L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 314, April 10, 2005
"Who's Crazy Now?"
Who's Crazy Now?
Special to TLE
I don't typically comment on school shootings at any length. That's largely because most of these tragic incidences have been so much alike, and I don't much care for the idea of repeating myself ad nauseum. But the recent school shootings in Red Lake, Minnesota are different for me. You see, I grew up in nearby Bemidji, Minnesota. Hearing my obscure little hometown mentioned repeatedly on Fox News and CNN, or seeing the name of the small town newspaper there cited as a source for international news wire stories, is jarring.
The victims of the Red Lake shootings were taken to North Country Regional Hospital in Bemidji. I have a cousin who is a head nurse there. The Beltrami County Sheriff's Office was one of the enforcement agencies called in to assist with the aftermath. My father worked for the Beltrami County Law Enforcement Center for many years. The grey winter landscape as well as the distinctive accent of those interviewed on TV are viscerally familiar to me. So I suppose I can't be blamed for taking an especially close look at this particular school shooting. What I discovered was something I knew before, but which was really brought home to me in my personal connections to the site of this latest incident: Most school shootings are very much alike indeed, and it's within those very similiarities that we should be learning the most.
It is, of course, no surprise that the Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence has jumped to the fore to use the Red Lake shootings as political fodder toward more gun control laws. That is, after all, what the Brady Campaign does. These recent shootings, however, illustrate better than most just how foolish the Brady Campaign's demands really are when it comes to curtailing gun violence. Forget that one more law typically makes no difference whatsoever to a criminal intent on breaking several others, and consider:
The gun control advocacy group immediately spoke out against the tragedy by chastising Congress for permitting the Assault Weapons Ban to expire last year. But the accused Red Lake shooter used two handguns and a shotgun during his spree, none of which were inderdicted by the AWB. Even if he'd been inclined to honor the provisions of an AWB still in effect, it would have had no bearing on the weapons he used in his crimes.
The group lamented that the government only conducted "limited law enforcement investigations of gun sellers" and that there were laws in force that mandate the "immediate destruction of gun-sale records." But the accused shooter didn't buy any of the guns he used, so even the most invasive law enforcement investigations of gun sellers, or the most thorough and permanent of gun-sale records would have prevented these shootings or offered up any compelling motive for them.
Gun control promoters like the Brady Campaign deny that they want to remove all guns from private ownership, but there's been more than one instance of such advocates noting that it might be best and safest if only the police had access to firearms. This case argues against that point, too. It seems the accused shooter stole the guns he used from his grandfather whoyou guessed itwas a tribal police officer.
As is typical, the Brady Campaign has also used the tragic deaths of those in Minnesota to promote its efforts to continue to use nuisance lawsuits as a way to bankrupt the gun manufacturing industry in America. The Campaign is currently working to halt legislation in Congress that would shield gun makers from such frivolous lawsuits by suggesting that the resulting law would " immunize gun sellers against civil liability" and which is "nothing but a special interest giveaway to the gun lobby and a shameful attack on the legal rights of innocent victims of gun violence."
While the propoosed law certainly isn't total immunization against civil or criminal suits (the Brady Campaign likes to exaggerate as a matter of course), the reality in this casein virtually all cases of gun violence, in factis that the gun manufacturer made a product that's perfectly safe when used properly, and the gun dealer sold firearms to a law abiding citizen with every right to own a gun. Why exactly should either the manufacturers or the dealers be liable for what eventually happened? How could manufacturers or dealers possibly be held responsible for a gun long out of their control falling into the hands of a maniac?
In a publicly posted note of sympathy for the survivors of the Red Lake shootings on the Brady Campaign web site, Sarah Brady herself is apparently incapable of simply telling the truth. In her note, she says, "The most recent of these senseless shooting tragedies occurred Monday in Red Lake, Minnesota, where ten people, mostly school children, died, and dozens of others were injured." Her assertion that the dead were "mostly school children" is correct, although barely so. Four of the victims were adults; one of the "children" was the shooter himself. None of the victims were small children though her statement seems to imply that. But her claim of "dozens" of other injured parties in Red Lake is an outright fabrication. At most, there were 14 injured parties. Now 14 is a substantial number when it comes to such things, but apparently it's not enough to make Sarah Brady happy. Instead, she has to exaggerate and say "dozens." This latest bid toward fear from the Brady Campaign isn't the first that's made me wonder if the Brady campaignand Sarah Brady herselfdoesn't actually look forward to high death tolls so as to further their own agenda!
