Tuesday, April 05, 2005

An apology for misperception

A few weeks ago I blogged about the evils of gun violence and the possibility that it could be prevented with stricter controls. I am a big enough man to admit when I am wrong. I pointed to the countries of Europe as peaceful role models. I talked about Germany in particular. I hereby retract any of that senseless propaganda that spewed from my keyboard. I would like to present the following unedited news clippings as the evidence for my epiphany.

The peace and tranquility of a regular Sunday church service in southern Germany was shattered when a man armed with a samurai sword and pistol ran amok, killing one person and severely wounding others.

A man wielding a samurai sword killed a 43-year-old woman and seriously wounded three other people during a service in a Protestant church in this southern German city Sunday, authorities said.

The 25-year-old assailant was likely an ethnic Tamil, as were most of the 70 members of the congregation, police said, adding that they suspected a personal and not a political motive.

"There are cut-off limbs lying around the church," a police spokeswoman said, adding that a man and woman among the injured were fighting for their lives.

A scene of horror

Officers "were greeted by a scene of horror" after responding to an emergency call around 15:48 CET, the spokeswoman said.

The attacker wounded one man in the neck, sliced off the hand of another and dealt a possibly fatal blow to a woman's chest. All the victims were Tamils.
The parishioners, nearly half of whom were children, shielded themselves with chairs as the man ran amok. Many were able to escape the church, running screaming into the streets, while police overpowered the assailant, who also had a pistol, using a tear gas bomb.

Witnesses given counseling

Sixty-five people who witnessed the bloodbath were given psychological counseling, the German NTV news channel reported.

A German church was last the scene of a bloodbath on Christmas Eve 1996 when a deranged German man aiming to commit suicide set off two grenades in a Protestant house of worship, killing two women as well as himself and wounding 13 parishioners.

That story linked to this one.

Almost two years after a school massacre killed 16 people, one of the victims' partners has taken state authorities to court for not having done enough to save lives. It's reopened questions underlying the tragedy.

On April 26, 2002, 19-year-old Robert Steinhäuser gunned down 12 teachers, two students, a secretary and a policeman within minutes at his former high school in the eastern German town of Erfurt. He then shot himself.

The bloodbath stunned the nation and left a stain on the sleepy German town in the state of Thuringia. A national debate broke out on the link between vicious computer games, which Steinhäuser was addicted to, and increasing violence among teenagers. At the time, critical voices were also raised about the role of the local police and whether they had done enough to save victims' lives.

Now, almost two years later, Erfurt lawyer Eric Langer, who lost his partner, an art teacher, during the massacre, is ensuring that the same questions are kept alive. Langer filed a case against the state of Thuringia this week, accusing those responsible for the police action on the day of the shoot-out, of acting too late or irresponsibly in five cases. Langer, who has carried out his own research into the incident and personally spoken to about 70 witnesses, believes that three teachers and two students died only one to two hours after they were fatally injured by Steinhäuser. Though there is no way of knowing if they could have been saved, Langer says it's incomprehensible that no attempt was made.

The lawyer has also accused the various emergency services of disastrous coordination efforts. "Each emergency service waited for the next one with the result that the entire deployment was paralysed," Langer told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Langer also described the entire operation as "entirely chaotic," with several students and police officers not even aware that paramedics had been allowed to enter the school building. Langer's own partner, Birgit Dettke, is said to have laid crying in vain for help for almost an hour and a half in the schoolyard, just meters away from policemen.

No mention of police failures

A 43-page investigative report compiled by Thuringia's interior ministry two months after the massacre, however, assumed that, "all victims would have had no chance of survival even if they had undergone an immediate emergency operation." Langer has slammed the report for ignoring the alleged failures of the police operation.

Nor had the report, which was originally meant to be just an interim assessment, been pursued further. It was only in January this year that Thuringia's premier, Dieter Althaus, commissioned his justice minister to open a detailed probe into the massacre after facing pressure from an opposition political parties and Langer's threat to take the matter to the court.

Bodo Ramelow of the Party of Democratic Socialism is also pushing the government to implement a tighter weapons law than the existing one, introduce school reforms and make more provisions for traumatized victims.

Book on massacre causes controversy

The issue has been lent urgency with the publication of the controversial part-fiction book "Das reicht für heute" (That's Enough for Today) by German author Ines Geipel. Geipel, who wrote the story through the perspective of a fictitious former student, has accused the police of inaction and criticized efforts by the Thuringia government to bury fundamental debates and questions that sprung up in the aftermath of the shooting.

Geipel, however, has been publicly slammed by both teachers and students from the high school where the massacre took place as a sensation-seeker. They have branded her book an "unauthorized intrusion" for her cold-blooded and chilling details of the crime.

Perhaps we have reached a point from which we cannot return. Guns cannot be completely recalled or accounted for. They are cheap, plentiful, effective, and distributed throughout the world. In times like these were shocking stories are mere curiosity pieces, the best protection against bullets is body armor.


Cubicle said...

there are a few things you can do, though it starts with the people who commit crimes and not the guns.

though with the guns, you can remove expenisve regulations on guns making them cheaper and remove regulations on guns which prevent people from owning them.

You want the good guys to own them and have them when they need them.

In countries where you cannot get guns, you can always buy swords and crosbows.


Gib said...

Not that I'm a fan of gun control - I'm not - but anecdotes, no matter how compelling the story, should rarely, if ever, be used to set a nation's policy.

Tell a story about a gun crime, and I can respond with a story about a homeowner who used a gun to frighten off an invader. It can continue ad infinitum, and if one of us runs out of stories first, all that proves is one of us needs to get out more.

Most of Europe has fewer gun-related homicides per capita than we do. They pay a price, both in security (their property crimes rates are often higher), and in freedom (one more thing the government has to do for you), but presumably, they're willing to pay it, since they never elect anyone who campaigns on the platform of doing something about it. Here in the states, we place a higher value in individual freedom, and we vote and legislate accordingly.