Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Spoonman in the Tower? No.

There are people who argue that guns are a tool.  In the right hands they can save a life, and in the wrong hands, either those with evil intent or untrained or accidental circumstance, they can take a life. There are people who argue that spoons and forks, and thimbles are all tools as well.  And that no matter the intent, people almost never die from their misuse.

I am not a person who thinks guns can be removed from American society.  And I do not believe, necessarily that they should be.  Limited yes.  Absolutely I believe that there should not be a complete freedom of kind, and number.  But I believe that there is a reason the United States has had almost 200 years of unchecked freedom, and almost 200 years since the last foreign incursion into our land.  I don't believe a lot of the myths created or fed by the National Rifle Association, but, I refuse to consider it all blather in the absence of proof of some of it.  And I surely don't think the worst stories you hear, are necessarily the norm.  In fact, the reason they are on the news is because they are outside of the norm and are an "event".  Bad things happen and we hear of them, that is how news happens.

Most of the rest of the world fears an armed populace, with good reason.  Without the constitutional right to keep firearms by the citizens the government might well choose to govern more often by force, than by rule of law, and by electoral choice. Perhaps not, but, it is clear that Americans believe in some form of gun rights, with more guns in the hands of citizens than there are citizens. 

Having said all this, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy the laws of acquiring firearms were changed, strengthened, made more difficult to get through inspections of the postal authorities.  All to make certain a nut couldn't do what we were told Lee Harvey Oswald had done.

Charles Whitman was a modestly well performing US marine who scored somewhat well as a rifleman on the shooting range.  He was dealing with a number of stresses, the need to succeed to show his father he was worthy, to make his mother proud, to support his wife, and for his future family and children.  After his first and successful enlistment he reentered the military to become an officer, took some university courses.

Whitman was returned to active duty when his grades did not merit his continued scholarship and attendance.  University of Texas at Austin Mechanical Engineering was by no means an easy field of study, and while Whitman was likely bright, his path seemed to be taking him away from school.  That is until the US Marine Corps after a number of incidents ended his service with a dishonorable discharge.

While in school and afterward he began having headaches that were undiagnosed as to the cause.  In his diary he recorded that he had begun hearing voices, feeling urges, and for some reason, he believed, something, somehow, just wasn't right.

His life was crashing down upon him.  His discharge and failure in both university and the Marines were not the only issue he faced.  His father who played a very demanding role in Whitman's mind, announced a split with a possible divorce with Whitman's mother.  Soon, Whitman beat/hit his own wife. In his diary he wrote how hateful he felt towards both himself for hitting his wife, and towards his father for reasons he did not altogether understand.  He began to see a psychiatrist who recognized that Whitman had issues but, it was really too late. When his parents divorced/split, his mother came to live with the Whitmans.   And soon the stress of everything seemed too much.  And Whitman began hearing voices, feeling urges to ascend to the top of the tower "Stand off any army" from the top.

August 1, 1966 he broke.  Mentally he could not go on. He packed a military trunk with ammo, food, and weapons, dressed in camouflage, and went to the tower at University of Texas at Austin.
Whitman had first however, killed his wife, and mother.   He immediately killed 3 people in the entrance and foyer areas, and blocked off the observation deck.  He then dragged his trunk with his equipment, and for 6 hours or so, he rained death upon any person he saw below.  He shot and killed 16 people, and wounded 32.  He controlled the ground beneath him until two lawmen from Austin cornered him and one shot him, Ramiro Martinez and Houston McCoy.

America was in shock.  Guns were blamed, society was blamed. Youth were blamed.  But what you have is a young man who wasn't evil, he was drugged and irrational, unable to stop himself from doing what he recognized as wrong.  He was mentally ill, and perhaps more.  The problem in America is often not the tools of the killers, it is that we do not see the killers amongst us.  Perhaps that is one of the costs of freedom.  I do not know.  I truly do not.

Point 1

An often underplayed issue for the Whitman event is, was he addicted to Dexedrine?  It is very possible that he was addicted, and there is documented use.  If he was addicted, his rational sense could have been deeply affected.  Lack of sleep, which is a common, even hoped for effect, is a result from use, and in most addicts, there is a hazed over look in the eyes, as if they have become zombies, as a result of lack of sleep.

Point 2

Some people have argued about another issue that plays a large role, did the brain tumor that Whitman had, and that he suggested he had in his suicide note, play a role in his moral reasoning and ability to make choices?  The human brain is still not sufficiently mapped to know, but rather than toss it out and say "the fucker is evil" as so many have, I'd suggest, most people don't feel like there is something in their brain, most don't hear voices, and most don't ascend a tower and hold off an army, evil or not.

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