Technology, individual killing power and reflections on Viriginia Tech

April 20, 2007 at 7:04 pm 2 comments

Was talking to B earlier this week when he commented that incidents like the Virginia Tech massacre are almost “an inevitable byproduct of modern free society.”I tend to agree, but would like to think it through

Technology has radically changed our way of life  and human society in the last few hundred years. It ha also changed how wa is conducted. And it ha greatly changed what might be called “individual killing power” If a few hundred years ago a lunatic might have killed one or two individuals before the mob will run him over and kill him, nowadays we have the wimp with two guns butchering over thirty people. Not to mention 9/11 and how 10 individuals killed  over three thousand. And about ten years ago in Israel a Palestinian derailed a bu and killed tens of people by pulling on the steering wheel.  The individual‘s  killing power has greatly increased – and will continue to increase as technology advances throughout our life.

Do we have to accept it ? Do we have to block it ?

A few thoughts

1. Curtailing individual freedom: Happens all the time.  And in different dimensions: “No, you can not own a machine gun and RPG even if you want to defend yourself and bear arms”.  And we are being searched when boarding a flight.  And individuals with criminal record can not buy guns. There is a line curtailing our positive and negative freedoms. And one of the criteria used to decide where to draw the line is evaluating how deadly the weapons or activities are. 

2. As technology changes, so does individual killing power and therefore the line curtailing individual freedom should change. Its not a static line, but rather a line that is continuously moving.  We can not expect to have the same individual freedoms we had two hundred years ago. And in the future, some freedoms will even be more limited.  This line touches on our freedom in many dimensions – not only positive rights like owning guns but also negative rights like online surveys and electronic surveillance: If somebody has been spending hours googling “Building home made chemical weapons” and shopping for the materials online. Wouldn’t it be good if the FBI stopped by to talk to the guy? Maybe he is just an avid chemistry buff. And maybe they will stop by to talk to him just before he goes to board the NY subway with his home made bomb. 

3. Role of Psychiatric evaluations:  One of the possible dimensions of limiting our freedom to “bear arms” has to do with Psychological evaluations.  What would the psychiatrists who evaluated Cho have said if he was asked after the evaluation if he would you allow Cho to buy a gun?  What would he have said if his evaluation  of Cho also included reading his school papers? We are already curtailing individual freedom to bear arms based on previous criminal activity. Is Criminal the only dimension? Should Psychiatric evaluations be used ?  Required

This is not meant to disregard the cirtical role of inidvidual rights and the need to minimize goverment power over us. These are the two huge considerations that we need to balance. And these are the foundation of a free democratic society. My point is that the balance is not a static thing done once – but rather something that needs to be re-evaluated as inidividual killing power progresses.



Entry filed under: Gun Control, NRA, Random Thoughts, Virginia Tech, War.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mariacristina  |  April 20, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    Your reflections are valid, and you raise important questions. In my mind there’s no doubt about the need for more gun control.
    As far as the shrinks go, I’m not so sure. There are some very f**ed up psychologists out there.

    I think the only way to change the world is to change ourselves. It happens one person at a time.

    In the meantime, I agree with you. Some freedoms will have to be curtailed.

  • 2. Oldtimer  |  April 23, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    Even in the good old days of the wild wild west, the sheriff often met strangers at the edge of fown to take up guns.

    When you hear that the rate per capata of NY killings with guns is higher than in the old west, you can be sure to not hear that most of the population back then was on farms and the boonies where the only need for a gun was a long gun to hunt and to keep varmits at bay at the chicken coop. The gunfights were in town where the bars and women were, not the countryside, and the gun of choice in town was usually the handy handgun, not the.hunting rifle.

    Yes the gunslingers carried guns then, but the horse and buggy traffic did not have the stress of todays trafic or the killing power or range. Put a gun on every empty front seat and the middle finger becomes a sidekick to the trigger finger and the firepower, as you point out will be deadly. Some restrictions are just plain necessary in the stress of todays strreet life..


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