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Originally published by Press Media Group & The Lynchburg Ledger. Reprinted with permission.

A sad turn of events took place Friday when 27-year-old, Tim Davis, a local Charlottesville disc jockey with the radio station, WNRN, was taken off life support after being gunned down on the Blue Ridge parkway by another paranoid maniac with a gun, allegedly Ralph Leon Jackson, 56, of Augusta County, who was taken into custody Wednesday, April 7, 2010.

Picture a beautiful sunset, the sun falling below the horizon. The sky is turning a haze of orange and a fiery globe is sinking behind the sculpted stone structures of God’s hands. A friend is by your side and you watch, and she watches, one of the most beautiful scenes of life unveiling before your eyes. In an instant, both of you are struggling to even take one last breath, to live even one more second.

None of us knows the thoughts that went through Tim Davis as he laid there, a sitting duck by a gunman he could not see, whose gunshot he never heard because by the time the echo shouted across the Blue Ridge horizon it was already too late. We only know another headline in the papers, at the top of the hour on the news, that, in a sense, we have almost become numb to – another senseless act of violence, another shooting in the Commonwealth. Another death that, as soon as it takes place, someone makes a point to be the spokesman for gun owners this country over stating on a news website message board, on Facebook, on the television screen, “It wasn’t the gun. It was the person behind the gun.”

What if I told you that it was perfectly legal for you to purchase a gun out of the back of someone’s trunk at a gun show in the state of Virginia without a background check?

Would you think I am lying? Because I am not.

According to a 60 Minutes segment from July 26, 2009, Gun Sales: Will the ‘Loophole’ Close?, despite a 30% increase in FBI background checks in 2009 compared to 2008, “The number of FBI background checks does not reflect all the gun sales, because of something called ‘the loophole.’ In Virginia and more than 30 other states, people who aren’t gun dealers can sell firearms at gun shows without conducting background checks . . . Actually, these private sellers can peddle their guns anywhere: at shows, in their private homes, or out of their cars” to convicted felons, to the mentally ill, to any old Joe that appears off the street with a wallet in his or her back pocket or pocketbook.

We do not do extensive mental health checks in this country for a number of reasons. The number one reason is because of political pandering and the wealth and influence bought by gun advocates and organizations who do not take into account the 2nd Amendment right they so love to quote was created at a time when cannonballs still existed, when knives were still molded onto the ends of guns.

Another reason is economic. It does not pay to do extensive mental health checks – not enough resources, not enough manpower to carry out the task.

Tell me, how much is a life worth? Is it not worth it to undertake this humane initiative to curtail at least one act of senseless violence? Sure, there is no way to stop every act of senseless violence in the U.S. It would be ignorant and idealistic to think so; but if you can stop one—just one—then we have saved the grief and lives of many.

When the Appomattox shootings took place on January 19, 2010, which took the lives of eight people including three teenagers and a four-year-old, I didn’t write that a friend of mine, the boyfriend to my wife’s youngest sister, who I have known for years, lost his mom, sister, and stepdad that day because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time, dropping a friend off at her home, a home that would become the scene of a very devastating disaster to the communities and families of Appomattox, forever a fixture in so many memories.

I first heard of the Appomattox shootings from my wife via a panicked phone call while I was at work. Her sister was in the emergency room with her boyfriend. His stepdad, Jon Quarles, 43, was the man found in the road that had been shot in the head and was still alive when the paramedics arrived.

My friend frantically tried calling his mom and sister over and over again but could not get in touch with them. Almost a day passed before it was confirmed that they too had perished just as his stepdad did while they were in the emergency room at Lynchburg.

I do not know what it is like to have a family member die in such a way, to not know their fate and to have to sit and think the worst possible thoughts for so many hours that seem like an eternity. I only know what it is like to lose a close friend to brain cancer and to lose a dad to leukemia – to see their suffering, to pray with all I have that I can take away their pain and suffering. Then to know I cannot; and it pains me to see others in such a helpless situation and it is the emotions of anger, frustration, and love for these people I know and for these strangers which I do not, that fuels this article.

Honestly, what will it take for this state and this country to wake up to common sense gun laws? When will the day come that in order to purchase any gun, big or small, we will invest in extensive mental health checks? It’s more of a pain in the behind in this country to get a new photograph for my driver’s license at the local DMV than it is to buy a gun, an object with the potential to take another human being’s life.

Somehow, a certain segment of our population believes that certain politicians have an agenda to strip away the constitutional rights of gun owners. This is ludicrous. I hear relatives and friends claim that Barack Obama, the Democrats, the liberals, anyone and everyone that is not a card-carrying member of the NRA, would love to strip them of their 2nd amendment rights, that these people salivate in simply thinking they could one day bust into their homes and take away all their guns and ammunition.

Nonsense.

Paranoid, ludicrous nonsense.

For starters, gun rights have sadly been expanded since Barack Obama took office. Not only can you take a gun with you to a national forest now (when you could not two years ago), now you can stroll onto Amtrak packing heat so long as you have a gun license.

I did not learn this until after the fact when I went to Washington, D.C. for a performance at The Kennedy Center to see Young Frankenstein. Considering the tragedy of September 11 and the strict enforcement at airports, I thought to myself while boarding the train, “Are they really not checking luggage?” Then when I got home, I looked up the laws surrounding baggage checks on railways.

They do not exist.

I thought about how I sat on the train, cramped with hundreds of other passengers, the stench of sweat and the food cart being wheeled down the aisle, literally sitting ducks if someone decided to go bat shit crazy with a gun of any kind. It would have been a massacre and a massacre no one could have stopped because shooting victim headlines come and go with the news.

We may not forget about the potentials of stopping these heinous crimes as soon as another story takes its place but we sit idly by and do nothing to voice our protest after the fact. We do nothing in our legislature to prevent this from happening again, and Virginia, unfortunately is leading the pack in this regard.

We grieve. We feel saddened for the families and victims. Then we live to see another day. They don’t.

And another Tim Davis down the road will be another senseless victim because we don’t even know what to be outraged in this country about anymore.

Another Virginia Tech will take place sometime, somewhere because another Seung-Hui Cho can buy guns off the internet any old time he pleases. Another Christopher Bryan Speight will take his government conspiracy theories to the next level believing that someone is going to steal his land and his guns. Another Ralph Leon Jackson will sit camouflaged on the mountainside choosing innocent young adults as his day’s target practice to pick off.

And what do we do?

Nothing.

Nada.

Our political discourse in this country oftentimes amounts to a hill of beans. Is Barack Obama a socialist? Is the U.S.A turning into the U.S.S.A? How could Tiger Woods do such a thing? I can’t believe Heidi Montag had plastic surgery again — anything and everything that distracts us from reality, from really sitting down and making new laws that protect us and our families from the cold reality of the world we live in and seem to ignore when we wake up in the morning and go to bed at night. Alive.

We make the same pathetic arguments that you could kill someone with a knife, a pencil, or a piece of broken glass; but riddle me this: how many people can be killed at a distance with a knife, a pencil, or a piece of broken glass?

Two weeks ago, coming from a training class on the Adobe Creative Suite from McClung based in Waynesboro, Virginia, I stopped by the same stretch of road that Tim Davis met his fate on. I looked across the Blue Ridge mountains and felt the cold chills run up my arm. I felt the presence of a being more powerful than myself.

“I know you’re seeing this,” I said to my dad who died last May. The music was turned down and I gazed across the mountains taking in their beauty. It’s hard to believe less than a week later, someone could stand there just as I and meet their death in a time of great beauty as the sun fell behind the peaks.

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Jeffrey Pillow JEFFREY PILLOW is a contributing writer for The Nervous Breakdown and Hoops Addict. He lives in Charlottesville with his wife, daughter, and dog -- three separate entities. A certified basketball junkie, he also loves cheddar cheese and poorly crafted science fiction thriller films involving cold-blooded animals and bad acting. SEE Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. His work has appeared on Yahoo! Sports, USA Today, and 16 Blocks magazine et al. Visit him online at www.jeffreypillow.com.

