Commentary on two news items: the Aurora shooting and the Penn State penalties

Two stories are really big right now in the news, and people keep posting their feelings about them so why don’t I?

1. The Aurora shooter. The usual noise after a shooting episode is about gun control laws. Actually, it’s primarily news outlets pondering if this will lead to more debate about gun control laws. For the record, I think there should be less gun control, not more. I’ve already written why I think so, so I’ll just quote it here:

On a smaller scale, one of the arguments supporting gun rights is that there will be guns out there, and the choice is between allowing responsible citizens to have them and forbidding them to, given that in either situation criminals will have them. Clearly, it is desirable for non-criminals to have access to them. Now a thought experiment: let’s suppose it’s possible for the gun fairy to make all the guns in the area in question disappear. Would this be more desirable than the gun-proliferation option? I would say no. Without guns, the 250 lb., 6’6″ criminal knows that there will be very little resistance when he breaks in with a bat. At best, the tenant has another bat, and the criminal’s odds are pretty good. He’s much more likely to come out of that situation healthy than he is to come out of the parallel situation in which both sides have guns. Thus, even in this case we should want the gun fairy to take no action.

Although the story is still developing, it seems as though the alleged perpetrator went to great lengths to kill people, including setting up a very elaborate set of booby traps in his apartment. If he could not have acquired the guns and ammo it took to commit the mass killing, he was prepared to use other means. It’s simply not possible to set up a society in which no lunatic can kill people. The essential problem is still the same: should we make it easier or harder for people to defend themselves? Put that way, the answer seems obvious to me.

2. The Penn State penalties. I know it’s not fair to the past, present, and near future football players who had nothing to do with the crimes. However, given the magnitude of the screw-up, I am ok with what the NCAA did. While the punishment is being described as “unprecedented”, the cover-up is also unprecedented.

Guys like Jerry Sandusky probably know deep down that they are doing wrong but can’t stop themselves. It is up to the people who can to stop them. In this case, Paterno refused to take action, as did a host of other people. If they had acted immediately, no penalties would have been appropriate. Not only did they fail to act, this failure continued and grew for years. There were many accessories after the fact, in other words, and they were deeply involved in the program, not simply random bad apples.

The penalties serve two purposes: punishment and deterrent. They punish a program that at its core was concerned only to limit damage to itself, including Joe Paterno. They (hopefully) will deter other programs from being more concerned about their football programs than about serious crimes happening on their watch. This will rightly overshadow all of the good things about Paterno’s career.

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