How to prevent school massacres

Evil Armed and Evil Disarmed

Gwydion. M. Williams

(This was written after the 1996 Dunblane Massacre, after another attacker who had only a machete tried something similar and failed.)

I was not at all pleased to find most of my predictions born out by recent events, The only positive point is the clear evidence that gun control works. A maniac with a machete was successfully stopped from killing children by the action of a few determined teachers. It was very brave of them, certainly. But the same courage would have been totally useless against an armed attacker.

In the 18th century, much the same people had political rights and the right to carry lethal weapons. The Americans decided that these privileges were to be extended. Theoretically to the whole male population, in practice mainly to whites. US independence was very bad news for Blacks and Red Indians.

If an Englishman’s home is castle, then the rest of world is assumed to be a wilderness. This form of individualism was preserved in America but dwindled away in Britain itself, with people becoming more social and concerned. America is turning a rich and potentially excellent society into a paranoid wilderness, because it has these hang-ups on the effectiveness of personal violence. Note also – this same gun-mad culture cannot fight wars very well nor cope with loss, hurt, defeat or the fact of death.

With hindsight – and much against what I thought at the time – Martin Luther King with his non-violent methods had the effective method for curing America and raising up African-Americans. Whereas the Black Panthers were disastrously wrong doing things the American Way. They made it easy for ‘conservative’ politicians to stop caring what happened in Black areas. They helped identify Black self-assertion with the crazy American notion of liberty through personal violence. And so the young Blacks enthusiastically kill each other with sophisticated weaponry and the culture as a whole remains downtrodden.

It is true enough that guns do not kill people, people kill people. But gun people kill other people much more easily than people without guns. A very good brawler may occasionally be able to take on as many as four determined foes: beyond that there is only the rubbish of popular fiction. But guns and especially automatic weapons create a total lack of balance.

People can be violent for what they see as good ends – as with the IRA and the Protestant paramilitaries and many others. Or they can be violent for selfish ends, as with professional criminals. Or they can be violent as a general protest at a world which displeases them, which seems to have been Hamilton’s motives at Dunblane. You could call the last of these evil if you like, and find any explanation for it you like. What I observe is that an unstressed and visibly just society will be far less plagued by such characters than the self-righteous hypocritical mess the New Right have built.

Americans increasingly like to blame criminal genes for crime. Now it does seem to be true that some people are more inclined to crime and violence than others. But is it not odd that these criminal genes only manage to express themselves in America, and in other fluctuating unfair and overstressed societies?

In the early 20th century, there was a very unexpected outbreak of violent crime among the Jewish immigrants who had fled persecution in Eastern Europe. And while it was mostly chance which country the various refugees ended up in, their pattern of crime was in each case the same as the host population. Razor gangs in London’s East End and cold killers with machine-guns in the United States. And in both cases, this pattern ended as soon as Jews moved up the social ladder and had other safer and more respectable ways of getting ahead. Arguably, the same genetic factors enabled the Bugs-and-Meyer gang to levy protection on other bootlegger as allowed the Israeli armed forces to dismember vastly larger Arab forces. But the expression of such potential obviously depends on the social context. The Israelis showed their commitment to public morality by kicking Meyer Lansky back to the USA, the land that had made him the clever cold thug he was.

Is an armed population a protection against tyranny? Most citizens of Ancient Rome were armed and trained for war. They turned their elections into battlefields and created such disorder that Republican forms were discredited. Even wicked emperors like Caligula were tolerated, because the sum total of their killings was much less than the organised destruction of civil war.

An effective electoral system is a means whereby the society can fight a bloodless civil war every few years, and sort out any shifts in mood or balance of power. The Swiss were and are free because they had politics, not because they had weapons. Since mediaeval Europe was a cruel barbarous place – well behind contemporary civilisations in China and India and the Islamic world – the Swiss had to be armed and had to fight wars. But they were successful because they accepted the rules of the democratic game.

Let me repeat my serious proposals for minimising future Dunblanes:

  1.  Aim to disarm the entire population, with no one at all holding a gun unless they are also under public supervision and control. Pragmatically, it would be unwise to try to disarm existing gun holders. It would be far more likely to spark violence than to prevent it. But the whole business should be rejected culturally as primitive and distasteful. And such an attitude might even filter through to professional criminals, who used not to use guns and are still much more careful and cautious than their US equivalents.
  2. Make teaching and child-care well-paid professions that would attract the best and most talented people. Children get their characters formed by their parents and by school, and we can at least ensure that the schools are good. They should be a natural place for the best rather than a refuge for people with no ideas after they complete their own education.
  3. Strict and intrusive checking of everyone who will be trusted with power over children. This should very definitely include members of religious orders, especially since the Church has shown itself quite unworthy of the trust that used to be placed in it. I have no doubt that some devout and celibate persons are excellent teachers and should continue to have a role. Nor would there be any reason to exclude homosexuals as such. Both homosexual and heterosexual paedophiles should be totally shut out. As should bullies and anyone inclined to excess violence.

First published in 1996 in Labour & Trade Union Review, under the pen-name Walter Cobb.