Harvard Educated Professor Kills Faculty Colleagues: Second Amendment of the Constitution traveled from Massachusetts to Alabama
By Kaufmann | February 13, 2010 10 Comments »
I defer to the news outlets to continue to cover yesterday afternoon killings of three faculty member at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, allegedly perpetrated by a Amy Bishop, a Harvard doctorate in neurobiology. She is accused of opening fire during the biology department faculty meeting she was a member of, which discussed a prior decision to deny her of tenure at the University of Alabama. In addition to those she shot dead, Amy Bishop also shot and injured three other faculty colleagues. The focus in the media so far is on the shock of a Harvard super-educated scientist committing such an heinous act, and on the related perennial issue of fierce academic competition and tenure decisions, as in today’s article in the New York Times (here)…
My guess is that soon to follow will be psychological profiles of her, and then various analyses of the possible links between decades-long of lofty and often lonely intellectual pursuits, on the one hand, and longstanding mental health challenges that may have gone undetected or unaddressed, on the other. For now, some reports may superficially state that she ‘snapped’ during the Faculty meeting. But the reporting so far misses another huge challenge altogether, totally absent in the reporting by the New York Times and other main outlets: Amy Bishop had walked into the Faculty meeting, and sat quietly for a long while during its proceedings, with a fully loaded gun.
It is as if such ease of access to guns, and ability to carry them undetected (or detected?), even by high powered scientist professors in university campus, is simply taken for granted nowadays in the U.S. This is in sharp contrast to other industrialized (and many emerging) countries around the world today.
Of course, people kill other people. But guns also do the killing, by being so effective in translating a fallible human intent into lethal outcome. Even in the presence of an evil thought, or even intent, it is much more difficult to perpetrate the killing (and particularly multiple killings in a single incident) without easy access to a gun, and without freely moving around carrying a loaded weapon ready to kill at a snap.
Assume hypothetically that the same Amy Bishop, after obtaining her Harvard Ph. D., would have been offered a teaching position in a European university, which, say, years later, would have also have denied her academic tenure, following the same process and rationale as in the case of the University of Alabama (however unfair it may have been, or not).
Under such scenario, the probability of her having inflicted as much lethal damage over a whole academic department would have been much lower, mostly because it may have been so much more difficult to obtain and carry weapons with such ease.
Further, it may be the case that in another country (or University?) they would have also been effective in doing background checks at the time of giving her a job offer in the first place. If that would have been done, perhaps a job offer may not have been denied, but certainly it would have warranted a special watch (and lifelong ban) for Amy Bishop to ever get close to a gun.
I say this because we are now finding out that in fact Professor Bishop had fatally shot her own brother in Massachusetts over two decades ago. The killing of her brother long ago may have been regarded an ‘apparent accident’ (story here). But, accident or not, it is very telling and significant that with such known antecedent in a police record she could so easily have had access to a gun — and carry it freely on campus in Alabama. It emerges that guns may have been commonplace in her home as a youngster in Massachusetts as well.
However politically incorrect, this horrible incident is another illustration of the extent of the damage that continues to be inflicted on society by the anachronistic misunderstanding of the 220-year old Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ‘protecting the right to keep and bear arms’. Amy Bishop was keeping and bearing arms decades ago in Massachusetts, and now in Alabama, inflicting mighty damage with a gun each time.
Unfortunately, in today’s political system where money in politics and vested financial interests by powerful minorities play such a prominent role (and where lobbying groups such as the NRA can wield such disproportionate power over lawmakers), the short term likelihood of the U.S. enacting gun ban laws that are aligned with modern societies is not high. However, this ought not deter a continuation of a vigorous and frank debate on this thorny issue, and the rise of the voice by civil society applying counter pressure to reverse such misrule of law.
[ Postcript: the post above was quickly written very shortly after the news on the killings broke out. Subsequently I expanded on some of these issues, and an expanded piece appeared at Brookings as web-ed commentary, here. Such opinion piece also includes a comparative statistical table (here) on gun ownership and gun homicides across a dozen countries, which suggest the extent of the pending challenge in the U.S. ]