Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Responsibilty

Please note: I am not the Devil.

The Aurora shootings have kicked off what some would call a debate, but what I would call the latest rehashing of tedious assertions that this sort of horrific mass murder always brings to the surface. Those with particular axes to grind seize on this sort of tragedy to justify their iterations of their personal prejudices. They seem to forget that people have died and people are grieving and instead use ghastly, evil acts such as these as an opportunity to score cheap political points. Stay classy, fucknuts.

But on and on it goes. So we’ve heard that this tragedy is about lax gun laws, missing the point that humans don’t need guns to commit evil acts. We’ve heard that this is an indicator of some sort of fallen culture/society; an idea propounded presumably by those who favour a better yesterday and this thoroughly and continually miss the point that such a yesterday never existed and violence has always been and remains very much a constant of human existence. They’ll also be those tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy types, who will mutter terms like “false flag” and then go on to explain – normally in a way that redefines the word “incredible” – how the shootings were all part of a government conspiracy to make us all eat more spam or other such shite. And then we hear that it is all the fault of the movie-makers.

A good example of the latter position comes from the Telegraph’s gobshite in chief when it comes to all things American: Tim Stanley. Stanley, one of the few people in the media in this country to treat Rick Santorum as anything other than a feckless fundamentalist (and thus showing himself to possess dubious judgment at best), writes that “movies like The Dark Knight Rises – which glorifies vigilante justice and wallows in sadism – could equally be accused of responsibility.” Evidently he has not seen The Dark Knight Rises, since it does not glorify vigilante justice (indeed, it seems to consider such justice an at best reluctant choice that deeply harms those who undertake it, and if it glorifies anything it is self-sacrifice) and, far from wallowing in sadism, it shows that pain hurts and is catastrophically unpleasant. Of course, that does not mean that movies cannot inspire negative actions from some; after all, the Emperor character in Return of the Jedi apparently helped to inspire Jeffrey Dahmer in his terrible crimes. The point, rather, is that Stanley – like so many others – is, from a position of basic ignorance if his comments on TDKR are to be taken seriously, taking this tragedy and twisting it for his own ends and to support his own purposes. And given this is a tragedy that has left people dead, wounded and in mourning, it is at best a cheap thing to do.

However, the quote from Stanley above does give us a crucial clue as to what all of these people are allegedly trying to do with their witterings – find out who is responsible for these heinous crimes. Which makes them stunningly myopic, in my humble opinion. Because it is very easy to find out what – or rather who – is responsible for these killings and woundings. Based on the available evidence, he’s in police custody: he’s called James Holmes.*

Seriously, he is the one who dressed himself in protective clothing, dyed his hair, put on a gas mark, dropped cans of tear gas into a crowded cinema and then started shooting. From all accounts, he acted alone. Therefore he is responsible for it as he chose to do it.

Of course, no-one exists in a vacuum, and there are all sorts of influences and pressures pushing us towards the choices we make. So maybe Holmes was influenced by the media, or by the easy availability of ammunition and weaponry. But that does not and cannot change the fact that the person who chose to commit these crimes was Holmes. I don’t doubt that there are those reading this blog who have, at times, been tempted to lash out at people they know or to physically vent their frustrations on those they don’t. But they choose not to. And that is the point; we are responsible for what we choose to do. Even if someone puts a gun to your head and says that they will shoot you dead if you do not kill the person sat next to you, you still have a choice. There may be mitigating factors, but you still make the choice and have to take responsibility for the consequences of that choice.

No doubt, if the defence team at Holmes’ trial has any sense, then they will raise the mitigating factor of madness. Now, it is more than possible that Holmes does suffer from some sort of mental illness. Then again, many people do, yet few resort to mass murder as a way of dealing with that illness. Plus, this was not a spur of the moment attack. Everything – from the equipment to the booby-trapping of his flat – shows a calculated, planned attack. Which then leads us back to the question of choice and the conclusion that Holmes was in control and therefore chose to do what he did, which then makes him responsible for it.

