Continuing the Attack on Victims

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I don’t mean to spend all of my time writing about this, but feel obligated to make one point clear: conservative critics who blame the victims for their own deaths and question their courage are amoral, shameless bastards who deserve only our contempt.

The most egregious element of this commentary is an attempt to smear the victims, blaming them for not being heroic enough to fight back. In their repeated comparison between the students at Virginia Tech and the passengers on United 93, these commentators aim to derisively mock the passivity of the students. James Bowman, at the National Review’s Department of Macho Fantasies for the Middle Aged, writes:

Perhaps like Paul Greengrass’s film, United 93, the American media is rather embarrassed by heroism and thinks it insulting to the other victims of such atrocities to single out the heroes for special attention. Instead of showing any interest in Librescu’s brave act, the American media were concentrating to the point of obsession on the feelings of the victims and the psychology of the killer.

By extension, of course, Bowman and others are arguing that the passengers on the other doomed flights were cowards, aren’t they? Bowman might be horrified by the argument, but he can’t have it both ways. If Virginia Tech’s tragedy was the result of "the paucity of heroes among the younger generation," as he argues, how does his logic not compel us to condemn and second guess the passengers of the planes that struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?


The answer is because is argument is nonsense. Because we recognize that heroism isn’t a generational or political issue. Because those of us with decency and a shred of personal honesty realize that there is often a profound disconnect between the way we’d like to act and the way we do. Because we, fortunate enough to be safe and to have not lost a loved one or to have died this week, can’t imagine the nightmare those students and teachers faced in those terrifying moments.

Bowman’s argument is not far removed from the claim that more guns would have averted the tragedy, argued by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin. One of the more prominent peddlers of this pattern of blame is Glenn Reynolds, who channeling his inner John Mclain, thinks that more guns on campuses would be much safer.

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.

One thing that would certainly have completed my college experience would have been the presence of guns on campus. You can’t ask for a better cocktail that guns, easy access to drugs and alcohol, incredible stress, and early adulthood. In Reynolds’ fantasy world, all the owners of weapons are well-trained and responsible adults who would never misuse their weapons. I can only assume that the kind of person he has in mind is Charles Whitman, the Marine-trained twenty-five year old responsible, married adult who murdered fifteen people on his college campus in 1966.

Guns, despite macho fantasies of these cloistered wannabes desperate to establish their conservative credibility, are not the solution to gun violence.

Guns, despite macho fantasies of these cloistered wannabes desperate to establish their conservative credibility, are not the solution to gun violence. What real adults should do is not to indulge their childish, simplistic answers, but advocate real solutions: counseling and screening for the mental health issues that are so clearly at the core of these acts of violence. Of course, taking responsibility, as well as spending money and time to help people in need doesn’t fit the pattern of easy answers, blame, and recrimination.

It just makes the pain of the victims that much worse–and the next attack all but inevitable.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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