Let’s be realistic about reality

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Let’s be realistic about reality

April 22, 2007
BY MARK STEYN Sun-Times Columnist

Within hours of the Virginia Tech massacre, the New York Times had
identified the problem: ”What is needed, urgently, is stronger controls
over the lethal weapons that cause such wasteful carnage and such unbearable

According to the Canadian blogger Kate MacMillan, a caller to her local
radio station went further and said she was teaching her children to ”fear

Overseas, meanwhile, the German network NTV was first to identify the
perpetrator: To accompany their report on the shootings, they flashed up a
picture of Charlton Heston touting his rifle at an NRA confab.

And at Yale, the dean of student affairs, Betty Trachtenberg, reacted to the
Virginia Tech murders by taking decisive action: She banned all stage
weapons from plays performed on campus. After protests from the drama
department, she modified her decisive action to “permit the use of obviously
fake weapons” such as plastic swords.

But it’s not just the danger of overly realistic plastic swords in college
plays that we face today. In yet another of his not-ready-for-prime-time
speeches, Barack Obama started out deploring the violence of Virginia Tech
as yet another example of the pervasive violence of our society: the
violence of Iraq, the violence of Darfur, the violence of . . . er, hang on,
give him a minute. Ah, yes, outsourcing: ”the violence of men and women who
. . . suddenly have the rug pulled out from under them because their job has
moved to another country.” And let’s not forget the violence of radio hosts:
”There’s also another kind of violence, though, that we’re going to have to
think about. It’s not necessarily physical violence, but violence that we
perpetrate on each other in other ways. Last week the big news, obviously,
had to do with Imus and the verbal violence that was directed at young women
who were role models for all of us, role models for my daughters.”

I’ve had some mail in recent days from people who claimed I’d insulted the
dead of Virginia Tech. Obviously, I regret I didn’t show the exquisite taste
and sensitivity of Sen. Obama and compare getting shot in the head to an
Imus one-liner. Does he mean it? I doubt whether even he knows. When
something savage and unexpected happens, it’s easiest to retreat to our
tropes and bugbears or, in the senator’s case, a speech on the previous
week’s “big news.” Perhaps I’m guilty of the same. But then Yale University,
one of the most prestigious institutes of learning on the planet, announces
that it’s no longer safe to expose twentysomething men and women to ”Henry
V” unless you cry God for Harry, England and St. George while brandishing a
bright pink and purple plastic sword from the local kindergarten. Except, of
course, that the local kindergarten long since banned plastic swords under
its own “zero tolerance” policy.

I think we have a problem in our culture not with “realistic weapons” but
with being realistic about reality. After all, we already “fear guns,” at
least in the hands of NRA members. Otherwise, why would we ban them from so
many areas of life? Virginia Tech, remember, was a “gun-free zone,” formally
and proudly designated as such by the college administration. Yet the killer
kept his guns and ammo on the campus. It was a “gun-free zone” except for
those belonging to the guy who wanted to kill everybody. Had the Second
Amendment not been in effect repealed by VT, someone might have been able to
do as two students did five years ago at the Appalachian Law School: When a
would-be mass murderer showed up, they rushed for their vehicles, grabbed
their guns and pinned him down until the cops arrived.

But you can’t do that at Virginia Tech. Instead, the administration has
created a “Gun-Free School Zone.” Or, to be more accurate, they’ve created a
sign that says “Gun-Free School Zone.” And, like a loopy medieval sultan,
they thought that simply declaring it to be so would make it so. The
“gun-free zone” turned out to be a fraud — not just because there were at
least two guns on the campus last Monday, but in the more important sense
that the college was promoting to its students a profoundly deluded view of
the world.

I live in northern New England, which has a very low crime rate, in part
because it has a high rate of gun ownership. We do have the occasional
murder, however. A few years back, a couple of alienated loser teens from a
small Vermont town decided they were going to kill somebody, steal his ATM
cards, and go to Australia. So they went to a remote house in the woods a
couple of towns away, knocked on the door, and said their car had broken
down. The guy thought their story smelled funny so he picked up his Glock
and told ’em to get lost. So they concocted a better story, and pretended to
be students doing an environmental survey. Unfortunately, the next old coot
in the woods was sick of environmentalists and chased ’em away. Eventually
they figured they could spend months knocking on doors in rural Vermont and
New Hampshire and seeing nothing for their pains but cranky guys in plaid
leveling both barrels through the screen door. So even these idiots worked
it out: Where’s the nearest place around here where you’re most likely to
encounter gullible defenseless types who have foresworn all means of
resistance? Answer: Dartmouth College. So they drove over the Connecticut
River, rang the doorbell, and brutally murdered a couple of well-meaning
liberal professors. Two depraved misfits of crushing stupidity (to judge
from their diaries) had nevertheless identified precisely the easiest murder
victims in the twin-state area. To promote vulnerability as a moral virtue
is not merely foolish. Like the new Yale props department policy, it signals
to everyone that you’re not in the real world.

The “gun-free zone” fraud isn’t just about banning firearms or even a
symptom of academia’s distaste for an entire sensibility of which the Second
Amendment is part and parcel but part of a deeper reluctance of critical
segments of our culture to engage with reality. Michelle Malkin wrote a
column a few days ago connecting the prohibition against physical
self-defense with “the erosion of intellectual self-defense,” and the
retreat of college campuses into a smothering security blanket of speech
codes and “safe spaces” that’s the very opposite of the principles of honest
enquiry and vigorous debate on which university life was founded. And so we
“fear guns,” and “verbal violence,” and excessively realistic swashbuckling
in the varsity production of ”The Three Musketeers.” What kind of
functioning society can emerge from such a cocoon?



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