Now, I’ll hold my hands up and say that I have been savage at the top of this post with those who have sought reasons and influences on Holmes’ actions, and they could legitimately raise their hands and point out that they are just trying to reduce the risk of this happening again, which is a noble (if often misguided) aim. That may be true, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with. Furthermore, no-one at this point should be seeking to reduce the responsibility of the man who pulled the trigger.

The long and the short of it is this: Holmes could have gone to the cinema last week and enjoyed a satisfying, if overlong, film**. Instead, he chose to go back to his car, get his gun, get his tear gas, and unleash carnage on an audience of innocent people. It was his choice meaning that it is him – not lax gun laws, not a fallen culture, not a shadowy, manipulative government, not Hollywood – that is responsible for these terrible killings. It is both naïve and morally suspect to attempt – intentionally or otherwise – to diminish Holmes’s responsibility for his own heinous actions.

*Ok, ok, innocent until proven guilty. But, from what has been reported, there is a lot of proof heading in his direction to show how guilty that man is.
**I was going to publish a full review of it, but time is not my friend today…


john b said...

Holmes is personally responsible for these killings, and the people who blame movies or society for them are fuckwits.

Similarly, the people who advocate a ban on nearly all firearms, despite their use in farming and enjoyable-ness outside of farming, are fuckwits.

But you can't just elide:
So we’ve heard that this tragedy is about lax gun laws, missing the point that humans don’t need guns to commit evil acts.

People don't need guns to commit evil acts. This is true. However, if people don't have access to rapid-firing automatic guns, tear gas, and bulletproof body armour, their scope to commit evil acts is significantly reduced.

Any random geek with that kind of military level kit can murder a dozen and harm dozens more despite no exceptional cunning or skill. If he'd been reduced to a six-shot pistol, a shotgun or a hunting rifle - or even all three - then even someone with exceptional skill as a marksman and exceptional strength would have struggled to achieve that body count. And if he'd just had a knife, even a super-awesome samurai one, then he wouldn't have lasted 30 seconds.

Even the US doesn't allow people to build bombs at home, even if there's no evidence they're immediately planning to use them illegally. Acquiring the weaponry, the volume of ammo, and the armour that Holmes was able to buy *without even attracting suspicion* is far closer to building a bomb, not akin to a hunting gun or a pistol held for self defence.

(yes, I know some libertarians think that it should be legal to own bombs, RPGs and probably nuclear missiles; but if you accept that bomb control is legitimate, then it's hard to claim that Holmes doesn't fall into the same category. What kind of cad hunts with a machine gun, FFS...?)

The Nameless Libertarian said...

The balance when it comes to what should be controlled and what shouldn't is a tough one to be sure. And certanly, I remain unconvinced that there is a genuine and legitimate need for some of the weapons accumulated (particularly automatic, rapid-fire weapons - as you rightly say, who hunts with a machine gun?)

The example of a bomb is an interesting one; it is probably relatively easy to get most people to accept that the ownership of, say, hand grenades, should be restricted as it is difficult to think of many legitimate needs for a private citizen to own a weapon of war. Yet bombs can be made from simple household chemicals and objects. The 7/7 bombers killed more than Holmes apparently did, and McVeigh created massive carnage with a mix of fertiliser and a van. Which then leads us to the thorny question of what household products should be banned or restricted to prevent the production of bombs?

There is also the problem that other mainstream, everyday objects can be used to kill and maim. Just look at how much damage Sutcliffe did with a sharpened screwdriver... But we can't, don't and shouldn't ban screwdrivers just in case there is another Ripper in waiting out there.

Don't get me wrong, I understand your point about how guns allow for these sort of spree killings - walk into a cinema with a screwdriver and start stabbing people and you'll be pinned down within minutes, if not seconds. With the sort of weapons Holmes had, the scope of the attack can rapidly become much, much worse.