What the Brady Campaign doesn't sayand what's been all but buried in the mainstream mediais that all the politically correct precautions were taken at Red Lake High School, and that they were worthless. The accused shooter had actually been prohibited from campus some weeks before for an infringement of school policy (he was participating in an off-campus education program). The school had signs outside that specifically noted firearms were prohibited on site. The school was equipped with metal detectors at the door just in case somebody would be so reckless as to ignore the signs. And security guards were on duty at the time of the shootings. In fact, one security guard who tried to stop the carnage by confronting the gun-wielding student at the door was the first to die at the school. The true tragedy here is not what happened next, but that what happened next didn't need to happen at all.
You see, there's another fact we're hearing very little about. Security guards, it seems, are politically correct, but armed security guards are not. And so an unarmed man bravelyand futilelytried to stop someone who quite literally outgunned him. There are those who consider him heroic, but that's likely scant comfort to his family. Even less comforting is the notion that if he had had a weapon of his own, he would very probably have been able to end the incident right there at the school door. It wouldn't have been a happy day. The accused shooter, his grandfather, and his grandfather's girlfriend would probably still be dead. But a teacher and five students would be alive and breathing today to thank that heroic security guard, who would in turn still be alive to brush off their thanks and say that shucks, he was only doing his job.
While the Red Lake, Minnesota shootings offer a somewhat unique opportunity to directly contradict some of the Brady Campaign's shrill hyperbole, I maintain that it's the similarities to other school shootings that make this incident so telling.
It almost goes without saying that 16 year-old Jeff Wiese was a loner and something of an "oddball." Many accounts also say that Wiese liked to tell and write violent stories, including those involving school shootings, and that he may even have talked of doing such things himself. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, though in this particular case it seems the warning signs were many. To be fair, Wiese was apparently receiving psychiatric care from a doctor in Thief River Falls, Minnesota (another place with which I'm intimately familiar having attended school there, and where my sister and her family still reside).
But the psychological care he was receiving may have contributed to rather than mitigated Wiese's serious mental health problems. You see, he was taking prescribed psychtropic medications (Paxil, in recent years linked to suicidal tendencies, among them). In recent years, Congress has itself investigated an apparent connection between violence in schools and such drugs as Ritalin, Paxil, and others. In fact, a side-by-side comparison of various school shooting incidents is startling. Worst of all, it seems that connections between violent or suicidal acts and certain psychiatric drugs has been questioned for some time.
There will be those who suggest that poverty or teen angst played a role in the Red Lake shootings. They'll doubtless also suggest that the prevalence of guns in rural Minnesota had something to do with it. I'll be the first to acknowledge that Beltrami County, Minnesota is, on average, one of the poorest places in the nation. The Red Lake Indian Reservation is even poorer. I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that there are plenty of guns in the area given that hunting season comes second only to hockey season in that part of the world. As a teenager living and going to school in Bemidji, I can also vouch for the fact that depression and frustration can be very real in high school halls (but let's be honest and admit that that's true anywhere that teenagers congregate). And yet no one brought a gun to school and shot people with it.
There are only two real differences between my school yearswhere there were plenty of tears and fights, but no deathsand the halls of Red Lake High Schoool today, and those are these: Students a few years ago were actually made to be responsible for their actions by both their teachers and their parents. Bullying wasn't tolerated, nor was bad behavior. And secondly, no matter what we did or how rambunctious we were, we were grounded or spanked, not drugged to the gills. If the Brady Campaign really wants to do something about school shootings, maybe it should look away from the guns and instead at the causes. Unfortunately, like the drug companies so many are so conveniently ignoring, the Brady Campaign would rather make an attempt to mask the symptoms than treat any underlying disease.