Let The Debate Begin?
[Ross] Eugene Volokh wonders how soon is too soon to start the inevitable post-Virginia Tech dialogue about gun control, and Joshua Claybourn chimes in. Obviously, this kind of meta-debate is somewhat academic, since nobody - from the New York Times editorial page to Michelle Malkin - seems interested in waiting even a day before trotting out their hobby-horses. I'm extremely skeptical, though, that there's actually anything significant to learn about gun policy from yesterday's violence: Extreme, unpredictable events like this one seem like precisely the kind of thing that shouldn't dictate lawmaking decisions (though of course they inevitably do). If there's a case for gun control, it's in the daily run of shooting deaths that don't make the front page; if there's a case against gun control, it's in the daily run of crimes deterred by an armed citizenry (and in more abstract questions of personal liberty), not in the faint chance that a kid with a conceal-and-carry permit might have taken the Virginia killer down.
Garance Franke-Ruta, to her credit, has a somewhat novel take on What We Should Learn from the tragedy - namely, that we need to take domestic violence more seriously:
Because the first victim was a woman, and possible had a romantic connection to the killer, the police did not see her murder as a threat to the community. Now the police are pretty plainly telling the public that they failed to warn the campus there was a killer on the loose because they failed to understand that men who kill their partners are also threats to society. And they are saying this by way of exculpating their actions . . . Murder is murder is murder. I realize that events unfolded rapidly, and that two hours is a very, very short time in the life of a police investigation, and that the police may just be casting around for a post-hoc defense against the castigation that is sure to come, but the idea that you don’t warn people that a killer is on the loose just because you think he killed his girlfriend seems like 1950s thinking.
Well, maybe. But "intimate killings" of one sort or another are very common: Roughly half of all murders in the United States are committed by someone known to the victim, and roughly one-third of all women murdered in the U.S. are killed by a lover, at least according to this study of crimes of passion across the 1980s and 1990s. The same study finds that 97 percent of the latter subset were "one-victim, one-perpetrator incidents." I don't know what fraction of the remaining 3 percent involved the wanton murder of strangers (rather than, say, killing a romantic rival as well, or another relative, or someone who happened to get in the way), but I bet it was vanishingly small. So while maybe there's a case to be made for shutting down a campus or a neighborhood in any situation in which a killer is on the loose, it's hard to see why intimate homicides in particular should be taken as warning signs that a killing spree is about to begin, and easy to see why police investigating a crime of passion would take the risk of random violence less seriously than when, say, there's a murderous convict on the loose.