For me (and I don't doubt you) the issue is far thornier than the gobshites tend to make out in the aftermath of this sort of incident. A classic example is those who claim that if people were allowed to carry concealed fire arms then Holmes would not have reached the same body count. Possibly true, but a firefight in a darkened cinema filled with tear gas and panicking people is hardly going to end well.

Personally, as a libertarian rather than an anarchist, I accept that there have to be some restrictions, especially on things such as firearms. And I think any sort of restriction should be based on the capabilities of the gun/other weapons against the legitimacy of what the claimed usage of that gun/weapon will be. Such debates will be subtle and will be fraught; they are certainly not aided by the bansturbators jumping onto this tragedy for their own nakedly apparent political agenda.

Finally, this notion of "ban something and this won't happen again" is hopelessly naive and feeds into what I call the myth of security - I think a lot of people are unaware or afraid of the terrible truth that if someone wants to create carnage, they will find a way. We are not, and never can be, completely secure against the random spree killer.

john b said...

Agree with pretty much all the above. Worth noting that, at present, US authorities do monitor people who purchase large quantities of fertiliser, whilst being banned by law from doing the same for people who purchase large quantities of guns (which are partially regulated but to a far more limited degree) or ammunition (which is completely unmonitored).

Aside from the explicit lack of monitoring compared with regular household items, I think the body armour is the one I have the most trouble with. I've fired a machine gun at a range and it is quite fun, even if hunting with it would be ridiculous. But who'd legally require body armour outside of the military & law enforcement? The only person I can think of is this guy (NSFW).

Anonymous said...
hmm thats never happened before ... oh wait!

Just a superficial skimming of the eyebrow raising facts of this case already known at this early stage show that broad tin foil insults are not the actions of a rational person.

The Nameless Libertarian said...


From the article you link to: "They are trained to respond in every type of disaster," Dubin said.

It is perfectly rational not to see conspiracies where the available evidence suggests none exists. Indeed, that is almost the definition of rational. And to go down the other route is a route that is rife with paranoia and irrationality.


Dunblane,brevic and this are all attempts to dis-arm a population,and if you think that this is conspiracy,just take a look at what the police are wearing,and buying these days,tazers,water cannon etc,all of which makes it far easier to intimidate and cow a peacefull population,and if any are in denial as to the true puropse of these events,in two weeks at the un,there is a vote upon total weapons ban,so the only players left will be our repressive administrations and criminals,with the sheep right in the middle waiting to be fleeced by one or the other of them.the armed american people are all that stands in the way of the world fascist elite,they would never have attempted to do what they have done to the English people had they been armed,does anyone believe that this administration has the welfare of thier citizens at heart,after fifty years of deciept?

Mr Ecks said...

Who needs body armour?. How about people who don't want to be shot by the armed criminals that infest our lovely "gun free" society?. How about those who don't want to be shot by trigger-happy bluebottles?
There is NO case for the "restriction" of ANY weapons at all. Restrictions don't apply to the scum of the stste anyway and their record of butchery (150-200 million in the last 100 years) makes them far more dangerous than any spree-killing nut.
150 years ago you could buy anything you had the cash for, from handguns to gatlings plus explosives and freely-available drugs. Apart from the political antics of some leftist-anarchists and despite the fact that life was much harder and people had far more to be unhappy about there were no (at least I have not heard of any) spree kill massacres as we have send in modern times.
The political scum want any excuse for more power--don't meet them half-way with daft talk about "some restriction may be needed".

The Nameless Libertarian said...

See, I knew this would happen. When I first started writing this post, I knew that this would be the sort of response it would get - barring the intelligent comments from john b, we've gone straight to cloud cuckoo land with our tin foil hats on without passing go. But I thought "no, let's give people the benefit of the doubt and make the case that one man is responsible for what happened here." More fool me, I guess.