72 Responses to “Fatal Sunset on the Blue Ridge Parkway”

  1. More people need to write these articles on news sites where the majority of homicide articles are read in droves. This is good stuff and reminds of a typical day’s work in the newsroom. Lots of shootings, drug and gun infested streets out of control. And innocents dying…

    I’m glad this piece looks like it made its way onto a news site. That’s good.

  2. Agreed. I’m technically a Literature & the Arts columnist for a Lynchburg based paper but my title is as the “Life, Literature & the Arts” columnist and as such I believe this very much relates to life and living as well as death and dying, and the consequences of political and social inaction in regard to gun control, namely proper background checks of the mental health order.

    I’m seeking syndication of this article through numerous publications and made it very well aware to the respective editors of these publications that I understand this is more an emotionally charged piece than anything but I believe most of the time, at least from my perspective, the topic of gun control in America gets too lost in a rundown of statistics on both sides, when, at the heart of the matter, it’s raw emotion that gets set aside. And gun control should be a very emotional discussion. It is for those that are personally affected by it.

    • You say in the piece all the things I’m often thinking. I just wrote a one act play based on a newsroom incident when a reformed gang member died in a shootout with cops. A pastor believed the man was unarmed. Bizarre tale. I remember the pastor tossing a disk of autopsy photos on my desk. I wish I hadn’t looked. The man’s eye was shot out. An exit wound on top of his head. The pastor believed he was executed by a cop… I could go on. Like you, I got a bunch of stories just like it. Our world is gun infested. They’re like cockroaches. Everywhere you look you can find one. If you look hard enough…

      • Nick, I’d be interested in reading your one act play. The gun control debate seems to get lost, more often than not, on the distance between the killed, by way of the news storyline or report, and the reader or viewer of the news storyline or report. There’s a distance there. A barrier between the rawness of the event and the retelling cast on television and in newspapers many miles away when we are in the safety of our own homes.

        It is when the distance becomes closer, such as what you mentioned (the pastor) and such as what I mentioned (Appomattox specifically and Virginia Tech because I knew people involved), when the only statistic that matters is the person you or someone you know, was murdered violently and met their fate because day after day we argue over ideological stances (the broad stroke that is the 2nd amendment) rather than real, true-to-life scenes of death. And that is raw. That is emotion. That is life. And that is death.

  3. Anon says:

    I hear what you’re saying but, in my personal experience, the problem doesn’t lie with guns or gun control. Through the 1950s, you could mail-order them and have them delivered to the house. You could walk into Sears and buy a 1911 .45 pistol – cash and carry, no background checks. Through the 1960s, teenaged boys walked to school with rifles and shotguns slung. No Columbines.

    Access to them has gotten stricter and more stringent over the decades, sales have steadily gone up but the homicide rate ebbs and flows independent of these facts. Some of the lowest per-capita crimes rates can be found in states with strict gun control… and those that allow concealed-carry without any permit. Some of the highest per-capita murder rates are in D.C. (which effectively had a complete handgun ban until just a few months ago) and Louisiana, which has a strong “gun culture”. Guns are certainly a convenient weapon but, when there’s no motivation to violence, that is irrelevant. And this doesn’t even touch on how many instances of people legitimately defending themselves or interrupting attempted mass-shootings with the use or even presence of a gun. A firearm is a force multiplier.

    I have lived with extreme restriction on ownership coinciding with extreme crime and violence. I now live in a rather “gun friendly” environment and see little evidence of such activities. I don’t necessarily buy into the “more guns equals less crime” theory but I think that people aren’t looking in the right places – population density, economic opportunity, communities that do not tolerate violence as a solution or an expression of anger or pain – when they seek solutions to these emotionally-charged violent outbursts.

  4. Greg Olear says:

    I’m with you on this issue.

    I will never understand why they make you take x number of hours of training with a teacher, then practice for six months, and then take written and performance tests, before granting you a license to drive, but require almost nothing for purchasing guns, which, unlike cars, exist to do harm.

    Anon is right about the root causes, but I don’t see how being a tad more restrictive could be bad. And this we-need-guns-in-case-the-government-gets-Fascist stuff is a load of crap. If the government were really to morph into an evil Fascist dictatorship, whatever sidearm you buy at a Virginia roadshow is not gonna help.

    • Anon says:

      Again, Greg, there used to be a whole lot fewer restrictions and yet fewer acts of violence. I don’t buy that more restrictions would help, especially given that I’ve lived like that and saw no benefit. I think this is going to boil down to our same disagreement over the healthcare issue – I don’t believe more laws should be passed when we don’t know it will actually resolve a problem. Laws tend to breed, rarely reduce themselves and are often abused further down the road.

      And I don’t know about the “average guns won’t help” thing. Mao’s “kill one, frighten a thousand” is surprisingly effective.

      But what do I know? I have little girl hands….

      • Greg Olear says:

        Oh, dear, not a healthcare debate again…OK, fine, you win, keep your guns.

        But seriously, I trust your judgment on this issue in particular. I think it’s a knee-jerk reaction to throw more restrictions on guns when bad things happen — which they do with increasing frequency — and it comes from the right place. But this may be one of those things where you have to think outside the box, like the police chief in NYC did with the fix-the-broken-windows-and-paint-over-graffiti tactic.

        On the topic, have I mentioned how much I dislike Michael Moore? He made a whole film about this, asking why Americans seem to have more violent problems with guns than the Canadians and the Japanese, without exploring the obvious answer: because we’re a superpower. Sloppy arguments, cheap-shot tactics, pandering…I think he’s a Republican double-agent.

        • re Anon: I have to agree with you on some points while disagreeing on others.

          The law of the land should be adapted to fit the culture. This isn’t the 1950s or 1960s. We live in a culture of violence. Rapid fire automatic handguns, such as the ones used by Seung-Hui Cho, did not exist 50-60 years ago.

          It is also my belief that although there have always been mentally disturbed individuals, mentally disturbed individuals didn’t have quite the access to deadly weapons as they do now.

          In 2005, a judge ruled Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, an “imminent danger to himself” because of “mental illness” and was contacted by the police for his harassment of women and suicidal threats to himself if these women did not engage him.

          Virginia and the U.S. has a law that if someone has been committed to a mental institution, they cannot purchase guns at a gun show, gun store, etc. However, if they are unwillingly placed in a mental health facility, they still can purchase guns at a gun show, gun store, etc.

          A friend of mine from high-school used to be a TA while in grad school at Virginia Tech and taught in Norris Hall during the spring of 2007, the site of Seung-Hui Cho’s massacre. She was luckily bitten by a horrible cold and allergies the night before and, therefore, took the next day off from work.

          33 others didn’t.

          Seung-Hui Cho was severely mentally ill.

          I have an aunt who is severely mentally ill.

          After her husband’s heart surgery, she went ballistic and didn’t take her medicine. She chased him around the streets with a shotgun shooting at him.

          My aunt should not be able to go to a gun show, walk out into the parking lot, and purchase any gun of any kind out the back of someone’s car (who isn’t even a licensed gun dealer) without a background check.

          Make that, without without an extensive mental health check.

          My great aunt seems fine when she takes her medicine and I love her and all but she’s absolutely bat crazy as fuck when she doesn’t pop her pills.

        • Anon says:

          This is like panning for gold – we’ll keep agreeing/disagreeing until we reach commonality.

          First, there absolutely was such firearm technology in the 50s and 60s! Polymer frames? No. Thirteen- to fifteen-round magazines? Certainly. Beretta and Browning come to mind immediately (the Browning since 1935). Today’s “TEC-9″ is little more than a cheaper-to-manufacture Mauser “Broomhandle”, first produced in the late 1890s and capable of taking detachable 10-, 20- and I believe 30-round (I’m a little fuzzy on that one) magazines. You could get it in 9mm or .30 Mauser. Semi-automatic M1 rifles (8-round .30-06) and carbines (15- and 30-round .30 Carbine) were available as “cheap surplus”.

