In today’s Baltimore Sun, a firearms expert weighs in on the guns used in the Virginia Tech massacre. The quotes come off as almost too enthusiastic, verging on R. Lee Ermey’s Oswald/Whitman speech in “Full Metal Jacket” (he concludes: “Those individuals showed what one motivated Marine and his rifle can do. And before you ladies leave my Island, you will all be able to do the same thing.”):

“B. K. Blankchtein, a self-defense trainer and former member of the Israeli army, said the killer picked good weapons for his murderous purpose.

“Blankchtein, general manager of the Owings Mills training facility of Krav Maga Maryland, said the Glock and Walther models are relatively affordable and easy to conceal. He said the Glock is particularly simple to use and fast to reload. ‘Straight out of the box, it’s probably the best firearm out there,’ he said.

“Glock 9 mm pistols can be bought with 33-round magazines in some states — including Virginia, but not Maryland — but Blankchtein said the larger magazine might not have been needed. He said it takes just seconds for even a relative novice to eject one magazine and put in another.

“The Walther, Blanktchein said, doesn’t have as much penetrating power as the Glock because of its relatively low caliber. But he said the .22-caliber rounds are lethal in their own way. ‘Once they go in they will ricochet and create a lot of internal damage,’ he said.”

Then there’s this, in the same article, from a gun rightser who suggests the Virginia Tech tragedy could have been headed off by … more gun-toting students, teachers and staff members. That way, they could have stopped the killer in his tracks (please: don’t think about the confusion and mayhem that would have ensued if police had encountered a bunch of self-appointed deputy sheriffs wandering around campus; “instant Baghdad” is the picture that comes to mind. But enough of my bleeding-heart whining — let’s hear from a defender of our individual freedom:

“Jim Purtillo, editor and published of the pro-gun rights newsletter Tripwire, said much of the blame for the high death toll should go to the administration of Virginia Tech for its policy prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons on campus. He said that if other students in the vicinity had been carrying guns they would have had a chance to stop the killer.

” ‘A gun-free zone is a place where a thug can wreak havoc with impunity,’ he said.”

You know, I’d like to honor Purtillo and all those who think the answer to the violence among us is more guns. I’d like to give him and his free-thinkin’, free-shootin’ cousins a slice of territory they could call their own; a place where they could make all the laws and enforce them with their guns; a place with a nice stout wall around it to stop the stray bullets from flying out and ruining my vegetarian cookouts; a place you could call Gunsylvania.

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The Loner

Recommended: The Washington Post’s long writeup this morning on what’s known about Cho Seung-Hui, the student responsible for Monday’s Virginia Tech slaughter. The story is full of details that convey the kid’s isolation and the sense of menace he apparently conveyed — in one case, 63 of 70 students stayed away from a poetry class he attended because they were reportedly scared of Cho — that I haven’t seen anywhere else. For extra credit, the reporters and editors managed to put together an 1,800-word piece without once describing the subject as “a loner.” That’s almost worth a Pulitzer right there.


“[Poet and poetry instructor Nikki] Giovanni said she appealed to [Professor Lucinda] Roy, who then taught Cho one-on-one. Roy, 51, said in a telephone interview that she also urged Cho to seek counseling and told him that she would walk to the counseling center with him. He said he would think about it.

“Roy said she warned school officials. ‘I was determined that people were going to take notice,” Roy said. ‘I felt I’d said to so many people, “Please, will you look at this young man?” ‘

“Roy, now the alumni distinguished professor of English and co-director of the creative writing program, said university officials were responsive and sympathetic to her warnings but indicated that because Cho had made no direct threats, there was little they could do.

” ‘I don’t want to be accusatory or blaming other people,’ Roy said. ‘I do just want to say, though, it’s such a shame if people don’t listen very carefully and if the law constricts them so that they can’t do what is best for the student.’ ”

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Tuesday Dribblings

Your media at work: The AP covers itself in grammatical glory today in a story about the apparent Virginia Tech killer. First, in the lede of “Va. Tech Gunman Writings Raised Concerns,” (online at and Yahoo! News) says the suspected gunman “was identified Tuesday as a English major whose creative writing was so disturbing that he was referred to the school’s counseling service.”

A couple graphs later, in perhaps a subtle effort to mock immigrant English, the story says Cho “arrived in the United States as boy from South Korea in 1992.”

In a separate story, meantime, Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker gets the prize for being the first to go on the record with this old standby of the crazy gunman oeuvre: “”He was a loner, and we’re having difficulty finding information about him.”

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Force of Nature

I broke down and turned on CNN to check out coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting. I see there and elsewhere, without really knowing the details from this morning’s mayhem, that the media are turning to the question of what it all means. With the help of sociologists, CNN bloviator in chief Lou Dobbs is going to scrutinize school shootings.

It’s an unspeakable tragedy, of course, and what will come to distinguish it will be the awful, heartbreaking details to be revealed over the hours and days to come. But really: does this tell us anything about any aspect of our society that we didn’t know before this morning? Or before Columbine? Or the Killeen, Texas, massacre? Or Oliver James Huberty’s slaughter of the innocents at the San Ysidro McDonald’s. Go ahead and jump in — you can all think of an incident that fits.

I’m not sure what any of these killings says, by the way, beyond the obvious: how violent the society is, how efficient firearms are at doing what they’re designed to do. But regardless of the meaning, to me, these have come part of the landscape we live in, a little like earthquakes in California. You know they’re coming; you know they could be devastating; but you never know when it’s going to happen.

Of course, unlike earthquakes, in theory, at least, there’s the hope we might be able to do something to stop random massacres. After every one, there’s lots and lots of talk; Lou Dobbs and his sociologists. Then — then we move on, till the next time.

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