There is no real evidence presented here as to why all of this is a big, global conspiracy to disarm the population. Indeed, all the available evidence suggests it is one man who snapped. And the notion that there should be no restriction on ownership of weapons at all is at best hopelessly naive. Yeah, let's imagine what might have happened if Holmes had had access to Sarin or VX.

There is an intelligent, reasoned case to be made for dramatically reducing the size and therefore scope and power of the state, because with their theoretical monopoly on violence the less power they have, the better. Talk of arming populations to fight a non-existent war with incompetent government forces damages that argument completely, and ends up with those who oppose statism rationally and realistically being dismissed along side their more swivel-eyed, paranoid fellow travellers.

Robert the Biker said...

You seem to be missing the point O Nameless one; The UN HAVE proposed a worldwide ban on any but governments having small arms. The US congress may have to vote on this despite it's being contrary to their second amendment which is the actual law of the land. I would far sooner be able to buy what I want than be answerable to every jumped up creep with a government issue badge.

The Nameless Libertarian said...

No, I have not missed the point - this post is about the Aurora shootings, not a proposition at the UN. Furthermore, if it is a proposition that does not mean it is a law - and even if the UN was able to pass international laws there are any number of examples from history of UN member states ignoring what that supra-national body wants/asks/orders/declares as a right. The UN remains rather toothless if it doesn't have the support of its component nations. Further to that, it is worth noting that the US Congress may vote on this proposition - doesn't mean they will pass it (given pressure groups such as the NRA and their influence, that would be more than possible). And even if they do, the the Supreme Court may well strike it down.

And all of this talk does not change the essence of this post - this crime is not part of a fucking government conspiracy to deprive people of weapons. It is about the actions of one, evil man and the pain he has arbitrarily infliced on others.

john b said...

The UN Small Arms Treaty, although very popular among crazy people, has absolutely nowt to do with an arms ban. It's about governments intervening when companies based in their jurisdictions sell arms in a way that would be illegal in the jurisdictions where the arms end up.

In other words, as long as assault rifles remain legal in the USA, the proposition in question has literally nothing to do with them. The resolution would still allow Heckler & Koch, Glock & Accuracy to export guns to the US. It would continue to allow everyone in the US to do whatever they like within the US.

Also, as TNL notes, there has never been an occasion in US history where a court has interpreted international law or treaty obligations as trumping the constitution - it is absolutely clear that the opposite is interpreted as true, that the President has no right to sign an constitutional treaty, and that any such treaty is invalid in US law. This is why the US never joined the League of Nations.

I know this whole thing is a digression, but please, people, some sanity and factual evidence and comprehension of the US constitution is nice if you're going to discuss the subject.

john b said...

"an unconstitutional treaty". No idea how I managed to get the correct grammar but the wrong effing word ;-)

the a&e charge nurse said...

It would be insane to ban guns - but bullets, now thats a different story

Furor Teutonicus said...

XX Blogger The Nameless Libertarian said...

And I think any sort of restriction should be based on the capabilities of the gun/other weapons against the legitimacy of what the claimed usage of that gun/weapon will be. Such debates will be subtle and will be fraught; XX

The trouble is, those that wish to ban any sort of weapon, are those that could not tell the difference between a water pistol, and a helcopter mounted gatling canon, and have no desire to learn.

Against that kind of ingrained ignorance, you don't stand a chance of having a sensible discussion in the first place.

The Nameless Libertarian said...


You write that Against that kind of ingrained ignorance, you don't stand a chance of having a sensible discussion in the first place. Undoubtedly true, but the extremes of both sides of this debate exist in a sort of blissful ignorance of what the more subtle debaters in the other side are actually trying to say.

And that ties in with (one of) the wider points of this post - that people are attempting to have the debate and make their arguments about gun control at an amazingly emotionally fraught time. The debate is already flawed by a mix of ingrained ignorance and stubborn refusal to compromise - to be making these points at a time of raw hurt in the face of senseless slayings of which one man is respoinsible is a recipe for absolute inertia in this particular debate.

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