          To adapt laws to a culture that is damaged is to condone the negative behavior rather than to attempt to identify the problem and fix it. As with Lorna’s example, Switzerland and, to a lesser extent, Israel maintain a heavily armed private citizenry. Instances of the average private citizen going snapperhead are few and far between and, should it occur, can be dealt with rather switfly instead of waiting for a response. Your train example chilled me a bit. Colin Ferguson moved to CA, obeyed all the very strict laws, got his pistols, drove to NY, waited until a commuter train was on a very long stretch of uninterrupted travel and then proceeded to execute white commuters. Nowhere to run and no way to fight back, as NYC was and is notoriously capricious in regards to allowing gun ownership. He was finally tackled while attempting his third reload. All perfectly legal based on the laws already on the books. Well, except the mass-murdering part.

          I agree that, if there is to be any background check, it’s absurd to make distinctions of voluntary versus involuntary committal. But the problem with – and, I believe, much of the resistance to – additional laws is the eventual abuse of them. “Mental health disqualifiers” could eventually be marriage counseling, taking Ambien or having gotten a negative performance review. California passed a great “assault rifle law” based on capacity that ended up lumping AKs with replicas of 1860s lever-actions but excluded the SKS carbine. Members of shooting sports organizations appealed and were told “well, we didn’t mean you guys!” The law remained on the books, unchanged, but the DOJ “promised” not prosecute the cowboy shootists. People with SKSs moved to the state and requested written clarification by the same CA-DOJ. They were told “SKSs only hold ten rounds – they aren’t covered under the law”. About a year later, they “reclassified” them and sent letters to those same inquirers advising them to turn in their rifles. For years, NYC required owners of long guns to “simply register them at the local precincts”. Eventually, those rosters were used to send out “turn in your ‘assault weapon’ or we’ll pay you a visit” letters.

          “Common sense regulation” has already been abused repeatedly and has exhausted many gun owners’ faith in the integrity or intentions of the government pressing for them.

        • We will definitely have to agree to disagree. And I admit I am not versed in every type of gun ever invented. One thing I can say, however, is that extensive mental health background checks is not a slippery slope that some like to consider it. It is a necessary progression in common sense gun laws that keeps getting sweeped under the road by tying it to the shedding of constitution rights and citizen’s liberties.

          Do you really think an individual deemed mentally unstable by a judge (and I’m not talking about someone who got a “bad performance review” or is “taking Ambien” for insomnia) should be able to hop on the Internet, buy magazine clips and bullet proof vests off EBay, and have them shipped to his house by UPS?

          There is a pattern that is seen in all three of the individuals I mentioned in this article.

          Allegedly Speight was “ready” and “preparing for the day the government came to take away his guns.”

          I know this because a friend of mine that I went all through school with until graduation was friends with Speight and actually called the police when the Appomattox shootings hit the news.

          Speight was hoarding various ammunitions, rifles, shotguns, and making homemade bombs. He had boobytrapped the basement of the house he lived in. A week before the Appomattox murders, he reapplied for his gun license and got it.

          And here’s a guy who was a walking red flag had someone just taken the damn time to ask a few questions outside of the 16 questions you fill out to get your license. Anybody can lie.

          And hell, even if he had gotten denied his license, he could have rolled up to a gun show and bought guns and ammunition out the back of a trunk by an unlicensed dealer.

          There’s a little piece in the Declaration of Independence which states Americans have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

          Well what happens when someone takes your life or your friend or family member’s life? We have zero liberties to do anything about it because gun advocates can’t wake up and smell the coffee. There is no pursuit of happiness when my friend wakes up every morning and no longer has his mother, his little sister, and his stepdad who he had known since he was two-years-old and was extremely fond of.

          Saying we can’t close the Virginia gun loophole or do extensive mental health checks because it’s another law that will oppress us is ridiculous.

          The laws in this country do not oppress me. We do not live in a dictatorship. We are not headed for a dictatorship. The government is not going to break into your house and take your guns and arrest you. It is not happening. To say it is, is paranoid. Speight believed it. Speight, I’m sure, read the same e-mail chain forwards as are sent to me by friends, but unlike me, unlike most everyone, most sane people, he believed every word. He believed someone was coming after him and his guns and his land. And because of that eight innocent people no longer live and numerous families and an entire community realizes this every single day.

        • *rug* not road. Pretty hard to sweep anything under pavement I imagine.

        • Anon says:

          Indeed, we will (except I’m totally in agreement with the rug/road thing). We point in bringing up the abuse of law is that, while people with paranoid delusions may latch onto such things, acknowledging such things does not make one paranoid. Confiscation has, in fact, happened. When laws were passed to “protect battered women”, your background check could be – and in several publicized cases, were – denied if there was nothing more than a restraining order. You didn’t need to be guilty of anything, you just needed a bad breakup and you would be required to turn in your firearms or face arrest. Likewise, not having safeguards in place has ended in the loss of innocent lives at the hands of madmen. I don’t know how to prevent all of those scenarios at once.

        • I agree that acknowledging such things may not always make one paranoid but paranoia works on a scale of extremes. It is the extreme element within one’s paranoia which should be judged and rightfully so.

          A friend of mine growing up became triggered at some point, turning from a very smart, logical individual into a paranoid schizophrenic. His transformation was really quite sad. The signs of his paranoia were subtle at first and became increasingly of the red flag nature. He used to boobytrap the door to his home with a string tied to the trigger of a loaded shotgun. He lived alone though only 16 in a rundown shack of a house with no electricity or running water. His dad shacked up at his girlfriend’s. He believed someone was entering his home when he was away at school or work. He believed they were stealing his dope.

          Of course, no one was. It was just the true beginning of his disease.

          My friend was of the extreme paranoia. And I love him to death, just as I love my great aunt who is very much the same as he, but neither should be able to purchase a gun.

          Does that mean they can’t get their hands on one? No. Both have.

          But to revisit part of the point of my article, to have a loophole such as the one that exists in the state of Virginia where an individual with a mental disease can easily come to purchase a gun out of the back of an unlicensed dealer’s trunk without a background check (at all) is a loophole that needs closing.

          I hope we can at least agree on that much.

    • Greg, thank you. The priorities of this country are not in order. While I fully understand the arguments of the 2nd amendment and support the right to bear arms (I grew up in hunting country), my point in writing this boils down to humane and common sense regulations such as closing Virginia’s loophole which allows for anyone to purchase a gun without a background check from an unlicensed dealer. It doesn’t matter who they are. They could walk up to someone selling guns out of the back of their trunk, completely out of their skull, and do so as easy as that. No questions asked. Just give me the money. Here’s your gun. They can hop on the internet and buy magazine clips off EBay. No questions asked. Buy a bullet proof vest. What for? Fuck it, who cares. Pay me the money.

      Virginia has become, in the last few years, Colorado of the 1990s.

  5. Joe Daly says:

    A-freaking-men.

    I no longer engage in discussions with people regarding rights and privileges without first determining if and when they read the US Constitution. As soon as I hear “right to bear arms,” “right to health care,” “right to privacy,” or “right to life,” I gently stop the person and ask:

    “Tell me about the last time you read the Constitution.”

    99.9% it is quickly revealed that the person has never read that document, or that it has been so long since they did so in school, that they remember nothing from the experience. Sometimes you have to ask a follow up question to expose the odd person who claims to know the document well, but in fact doesn’t.

    I think politely continue that I’m not comfortable talking about the game with someone who isn’t familiar with the playbook. It may incense the person momentarily, but it saves me from a barrage of unsupported virulent rhetoric.

    Thank you for offering a thoughtful, well-supported consideration of so many of the issues exposed by tragedies like this.

