The Santa Barbara Rampage: Guns Were Not the Problem

Posted on May 26, 2014


A desperately unhappy and angry young man goes on a deadly rampage using a knife, his car, and guns as his weapons. But we’ll only agonize over the guns… not the car, not the knife, and not the man.

A very lonely and unhappy Elliot Rodger, angry at years of perceived slights, jealous of others’ happiness, and just pissed off at the world in general, finally went on a violent and deadly spree that was long in the making. He apparently murdered three people with a knife, shot three more to death as he sprayed the neighborhood with bullets, and rammed his car into skateboarders and two bicyclists. When he finally wrecked his car and shot himself, a struck bicyclist was still clinging to his windshield, and 13 people were left injured either by gunfire or by his car.

The reaction has been swift and predictable: how did this disturbed young man manage to (legally) obtain three handguns? And why can’t we strengthen gun-control laws to keep this from ever happening again?

The answer to both questions: don’t hold your breath.

In this country, we operate from a legal presumption of innocence: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” This principle has come to extend beyond the courtroom to protect our rights and privileges in other spheres of life as well. In the mental-health system, it has become pretty difficult to justify hauling someone off to the nut house, which effectively deprives them of their liberty without due process. As for gun rights, US citizens have a Constitutional right to own guns, and there needs to be a strong justification to deny that right as well.

Humans are complex and emotional creatures. We will always be highly variable from one person to the next, and any individual will always be unpredictable to some extent. Elliot Rodger’s family was worried; they called police to check on him; the police found a polite, calm, rational young man. Mr. Rodger did nothing and said nothing that they could justifiably act upon, so they didn’t act. It’s easy to criticize them now, but the alternative is for us all to accept Fourth Amendment violations and the kind of heavy-handed and unjustified police actions that incarcerate, injure or kill citizens who have done nothing to deserve their harsh treatment. Remember Kenneth Chamberlain or Shoshana Hebshi? Uh-huh. When the police go overboard “for our own good,” bad things happen, the innocent suffer, and we are outraged. So frankly, we don’t have any business complaining when they don’t go overboard “for our own good,” and then a citizen abuses his rights in order to cause harm to others.

My question is, why do we keep questioning the guns? This violent spree saw people seriously injured or killed by a car, a knife, and guns. The lone common denominator: the man wielding them. I suspect that the main reason we focus on the guns is that it’s too hard or uncomfortable to unravel human complexities; cars and knives are tools in our daily lives; but few of us use guns, which are pretty much only used for shooting.  It is just much easier to seize upon the guns as a “quick fix” that wouldn’t be a fix at all.

A gun-control advocate may respond: well,  the difference, you see, is that guns are designed only to be a weapon, so we would all be better off with them gone. To which I answer: if this rampage shows us anything, it is that human beings can be explosively violent, and in the absence of guns or even in addition to guns, violent people will use anything at hand – their cars, kitchen knives, blunt objects, their fists. I favor the Second Amendment because I want law-abiding citizens to have the means, as well as the right, to defend themselves and others in the face of such violence.