, we must recognise Jesus' principle of the plank and the dust mote, and so tame resentment before it festers into murderous hate and rage:
MT 7:1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

MT 7:3 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
It seems to me that Jesus' solution is the only one that can work.

First, recognise that we are ALL sinful, so by first facing our own sins, we can understand how sin takes root in our lives. Then, when we come to challenge sin in others -- first, on an individual basis -- we can do so in ways that can help, instead of getting into the revenge and escalation trap that only promotes a cycle of ever escalating violence. That way, by mutual repentance and reconciliation, we can turn instead to the road of reformation and positive transformation.

But, injustice and wrongs do not just happen in a personal situation. Indeed, Jesus' example is an economic one. Let's remember, he was a Carpenter, in the days when you didn't pop down tot he hardware shop to get your planks.

In those days, logs were sawed into planks by being put over a pit and using a two-man saw, one on top, one in the pit. The latter person -- almost invariably the junior! -- would naturally get sawdust in his eyes, hampering him in his work. So, Jesus is saying to the man on top: watch out -- while you are crying out about the sawdust in the eye of the junior in the pit, it is you who may well have the log of hypocritical and callous oppression in your own eye. So, first fix the log in your eye, then help your junior with the sawdust in his eye . . .

But of course, in carrying the principle to the community as a whole, we must also heed the whole counsel of God, which includes the Rom 13:1 - 7 teaching that in the community, we have enemies of the civil peace -- both foreign and domestic. Too often, such live by the principle of the lion: all the bleat of the sheep means is that it is now in your power. Crunch, lunch!

So, we see why sheep need shepherds, who like David of old, can help defend them from lions, bears and wolves -- and Goliaths [or even Sauls], too.

Of course, the flock of sheep analogy is not exact, for, the citizens in our communities can be trained, organised, led and equipped to defend themselves from the wolves, whether they come in pain view, or lurk among us in sheep's clothing, or most slick of all -- in shepherds' clothing.

Arguably, the need to do that is the clearest lesson we need to draw from the recent spate of incidents of mass murder in public places. For, as Mr Reynolds said, ""Police can't be everywhere, and . . . by the time they show up at a mass shooting, it's usually too late." END

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