    • Matt says:

      I’ve started carrying a little $3 book-bound copy of the Declaration of Independance and Constitution in my bag for just such occurances. Not long ago I got into it with someone in a bar about the supposed Christian principles it incorporates. I took it out, set it in front of them, and said “Show me.” Instead they just spluttered a bit about how obviously all the founders were Christian, then let the matter drop.

    • And a hallelujah! to you Joe Daly. A political science professor of mine once said to carry two items with you at all times on your person: your driver’s license and a copy of the Bill of Rights.

  6. Lorna says:

    I wish our gun laws would resemble that of Switzerland’s. Everyone is required to keep his army-issued personal weapon (the 5.56x45mm Sig 550 rifle for enlisted personnel or the SIG 510 rifle and/or the 9mm SIG-Sauer P220 semi-automatic pistol for officers, medical and postal personnel) at home with a specified personal retention quantity of government-issued personal ammunition (50 rounds 5.56 mm / 48 rounds 9mm), which is sealed and inspected regularly to ensure that no unauthorized use takes place. People do crazy things with or without guns. At least a burglar or rapist would think twice before entering a home, knowing that each home is properly equipped with protection. I believe if you take away our right to bear arms, the violence will only escalate in that gun owners will turn to the black market. I side with Anon on this one. The more laws a government passes to restrict ones individual freedom to choose, the more the people will rebel.

    • I think you missed the point entirely.

      I’m not saying to limit someone’s right to bear arms unless said person is all-get-out crazy. I believe everyone who is mentally sane has the right to own a gun (though not rapid fire automatic weapons).

      Firstly, one of my issues is Virginia’s loophole in which anybody (anybody) can go to a gun show, walk out back into the parking lot, and purchase a gun out of the back of someone’s (who isn’t a licensed gun dealer) trunk without a background check.

      And yes, it is that cut and dry.

      That is a huge loophole that needs closing, and I’m sorry, but if you think a law made to close up that loophole is not needed then I really don’t know how to respond.

      Secondly, my other issue is the lack of an extensive mental health background check.

      Seung-Hui Cho did not have an extensive mental health background check. He murdered 33 people in less than an hour. Christopher Bryan Speight did not have an extensive mental health background check. He murdered 8 innocent people in less than an hour. Ralph Leon Jackson did not have an extensive mental health background. He murdered 1 and almost killed the other.

      They are all mentally ill.

      And 42 innocent people in Virginia are dead because we don’t have the resources or our politicians are too scared to get anything below an A+ grade from the NRA come election season.

      And that is bullshit 100%.

      I’m all for gun rights. Shit, someone broke into my house when I was a kid and my dad put a shotgun to their brain while he called the police.

      I’m just totally against the misuse and abuse of a law that is mandated by a gun lobby.

      • Lorna says:

        You know, you are right. I did miss the point. Reason being, I did not read this in it’s entirety before I commented. Shame on me. And I agree there should be more stringent gun laws in obtaining and possessing a gun but I am not for abolishing our right to bear arms. I also have a mentally ill relative or two and I wholeheartedly agree they should not own guns…..but at least one of them owns many. I apologize for commenting before finishing the read.

      • Anon says:

        Damn – wish I’d seen this. I hate doing multiple replies and could’ve lumped it together. Sorry for the comment-whoring.

        Seung-Hui Cho was a nightmare and the “voluntary versus involuntary” distinction you made above makes me shake my head over the way these rules are laid out. Christopher Bryan Speight already owned firearms before was diagnosed as mentally ill and was still employed as a security guard at the time of his murders. And Ralph Leon Jackson may be crazy now but had no history of mental illness at all, from what has been reported. How do you disarm the crazies when no one knows they’re crazy yet?

        It actually is legal to own fully-automatic weapons based on Federal law but each state also maintains its own requirements, in many cases disallowing it (they’re lumped in with suppressors, as “Class 3″ devices). They are usually prohibitively expensive, running anywhere from $8-34K (or more, depending on how rare they are) and requiring an additional Federal transfer tax. Since the law was passed – back in 1934, I think – a total of one legally-owned machine gun has been used in a crime… and it was used by a police officer who had gone “off the res” and whacked an informant with it. Go figure.

        • Becky says:

          Anon, you’ve been arguing handily and I haven’t felt the need to interject, but what I’m not getting here is how refusing a person legal guns or a license to carry them (based on mental health, for example) would stop a determined individual from getting a gun and killing someone with it.

          I mean, it doesn’t seem to pose a problem for a lot of people who aren’t supposed to have guns.

          I know this is a staple of anti-regulatory argument, but I feel as if it’s being overlooked. The assumption with Jeff’s argument is that such a law would automatically stop such people from getting guns.

          I don’t see any evidence whatsoever of such an outcome being likely.

          Maybe this has been addressed elsewhere. I’m going to fade back into the audience, but this strikes me as a major flaw in the proposition.

        • “How do you disarm the crazies when no one knows they’re crazy yet?”

          You can’t disarm them all. It would be idealistic to think we could. It would be nice if we could, yes, but that isn’t realistic.

          Cho is the perfect example of why Virginia’s laws need reformation. A judge, his teachers, his classmates, his roommates — everyone knew this guy was screwed in the head. But. But. But. But. Because he would not voluntary be committed to a mental institution he was able to slip through the mental health loophole for owning guns in the state.

          Speight, really, is no different than Cho. Years ago, my friend had been to this guy’s house and seen his boobytraps and gun collection and heard his conspiracy theories about the government and their plan to take his rights away. But the background check he underwent, the letters of recommendation he received, and the questions he filled out to get his license, let him and let the state dodge his unstable condition and situation.

          My dad used to undergo FBI checks routinely because of where he worked. Top secret classication stuff. My dad died last year and I still have no idea what he really did for a living. I only know the same vague details about his job that all of my friends know about their parents who work at the same place.

          Point is, when the FBI arrived in town, they didn’t just ask my mom or my dad’s mom and cousins about my dad. They talked to our neighbors, his co-workers, his boss, the bank, local businesses, doctors. That’s how you get a more accurate portrait of someone. Not by asking their buddies or their family members. And that is the type of thing that needs to be included in the mental health checks. Speight showed many signs about his instability… to friends, employers, neighbors. But it was all for nothing the way the background checks are set up currently in Virginia.

          Jackson, I don’t know much about. But I imagine that the details will begin to surface and they will paint the same picture as the above two. Mental instability. Paranoid thinking. Anger issues. Control issues.

        • re Becky: “I know this is a staple of anti-regulatory argument, but I feel as if it’s being overlooked. The assumption with Jeff’s argument is that such a law would automatically stop such people from getting guns.”

          Actually, no I’m not assuming a mental health check will catch everyone. That would be idiotic and idealistic. A criminal is a criminal and will find a way to be a criminal.

          But your argument is no different than saying, “Well, you know, people shoplift or buy crack and heroin even though it’s illegal. Let’s just make it easier for them to shoplift and buy crack and heroin. Fuck it, they’re going to anyway.”

        • Becky says:

          Well, no. It’s not like that at all. Because it is already illegal for people to kill other people, just like it’s already illegal to shoplift.

          A more apt metaphor for what you’re proposing would be to make it illegal for people with shoplifting histories to go to malls. It would prove similarly unhelpful against actual shoplifting and would be almost as impossible to enforce while having similar potential for serious civil rights violations.

          Furthermore, depending on where you are, it is at least no more difficult and potentially EASIER to get a gun illegally than it is to get one legally.

          Removing the burden of choice between the two from a determined murderer may actually make his life easier.

        • Actually a more apt observation is this:

          Drinking and driving is illegal. But we don’t give a drunk a bottle of Vodka and a case of Hurricane malt liquor and a set of car keys and tell them to throw the liquid down their gullet and hit the highway.

          Do drunks get a bottle of Vodka and a case of Hurricane malt liquor, throw down, and then hit the highway regardless?

          Yes, they do.

          But we also have a such thing as drinking and driving laws. We have police who pull over suspected drunk drivers and detain them. We set up road checks at various points from time to time to catch them.

