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Shotgun News, December 1, 2005, pp. 20-21
Odds & Ends
Last month I wrote about the horrifying news accounts of violence and savagery in the aftermath of Katrina. Within a few days of writing that column, many of the same news organizations behaved like Emily Litella on the 1970s version of Saturday Night Live, after she had ranted and raved about about busting schoolchildren--only to find out that the debate was about busing schoolchildren. "Never mind."
The most horrifying stories named eyewitnesses described rape, murder, molestation of children at the Superdome--and these stories were repeated by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Now, news media organized claimed that the early reports were grossly exaggerated, or sometimes completely false.1 I don't know what to believe. Many of these news reports were specific, with reporters describing bodies that they claimed to have seen, and quoting National Guardsmen about the nature of the injuries that the dead bodies showed.2 Accounts from foreign newspapers quoted foreign tourists about events that they claimed to have actually witnessed in the Superdome.3 Even worse: one reporter who reported having seen those stacked up dead bodies--Brian Thevenot--wrote an article three weeks later denying that it happened. At least the news accounts of civilians using guns in self-defense haven't been revised by the news media to "didn't happen."
I fear that at least part of what happened was that news organizations adopted a theory to explain the disaster: "President Bush doesn't care about black people." I find it significant that a couple of law professors in Houston told nearly identical stories on their blog of rape and child molestation taking place at the Astrodome--where Katrina survivors were evacuated to from the Superdome. If there was any question as to their purpose, the subtitle of their blog was, "Two Houston Law Professors' First Hand Blog Accounts of the Real Treatment of Black Americans in Hurricane Katrina's Aftermath."4 A once prominent black civil rights activist, Randall Robinson, went so far as to claim that the black population of New Orleans had been reduced to cannibalism within four days of Hurricane Katrina by Bush's racist refusal to help. (Even the KKK would know better than to claim four days without food was enough to cause cannibalism.) Robinson retracted the cannibalism claim a few days later--but he would not retract his claim about Bush's racism--which he had based on a "fact" that he now admitted wasn't true!5
I have my suspicions that the news media played up unbsubstantiated rumors as fact in the hopes of making President Bush look bad--and didn't realize that they were making the largely black evacuee population of New Orleans look like savages to the ast majority of Americans. It makes me even less inclined to believe much of what the mainstream news media tells me.
On a somewhat happier note, there are parts of the world that seem to be learning the lesson that armed victims shooting back is a good thing. I ran into a very interesting web page containing the English translation of a Romanian newspaper. The translation is rather clumsy, but still manages to get the message across. The Romanian government recently changed their law on self-defense--and there was an incident shortly thereafter that demonstrated the value of the change. Try not to laugh too much (and remember, the translator's English is almost certainly better than your Romanian):
"The thief shot dead inside the home of fashion designer Romanita Iovan should be granted a post mortem medal for having contributed to the promotion of the new Penal Code. Bogdan Iancu, a recidivist, has ended his mission on Earth after having stolen a handful of jewels from the home of Iovan family. ... The operation was a half success as the owner of the villa in Primaverii St. no longer waited for the hare hunting season to begin and discharged the weapon for such game into the body of the 27 year old man.
"The following day, the newspapers wrote that the dead man was to blame as the owner has released the trigger of the gun in self defense. Tens of prime time talk shows and hundreds of ads would not have aroused so much interest for the changes brought to the Penal Code like the Wednesday night execution did.
"The extensive coverage of the case made us understand that the term of self defense is no longer an obsolete reply in the American movies. Now, self defense is also working in Romania. Since this July, when the Penal Code enriched itself with the formula 'The individual that commits such act in order to reject the breaking in of other individuals by violence, slyness, burglary or other such means into a room ...... is also presumed to be in self defense ' ...
"This represents the ultimate proof that property is no longer a simple trifle as Ion Iliescu once said, but a sometimes lethal gun in the hands of the legal owner of a palace, a villa, a one room apartment or a piece of enclosed land."6
Somewhat less encouraging news comes from Scotland and England--whose very strict gun control laws, including a complete prohibition on handgun ownership, has not made Britain quite the paradise that gun control advocates promised. The Times of Lond reported that a United Nations report comparing violent crime rates through the world found "Scotland [is] the most violent country in the developed world, with people three times more likely to be assaulted than in America." "Violent crime has doubled in Scotland over the past 20 years and levels, per head of population, are now comparable with cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg and Tbilisi." Those are all Third World cities--and not even particularly nice Third World cities.
