At least thirteen people are dead in an Oregon community college, and the number may grow depending on the condition of the wounded. In a generic amoklauf scenario, the shooter apparently did his business in a classroom -- exactly where, some will say, someone should have been armed to anticipate that very scenario. People who think that way just don't get it. Every gun in private hands increases the chances of an amoklauf. Every time this happens we're told there are people we can trust with guns. Some might say that we have to trust each other with guns to have a civil society, that if we don't only criminals and government will have guns, the difference between the two meaning little to some observers. In some people's utopian imagination there are people who can always be trusted with guns, just as there are some who may always be unfit for psychological (or, some might add, demographic) reasons. Even were they to concede the point that any good guy with a gun could turn into a bad guy with a gun, their answer would be to turn to the next good guy to stop the new bad guy. During that magic moment when the madman's on the loose and the cops aren't there yet, there has to be a gun to save us. A gun may be the only reason we're in danger, but once the genie's out of the bottle, the only answer to a gun is a gun.
The gun-nuts catch you both ways, of course: we have to have guns because you can't get rid of guns, but then it wouldn't make any difference if there weren't any guns, because then they'd come with knives or swords or build bombs. I'll concede every such argument as further proof that people like that shouldn't be trusted with guns, and proof that guns don't really solve the problem of bad people. In fact, guns seem more futile than ever now, and let's not hear now about our eternal proclivity toward violence, much less our "fallen" state, because the impulse to mass murder is still something new in the world. Where is the history of rampage killings by individuals before the wide dissemination of firearms? What history is there before 1950? Something is wrong with the culture now, but that doesn't excuse guns or make them more necessary. Quite the opposite; what's gone wrong with the culture is more reason not to trust firearms in anyone's hands, and reason not to trust anyone with firearms unless they are police or military -- and then there's probably still some ground for suspicion, but how far can you go?
Perhaps someone would like to argue that there's no sound reason to trust the police or military with firearms if you don't trust private citizens. After all, people are people, right? Human nature doesn't change when you put on a uniform. But if we can't assume some meaningful difference between someone dedicating himself or herself to protecting the public, under public discipline, at the risk of health or life, and someone reserving to himself or herself the right to kill as a matter of personal sovereignty (or "natural right") alone, we may as well give up on the state, i.e. civilization, and give in to anarchy. How messed up are we when so many people feel helpless and vulnerable without guns, because they know other people (including the state) have guns, and so demand more guns? The deeper problem, I suspect, is that they fear something other than violence or death -- not just having to submit to a criminal or bully but perhaps the submission implicit in universal disarmament, if not the submission (which they won't acknowledge) implicit in citizenship itself. One kind of submission may be humiliating but the other shouldn't be. A truly democratic politics should actually transform submission into empowerment -- even such a nondemocratic thing as Islam pulls off that trick -- but the extreme submissiveness demanded by the 20th century's totalitarian regimes and their personality cults, especially as magnified by American anti-totalitarian propaganda that eventually was applied to politics in general, seems to have broken that spell, so that few trust politics to save us. Reversing that trend seems impossible, especially when the distrustful, the paranoid, those hypersensitive to any perceived humiliation, are the ones with guns. Those who want an end to violence must wonder whether it can be ended non-violently, whether the satyagraha of beautiful souls is up to the task. If not, then what? Every amoklauf like today's -- not to mention every incident of terrorism and every hate crime -- should remind us of the hard thinking we all have to do if we still want a civilized world.