          Will we catch them all?

          No.

          But we have laws to protect others, sober people, who are not drunks out on the highway.

          Why?

          Because to have this law is the is the humane thing to do for everyone. We have these laws to protect the good citizens and to punish the bad and those who abuse the law, who have the potential to maim, harm, or kill these innocent individuals.

          Saying, “We can’t catch them all so let’s not catch any of them” will lead us down the same sad road we’ve been traveling for years in the state of Virginia and in other states across the United States.

        • Becky says:

          “We don’t give a drunk a bottle of Vodka and a case of Hurricane malt liquor and a set of car keys and tell them to throw the liquid down their gullet and hit the highway.”

          You’re right. We don’t. And we don’t usually go into mental hospitals, give every violent patient a gun, and tell them to go shoot someone, either.

          You’re not talking about “catching” anyone who has already done something wrong.

          You’re talking about limiting the constitutional rights of people for what they may or may not do wrong, based on a form of profiling.

          I mean, my dad used to be a drunk. I likely carry a gene for alcoholic behavior. I certainly exhibit other addictive tendencies. Fierce smoking habit, for example.

          Maybe they should take away my license just in case?

          You seem to agree that any such law like the one you’re proposing wouldn’t necessarily stop people from getting guns and killing each other, but on the off chance it may or may not dissuade the “somewhat lazy psycho killer” demographic (though I suspect lack of determination is not a common trait among psycho killers), we should immediately institute a policy of widespread psychological profiling to determine citizens’ access to a constitutional right.

          I’m sorry. I disagree. I disagree that the kind of person this law would be aimed at would be dissuaded by illegality and I disagree that stopping the very small fraction who might be (if they exist at all) is worth legislating the denial of constitutional rights to a vaguely-defined group of people who have never and may never do anything wrong and whose membership could be easily redefined for political purposes.

          I disagree that we should pass ineffectual laws that endanger everyone’s civil liberties for sure to ensure the civil liberties of an extremely small number of hypothetical individuals who may or may not find themselves in extremely rare, however tragic, circumstances.

        • Matt says:

          To weigh in real quick here on the “What’s to stop them from getting their hands on a gun if they REALLY want to” issue:

          This, for the moment at least, is a state-by-state thing. Some states are implementing massive criminal penalties for anyone who purchases a gun for someone incapable of legally doing so themselves. Right now in California, if I purchase a gun for someone who uses it in a crime, I face a minimum of 10 years (I think).

          This American Life just did a whole radio show on this issue in the last month or so.

        • Anon says:

          Good Christ! A man goes to a lunch meeting and comes back to a bursting Inbox.

          Jeffrey, here’s the short of it. I do not support increasing laws and restrictions, period, because I believe that, however well-intentioned they may be, they will end up being misused – as they already have. But I understand your opinions and feelings and respect what you’ve expressed.

          Becky, I generally (; don’t argue for the sake of arguing and so was trying to stick mostly to whether or not exhaustive mental health checks should be added to existing background checks (and clear up a few technical misconceptions) rather than delve into matters of rights and liberties. Might additional legal requirements stop one or two people from committing a massacre? Yes. Statistically, it’s possible. Would it stop all such horrors? Certainly not. Might it infringe on personal rights of the law abiding? I would likely choose the word “inconvenience” for now but I have seen the “slippery slope” in action, first-hand, and have no doubt it eventually would (for the children, you know). Would such an infringement be a small price to pay if it was my child that was saved? That’s a good one and one which I hope I never have to answer. I have already seen much and lost more than I’d care to dwell on. But I feel that some ideals, while never attained, are worth any sacrifice to protect. I would rather it be me if I had to choose (no brainer – I could finally catch up on all that lost rest) but….

          Regardless, I believe I’ll do my own “fade back” (after one more reply). If the discussion broadens and I can contribute positively, I’ll be happy to offer what I may.

        • Becky says:

          Anon, finding the ethical and appropriate balance between rights/interests of the few vs. rights/interests of the many is never an easy task. (In this case, for example, there is even potential haggling to be done about who is “the many” and who is “the few.”)

          It is almost entirely a philosophical question, and that’s why these types of discussions tend to spiral, hopelessly and inevitably in that direction.

          The country doesn’t decide consistently in either direction, and neither do individuals most of the time.

          The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that in any policy decision, it is all but impossible to fully protect both the rights of the few and the many at the same time.

        • re Becky: You’re right. We don’t. And we don’t usually go into mental hospitals, give every violent patient a gun, and tell them to go shoot someone, either.

          You’re not talking about “catching” anyone who has already done something wrong.

          You’re talking about limiting the constitutional rights of people for what they may or may not do wrong, based on a form of profiling.

          No, I believe it is you who are the one who is not talking about catching anyone. Your point that murder is already illegal is a moot point because what you are saying is, let’s way until after the fact, after someone else is dead, then we will apply the law.

          The law is not an after-the-fact piece of legal jargon and scrambled words.

          The law should be preventive. That’s why it is called a law. It’s too prevent. It isn’t too oppress and it’s about time people in this country stop acting like they have no freedom and are oppressed.

          You aren’t.

          You can call it profiling all you want but you keep dodging the actual point of this article which is not to take away everyone’s right to bear arms. It is to do extensive mental health background checks on severely unstable individuals and to close a gun loophole that allows anyone to purchase a gun without a background check from an unlicensed dealer.

          Let me put it like this. Not everyone is a pedophile. Very few are. But we have laws to keep pedophiles at certain distances from schools and to not hold certain positions in our society. They also aren’t allowed to surf the net for kiddie porn but if they do, they are hopefully caught and put before the law because them having access to kiddie porn may lead to them having thoughts to go after actual kids.

          Pedophiles are under these stringent laws for a reason.

          Why?

          Because their brains are not wired the same way as you and I.

          There is, unfortunately, a lack of logic and reasoning at certain times.

          When an extremely paranoid individual is not on, or is not taking at all, the proper medication or seeking the proper care for their disease, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed, then they are more than just a threat to themselves but a potential threat to others.

        • Becky says:

          Right. Laws to keep them away from schools after they have done something wrong. Not laws that require mental health/pedophilia checks for anyone wishing to live near a school. As far as the function of the law, I have to disagree. Because it’s impossible, as we have already discussed extensively, for laws to prevent anything. All they can say is “Do not do this. If you do, you will receive X punishment.” Laws not only aren’t preventative, they can’t be. Laws are deterrent, and even then, only for those who respect and are sane enough to understand them.

          The laws already say felons can’t own guns, for example. How many felons, you suppose, hung up the glock because of it?

          I mean, let’s look at your policy from an applied standpoint. Let’s exit this wily theoretical realm.

          First, which psychological disorders are “severely disturbed?”

          I mean, there are perfectly peaceful paranoid schizophrenics and people with plain old depression who can become very violent. Psychotic breaks, the kinds of events that seem the most likely to cause these sorts of murderous outbursts, are breaks by definition. People can be totally normal by all appearances, and then just snap. Or maybe, in order to combat that, you strip the right from anyone who has a personality type that is statistically prone to the remotest chance of a psychotic break.

          Still, none of these people have actually DONE anything to have their 2nd amendment rights taken from them except to be born one way or another.

          I mean, how far does it go? I’m actually asking you what you think the profile of these people should/would be? There are a million psychopathologies under the sun, and violence or non-violence almost totally unpredictable for any of them.

          Second, what do you do about all the perfectly sane people, the majority of those perpetrating gun violence, the ones responsible for likely 90% of the body count, who still would have no problem getting a gun? (I mean, most of them get them illegally anyway, so they ALWAYS have no problem getting a gun, but nevertheless.)

          Or is the rare, random shooting all that is important?