The report blamed a culture of "booze and blades" for Scotland's problems. In case you weren't aware of it, Scots have a long history of abusing alcohol, and even with all the handguns banned, rifles very strictly licensed, and shotguns not easy to get--drunken Scots are running around a ttacking and sometimes killing each other. The Scottish police solution? Restrict access to alcohol and limit sales of knives.7 Something tells me that the knives are only the symptom--drunks manage to do enormous damage to themselves and others, regardless of weapon.
England is every bit as strict on guns as Scotland. Like Scotland, the shortage of legal guns might contribute a bit to a lower murder rate than the United States, but perhaps at the expense of a higher rate of other violent crimes. If you don't worry about getting shot, it takes away your incentive to not beat up someone in a bar, and makes breaking into an occupied dwelling a reasonably safe occupation. But even with very severe gun control laws, the fundamental cultural problems that drive violent crime in the United States cause similar problems in England. Read this account of a senseless drive-by shooting, and ignore the locations and other details that identify where this happened. Then ask yourself if this was in an inner city in America--or somewhere else.
"Two gang members have been jailed for life for shooting a schoolgirl in the stomach during a feud in Nottingham.
"Danielle Beccan, 14, was killed when a gang from a rival district opened fire from their car on a group of children walking home from the city's annual Goose Fair in the early hours of October 9 last year. ...
"Mark Kelly, 20, and Junior Andrews, 24, were found guilty today at Birmingham Crown Court of murdering Danielle as part of an inner-city gang feud. ...
"Andrews, who was the front seat passenger and who pulled the trigger, filmed himself smoking a cannabis joint and bragging 'I'm a real killer'.
"Both were members of The Waterfront Gang, who, the prosecution said, have a hatred for people from St Ann's. They had been out burgling in the more affluent Clifton area, and went to St Ann's at midnight intending to 'shoot up' people from the estate."8
I've expressed my opinion before in this column abou twhy cultural values matter more than gun availability in controlling violent crime rates. This article does not tell us what sort of gun Kelly and Andrews used to murder Danielle Beccan, but it seems likely that it was a handgun--completely unlawful for any private person to own in Britain. A culture that glorifies violence and intoxication--and that thinks boasting, "I'm a killer" is something that makes you a real man--there's the core problem. As long as this problem is not corected, gun control is nibbling at the edges of the violent crime problem. At best gun control wastes resources of the criminal justice system; when fully implemented, it disarms the victims.
1Brian Thevenot and Gordon Russell, "Rumors of deaths greatly exaggerated," New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 26, 2005, http://www.nola.com/newslogs/tporleans/index.ssf?/mtlogs/nola_tporleans/archives/2005_09_26.html#082732, last accessed October 18, 2005.
2Brian Thevenot, "Bodies found piled in freezer at Convention Center," New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 6, 2005, http://www.nola.com/weblogs/print.ssf?/mtlogs/nola_tporleans/archives/print077206.html, last accessed October 18, 2005.
3"British tourists 'flee Superdome'," BBC News, September 2, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/wear/4208792.stm, last accessed September 14, 2005; rank Walker, "Superdome a hellhole: Aussies tell," The Age, September 4, 2005, http://www.theage.com.au/news/world/superdome-a-hellhole-aussies-tell/2005/09/03/1125302782219.html?oneclick=true, last accessed September 14, 2005.
4Tracy McCaugh, "Astrodome Still in Crisis," White Washing the Black Storm: We Are Watching, September 4, 2005, http://whitewashingblack.blogspot.com/2005/09/astrodome-still-in-crisis.html, last accessed October 18, 2005.,
5Randall Robinson, "New Orleans," The Huffington Post, September 2, 2005, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randall-robinson/new-orleans_b_6643.html, last accessed October 18, 2005.
7Katrina Tweedie, "Scotland tops list of world's most violent countries," London Times, September 19, 2005, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1786945,00.html, last accessed October 18, 2005.
8Jenny Booth, "Gangsters jailed for life for shooting schoolgirl Danielle," London Times, October 12, 2005, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1822757_1,00.html, last accessed October 18, 2005.