          Third, who decides who’s crazy? Is every survivalist who has a weapons cache paranoid? This seems to me to target one political bent over others. I read an article just last year that argued Libertarians were psychologically unsound. It was a ridiculous argument, but it goes to show that depending on the criteria, “crazy” can be and is used as a rhetorical political tool to invalidate, demonize, and dismiss atypical or dissenting opinions. And when you have laws that give and take constitutional rights based on sanity, a subjective thing, you lay the groundwork for political abuse of the law. Maybe 5, 10, 50 years from now, but you lay it. That is a bad thing.

          I never said I was oppressed, and I never regarded the point of this article to be an advocacy of a revocation of 2nd amendment rights. Not sure where you get either idea.

    • Anon says:

      Lorna, just a comment on your comment and something to consider. “Think twice” could just as easily mean “wait until you’re not home to steal it”. Secure accordingly.

      • Lorna says:

        So true and if the persons intent was to steal…would another law prevent it? We can not produce enough legislation to make everyone comply. There will always be good and evil, dark and light, happy and sad, sane and insane, etc.

        • Anon says:

          Lorna, I’m a pragmatist. I hope you weren’t thinking I was espousing more laws for storage! I was simply suggesting a good quality safe if you’re going to own that kind of select-fire hardware.

          I often run into the manly-man recommendation of having a shotgun for home defense because “just the sound of racking that pump will scare off home invaders”. Really? The sound of racking that pump just tells me you have a limited range weapon with a capacity of between five and eight rounds and slow follow-up shots due to recoil. Better not panic and short-stroke the pump or it might bind up on you. Don’t assume all criminals are stupid, unprepared or untrained. It’s not enough to “have” something because guns are not magic talismans. Know what you’re doing.

          Okay, off my soap box now and on to the next meeting. Yay.

        • Anon says:

          And, um, yeah – cough – I’m an instructor, among other things. Less anon every day, thanks to my running at the keyboard. So much for opsec. (:

        • Lorna says:

          I’m really am not thinking clearly at all today. And even less so after that comment. I barely gradiated HS, so I appreciate you using your big words.Haha!

          I don’t care to disclose what type of weapons I do or do not have on the this open web forum. Just in case there are crazies out there. Ya never know. ;)

          Also, I enjoy it when you step up onto your soapbox, Anon.

        • Anon says:

          LOL. I like you, Lorna.

  7. Mary says:

    Right on. Write on.

  8. Judy Prince says:

    “how many people can be killed at a distance with a knife, a pencil, or a piece of broken glass?” I’m a Virginian (a recent transplant from the midwest), too, Jeffrey, and thoroughly agree with you, partly by my often being in the UK where guns are illegal and killings such as these are virtually non-existent. I’m convinced that with eloquent writers such as you drawing the hearts of USAmericans frustrated by ineffective laws, we will soon—yes, soon—see humane logical legal action used to save ourselves and our families from *needless* gunshot deaths.

    I wept with your last two paragraphs. Keep up the good work; we all need to read these messages, repeatedly, in order to jumpstart us into positive actions.

    • NotSoFast says:

      Yes, gun killings are virtually non-existent in the UK…People just die more painful, slower deaths from being stabbed. Knives are a HUGE problem in the UK. Could you imagine being stabbed to death because you can’t properly defend yourself? I’d rather be shot.

      • Judy Prince says:

        To NotSoFast, here’s an excerpt from a column from Florida’s Independent Alligator, with numbers comparing gun and knife killings in the USA and the UK:

        Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2010 11:30 pm
        PAUL MURTY, Alligator Columnist

        “30,364 vs. 210. Obviously, 30,364 is a much greater number than 210. Sadly, the former amount represents the number of gun-related deaths, including homicides, suicides and accidental deaths, in the United States in 2005. According to a blog post from the New England Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, 210 is an extrapolated figure that represents the number of gun-related deaths in the United Kingdom if its population was equal to the United States. In reality, there are only 42 gun-related deaths per year in the U.K., according to the blog.”

        “Without the violence from guns, the U.K. deals with increased violence from knives. Many conservatives have voiced concerns about the “Liberal agenda” to get rid of guns, even ridiculing it, because it would only cause knife violence to increase. As renowned as Britain’s knife violence is, it is still much less than the knife violence in our own country.”

        “The FBI’s data from 2004 shows that 1,866 people were killed from knife attacks in the United States during that year. Comparatively, knife violence in Britain at its highest rate has resulted in 322 fatal stabbings, according to an article on the Daily Mail Web site. Extrapolating the data shows if Britain had the same population as the U.S, 1,610 people would be killed because of knife violence. Even without the use of guns, Britain still manages to have less knife-related deaths per year than the U.S. Some may say this points to America’s culture being more violent than Britain’s, and eliminating guns would only cause homicides to be committed through other means. But mass killings would at least be mitigated.”

        You can read the entire essay and comments here: http://www.alligator.org/opinion/columns/article_4ce8b794-070f-11df-877a-001cc4c03286.html

        • Anon says:

          Ohhhh, Judy. I’m stupid. I really am. I keep saying I’m done with these but I’m a data addict and saw your reply. I don’t know much about the leanings of various British publications but the BBC News, Mail Online and Telegraph ran stories in the past year lamenting the fact that the U.K. has the highest violent crime rate in the EU, moreso than here in the U.S. – 2,034 offenses per 100,000 to the U.S.’s 466. So, it seems that, while we shoot and stab each other to death more often, we are somehow overall less violent with fewer assaults, robberies, home invasions, et cetera. Perhaps all these would-be victims being armed is a deterrent after all (;. And perhaps it’s a good thing that handguns are completely banned there or the island would be awash in blood!

          Although it is also interesting to me is that historical data going back to the turn of the last century showed London with only 1/5 of the homicide rate of New York, even though firearms were as prevalent, pre-WWI, in both major metro areas. Culture, indeed.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Thanks, Anon, I love your kind of stoopidity! ;-)

          The seductive stats you cite raise chicken and egg questions that we’re not too stoopid to figure out—-IF WE HAD COMPLETER PICTURES.

          I repeat my ever-mantra: MORE INFORMATION IS THE BEST FOR NEARLY EVERY SITUATION.

          I don’t mind being relatively ignorant for a little while, but I do protest having to gather facts, numbers and histories that other folk far more dedicated to this deathly issue have summoned, crunched, tabulated and circulated somewhere.

          Some folk—-dear Rodent, for example—-are brilliant and careful researchers. They’re like heat-seeking missiles for information. They trust no sources and will go to all lengths to reach primary source data and corroborate them. Only then will they construct their hypotheses and submit their work to others. I love these people!! Now…….WHERE ARE THOSE RESEARCH FOLK ON THIS ISSUE?????

    • Welcome to Virginia, Judy. I remember you saying you’d arrived our state in a post Duke responded to some time ago, maybe a month or so past.

      The distance factor in committing a heinous crime is one that should be examined more finely. I notice below that Matt had the same observation.

      Murdering someone by a gun is a less intimate kill meaning the brutality of having to viciously murder someone, by way of a less immediate weapon or force, is something many murderers who use guns, I don’t believe could do; or, I should say, could not do in the same magnitute or with the same amount of casualties. To kill someone up close and personal, brutally like a young California man, Sam McCroskey, recently did in Farmville to a Longwood professor and her family, is another level in insanity altogether and one I’m not sure Speight, Jackson, or Cho could have done even considering their level or paranoia and mental instability — and even if they could have, the number of dead would not have been as great.

      At least without a gun, the possible victim has at least somewhat of a fighting chance. Not always. But more often than a distance kill with a gun.

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. I hope this article, if it did nothing else, got many to stop and think about Virginia’s gun loophole and the necessity of extensive, thorough mental health background checks.

      Driving along the parkway, I am sad to say, will never be the same experience as it was that day for me two weeks ago. A friend and former basketball teammate of mine knew Tim Davis well. Worked with him at WNRN, co-hosting their radio show The Boombox, and it is unfortunate I and many others will never hear his voice over the air ever again.

      And why?

      • Judy Prince says:

        Indeed, Jeffrey, as you ask: “And why?”

        In my previous post (above, to NotSoFast) I quoted figures from Independent Alligator’s Paul Murty that even shock me! Here they are:

        30,364 gun-related deaths in the USA in 2005 as contrasted with 210 such deaths in the UK (figure adjusted to represent a population equal to the USA). That’s 30,364 USAmericans dead in one year because of guns, as opposed to 210 Britons.

        Needless deaths, all. Time for action, now.

        Thank you for the welcome, Jeffrey. Virginia has become my beloved home.

  9. Matt says:

    Nice article, Jeffrey.

    I’ve been shot at, and some of my loved ones have been shot at, but much of my opposition is philosophical in nature. A gun grants the owner unearnered power to take the lives of other human beings, and it’s an apparatus that allows the user too much emotional and physical distance from the act of death. And that, frankly, is just uncivilized.

    Having been a practical martial artist for nearly two decades, I know multiple different ways to kill a person with my bare hands or a number of hand-to-hand weapons. But I wasn’t given this information within the first two months (about the maximum amount of time it takes to obtain a gun); I had to earn it over the course of years, and only after I’d demonstrated the discipline to use this information responsibly. This is not a level of scrutiny gun owners are subjected to in any circumstance.

    Killing someone should never be easy, but that’s exactly what a gun makes it into. Even a modestly powerful hunting rifle gives you enough range that you be far enough away to not even hear them scream if you want to; just sight the scope, squeeze the trigger, and watch your target fall. That’s about as clinical and impersonal as these things get; only bombs allow for a greater level of detachment. It’s an entirely different matter to do it up close and personal. There’s blood and screaming and begging; you get to watch as what was a human being turns – because of your choices – into nothing but a sack of meat.

    Three times I’ve had to use near-lethal force in self-defense. Each time fucked me up horribly.

    This, I think, is how it should be.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll likely say it again, repeatedly, until I’m in my grave: There is nothing defensive about a gun. Nothing. Perforating someone’s body with explosively-propelled bits of metal is emphatically not a defensive act. The entire point of them, from design stage through manufacture, is to kill.

    Got off on a bit of a soapbox rant here, so I’ll finish by saying this: I’m in favor of revisiting and revising many of our gun laws (the 2nd amendmant specifies the right to bear arms, not the right to bear guns), but a lot of those changes won’t really matter until we as a culture grow the fuck up about our firearm obsessions.

    • Becky says:

      Nothing defensive? Not even if you never have to pull the trigger?

      • Matt says:

        No. That’s just a small-scale version of the “deterrent” argument about nuclear weapons.

        Displaying a gun is an implicit death threat, whether it’s hanging on the wall or sitting in your hand. They’re designed specifically to kill, and they’re very good at doing it.

        Say two people are having a heated discussion, and one of them pulls out a gun and sets it on the table – just leaves it sitting there, barrel not even pointed at anything in particular – and the entire tone of the discussion changes. The blatant implication here is that the unarmed person has to now watch what he says or does, since his life might just be on the line. If he takes out a gun of his own in response, the scales may now be evened but the situation is more dire, as the level of conflict has been elevated instead of diffused. Escalated conflict leads to higher stress, which in turn leads to poor choices. The more guns are in the mix, the greater the chance the consequences of those choices will be fatal.

        Though as I say, all this is academic until we grow up a bit culturally. Being afraid of someone else’s ability or power to take your life doesn’t cause you to place greater value on the the lives of others; it only stresses the importance of your own.

        • Becky says:

          That’s all very well.

          But until I have your unarmed hand-to-hand training, anyone who threatens my physical well being with brute force of any kind, had damned well better expect to be threatened with death, however I can manage it.

          Wax philosophical about it all you like, but any person who has threatened me with serious bodily harm has already created all the escalation necessary to earn, at the very least, drawers full of his/her own shit, and worse, if s/he doesn’t have the sense to quit there.

          Regardless of whether I have a gun or not.

          If it’s me or him, you’re goddamned right it’s going to be him. I mean, WTF. No. I do not care to value his life if he’s preparing to take mine. Sorry Buddha.

        • Becky says:

          That’s the actual Buddha. I am not calling you Buddha.

        • Matt says:

          Oh, I figured. There was actually more I wanted to say, but I’m kind of hungover today and not articulating myself well. And they damn paying day job keeps distracting me.

          Buddha wouldn’t like me, because I’m not a pacifist. I’m perfectly willing to take the life of someone who is trying to take mine, or of my loved ones. It was still, however, a horrifying thing to realize I was capable of doing so, which I did not understand until I was in a situation where it looked like I had to.

          The point I was trying, and only half-succeeding in making, was that guns, by their nature, represent an implicit threat of serious bodily harm, and the constant presence of them creates a culture of fear & aggression, which runs contrary to the so-called “safer society” the proliferation of them is advertised as providing.

          And like I said above, I’m not for banning them outright; didn’t work for Prohibition, isn’t working for marijuana use, and I doubt it would work for firearms. And hell, the Second Amendment covers my right to own my martial arts weapons (though if these open-carry nuts get to wear hip holsters, I should be able to carry my katana down the street – or at least a sword cane).

          I have some more to say on the levels of escalating violence, but I sense TNB essay a’brewin’ and I think I’ll save that for later.

        • Becky says:

          Well, there’s escalating violence, there’s defending against it, and there’s deterring it.

          Immediately after I posted my last comment I left work and walked out across the mall, and the special olympics had their little volunteer registering tent up (I swear I am not making this up as a pity ploy), and the whole thing was going on in partnership with the Mpls. police, so there were about 6 of them standing there, guns at the hip.

          “There are at least 6 handguns within 50 feet of me right now,” I thought to myself.

          Then I asked myself if I felt threatened or intimidated or safe or what.

          I mostly felt like, if something funny happened, I’d run TOWARDS those particular guns, not away from them, and also that something funny almost absolutely would not happen, because those 6 guns were right there.

          I mean, there are other factors at work here involving armed professions and so on, but the mere presence of guns is not a threat in and of itself. And in fact they can give a feeling of (and a reality of) reduced threat. Or at least that is my perception.

    • NotSoFast says:

      First of all, where do you live? I ask this because I don’t want to put myself where I’ll be shot at. Secondly, how can you say that there is nothing defensive about guns? How about people that aren’t learned in the martial arts (most Americans)? What happens when they are attacked with a knife or even a gun? If I owned a handgun, was shot at, whether or not the guy hit me or missed me, I would damn sure shoot back to protect my life and/or the life of those around me. I would not go up to the guy and try to kick him in the balls. We can’t all be black belts man; some of us need stronger protection. And the fact that you said that you and some of your family members have been shot at only supplements my argument.

    • Thank you, Matt. Your observation concerning the distancing by use of force through a gun versus the intimate confrontation of up and close and personal is one I fully agree with. I recently read an article that went into great detail about this. I believe it was in the anthology, Violence in War & Peace edited by Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Philippe I. Bourgois. I could be wrong on that. But it is a very powerful, powerful book. If you have never read it, I think it may interest you or anyone concerning a topic such as this.

      P.S. If you ever come to Charlottesville, I’ll pay you $25/hr to be my bodyguard. I can only afford about 10 hours of your services, however. On a tight budget trying to save for a first home. You sound like a bad mamajama. I used to take martial arts when I was younger for a number of years though I never achieved the elusive black belt. I only made it to brown.

  10. D.R. Haney says:

    This is shocking, Jeffrey. I hadn’t heard anything about the shootings, and I know they must have been much discussed around C’ville. Strange that no one mentioned the story to me.

    Of course, I know Skyline Drive very well. It drives home the idea that we’re never safe anywhere, really. We deem certain areas “safe,” but, really, almost anything can happen at any time.

    In terms of gun-control laws, there’s nothing I can say that you, and others, haven’t said better before.

    • It took place last week. I give it to the cops. They did a massive manhunt instantly, I mean almost immediately after this went down, which led them to Ralph Jackson’s home in Augusta County the next day.

      There have been a few murders on the Blue Ridge this year and though no one is sure yet whether this is related to the others, here’s hoping so because that means they caught the guy. Two Virginia Tech students were murdered prior to this. Ironically, the girl who was murdered was the daughter of the helicopter pilot that was shot down by Speight in Appomattox when he went in to pick up my friend’s stepdad, Jon Quarles, as he laid in the road, sadly dying hours later in the hospital.

      And I know this was also on the world news. Another Virginia Tech student who was in Charlottesville for the Metallica concert, Morgan Harrington, was also killed just recently. At one point, they were literally looking for her body (off a tip) not far from where I live on Pantops. My wife and I were walking the dog and the cops were within distance. The body was not there but down in a field in North Garden. You may know where I’m talking about. They still haven’t caught the guy who did that.

      Crazy shit in the world we live.

  11. admin says:

    I hiked the entire Shenandoah on the AT in 1997. At the time there were posters up in all the lean-to’s, notifying campers that two women had been killed in the park a year or two prior, and the killer had never been found. These were lesbian lovers, I think. They had been sleeping in their tent, and sometime in the middle of the night, a lunatic with a gun woke them and shot them, or something along those lines.

    I could go into this long story about sleeping in my tent one night. Pouring rainstorm. Me and my dog. Lightning flashes lighting up the inside of the tent. And then, just as I’m dozing off, my dog starts growling. Real quiet-like. And then I sit up and listen. And I hear a twig snap. Footsteps. Then I hear the footsteps approaching my tent. Then they’re right there. Then I’m grabbing my puny little pocketknife. Then the person is opening my goddamn tent. Unzipping it. Then the person is sticking his bearded face inside my tent and screaming AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS.

    It was a hippie. He thought I was his friends. He freaked when he realized that I wasn’t his friends. He apologized profusely.

    His friends showed up about ten minutes later, and we proceeded to get drunk and smoke a joint together. It wound up being a really fun night, and nobody, thankfully, got murdered.

    • Was this before or after you contracted a staph infection and before or after you met Matthew #1, #2, #3, and #4?

      • admin says:

        Heh. It was a little after, on both counts.

        • When I read that line in Attention. Deficit. Disorder. about you contracting a staph infection, I felt your pain. I know those bumps and boils oh too well having battled recurrent staph infections since I was an infant.

          Funny story. I met Nels Cline of Wilco about two years ago. His side project, three piece jazz trio was in town playing The Paramount in Charlottesville. I was assigned to cover the event for The Paramount. Met him at soundcheck. I was there to interview him and the band and to review the show later that evening.

          Me and Nels ended up talking more about staph infections than music for the better part of 30 minutes. Apparently, his sound engineer had developed MRSA and almost died. It was when the big MRSA epidemic hit the South hard earlier that year.

          One of the great conversations of my life. Me, Nels Cline, and staphylococcus aureus.

  12. Simon Smithson says:

    Wow, talk about fascinating…

    The discussion, that is.

    The post itself is just sad, and frustrating.

    Australia’s laws were changed after the Martin Bryant killings in Port Arthur – a ban was introduced on all semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, and, following the Monash shootings, certain barrel lengths and calibres for pistols and revolvers were outlawed.

    However, the culture here is very, very different to the culture in the States – especially when it comes to handguns.

    It’s so interesting to me to read the back-and-forth about this.

  13. Richard Cox says:

    This is a really well-written article and I agree with you about the loophole. I’m also fairly in agreement with you about the background checks, but also respect Becky’s argument about how to determine the way to identify a criminal before they commit a crime. It’s a slippery slope. Like stopping a jilted husband from killing his wife when he’s done nothing wrong yet. He might get drunk one night and kill her or he might not, but how much do we infringe upon his rights to stop him from something he may never do?

    I’m not informed enough to say more, but I really liked your post. And I’m sorry about the random violence there. It’s senseless, chilling terrorism.

    • Thank you Richard. My thoughts on the “slippery slope” seems to be the exact reverse as Becky’s though I do agree with her in a lot of ways. From my perspective, the slippery slope is not clearly defining what constitutes arms and an American individual’s right to use one. An “arm” should be considered a defensive weapon but, when in the wrong hands of the wrong person with the wrong frame of mind, is an offensive weapon, particularly in someone whose brain is not wired the same way as the majority of law abiding citizens.

      It is my opinion, and only that, that the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson included, did not foresee the technological advances in “arms.” I’ve been to TJ’s home at Monticello numerous times since in live in Charlottesville (it’s free if you live here and bring a guest outside the city) and I can tell you, I know what the guy was packing when he went out into the fields and it doesn’t resemble any arms we use today other than by looks alone.

      Do we really believe the founding fathers ever thought we’d go from cannonballs to full on nuclear arms that could wipe out every country on the globe a thousand times over?

      We’re talking about a time when people still carried swords on their sides and had knives molded onto the ends of their guns.

      If you live in New York City, it isn’t okay for you to have two rocket launchers in your closet. Why? Because we deem that pretty stupid. But a rocket launcher is an “arm” as are a lot of other dangerous weapons. Yet we have laws that prevent people from running out and buying rocket launchers on any given weekday; you know, people who believe they are somehow oppressed by a tyrannical government and need to have a revolution and a rocket launcher by their side.

      Oops, actually a rocket launcher is legal, at least if you live in Washington: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/226863_rockets02.html

      It just can’t be loaded.

      We also have clearly defined through national and international law that it is important not to let certain individuals, who pose a significant threat to others in our society, obtain certain types of arms.

      We don’t want Iran to gain nuclear missiles because why? We deem their leaders to have unwise judgment, which we perceive in this country, as, excuse my french, pretty fucking crazy. This all despite the only country ever using a nuclear bomb on a people was the United States.

      We have preventive laws in America so that American born citizens and foreigners who come to this country can feel safe in their daily lives.

      The law should not be an after-the-fact judgment. A law should first be preventive.

  14. Coincidentally, this is the first thing I hear on our local news this morning while still in bed:

    3 Virginia congressmen urge checks at gun shows
    http://www.dailypress.com/news/virginia/dp-va–gun-showloophole0415apr15,0,4083031.story

  15. Carl D'Agostino says:

    Let me give you a different take on this gun thing: NEWS FLASH,MIAMI, Florida. “Last night police were called by a neighbor re screaming next door having had police intervention several times. Police arrived at 8:17 PM at 65th St. and NW 22nd Ave. A man later identified as Louis Vega, a 1980 Mariel refugee with history of mental problems ran out of the house waving a large bread knife. He was shot 19 times by three officers at the scene. As they feared for their lives authorities related no investigation was warranted.”

    Jeff the story is imaginary. This happens half a dozen times a year. That’s at least 50 deaths in a decade “Miami Police Street Execution.” The guy is typically 5’3″. 130 pounds, drunk and crazy. Wouldn’t one shot in the foot have disabled him? A kitchen knife. Give me a break . The smallest policewoman on the force could disable this peepsqueak with two sneezes. Officers have replied to this hypothetical with comments on other blogs saying
    “Every incident could be a life or death matter for a policeman. He has but seconds to make the decision.” I concede this fact. But 19 bullets at a little man 80 feet away?

    In this town you can expect to be victimized by police as well as the criminal element. Please accept my condolences re your friend and his family. All the stories are tragedies regardless of the circumstances.

  16. Judy Prince says:

    Jeffrey, here’s a link to today’s NYT article “Suspect Gun Proves Easy to Obtain” re the recent planting of a bomb in NYC’s Times Square. The inventor of the rifle the suspect had strikes me as a cold-blooded creature. Makes me shiver with anger at folk like him and all the others who are raking in dollars for deaths, in effect, in this country: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/06/nyregion/06gun.html?hp

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    [...]Jeffrey Pillow | Fatal Sunset on the Blue Ridge Parkway | The Nervous Breakdown[...]…

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