Trench Coat Mafias, Loners and Guns

Well-Adjusted Kid With Lots of Friends Goes on Shooting Rampage? Of course not. That would be weird. Cho Seung-hui, the 23-year-old English major from South Korea responsible for the worst act of gun violence in US history, was a loner, according to a Virginia Tech source.

The compulsion to slap a layman's term on a sociopath, not to name names, is understandable. We want a word to describe the type of person who would commit an act as heinous as systematically gunning down 32 innocent people. Who does that? Seriously. "Crazy" doesn't cut it.

In 1999, members of the so-called 'Trench Coat Mafia' callously snuffed out 12 lives at Columbine High School. Why would they commit such an act, the nation asked? Not because they were "unbalanced," some answered, but because they were strange. They were outsiders. They played violent video games, now a $10 billion business in the US, and had memorized every line and fight scene in the Matrix, total gross over $650 million. They wore London Fog, in black, and listened to Marilyn Manson, whose album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 Albums chart five months earlier. All of these, by the numbers, were mainstream interests, just alterna-enough to render them outcasts and thus capable of mass murder.

While we're quick to dismiss a person like Seung-hui as, well, certainly not anyone that I know, consider that the Virginia Tech campus is 2,600-acres and has over 28,000 students. As someone who also went to a large university, I traversed the grassy knoll on several occasions alone, in a trench coat on rainy days, sometimes listening to Bauhaus on my Discman. They're no KMFDM, but still. University officials could have described me as a loner if they cared to.

But as Mark Ames details in his 2005 book Going Postal, going postal has nothing to do with being "goth" or a "loner." It has to do with frustration, more than a little mental illness and sadly, weapons of mass destruction. I'm not purporting to know anything about Seung-hui, Dylan Klebold or Eric Harris. But as an American I'm inclined to find it suspect that while Seung-hui had the right to bear arms as a legal resident, he was able to equip himself with a Glock 9, the handgun of choice for law enforcement and drug dealers, not for the layman wanting to defend his home. I find it even more suspect that Klebold and Harris were able to acquire two 9 mm handguns and two 12-gauge shotguns in a straw purchase. Seung-hui's violent rage was not the act of a loner. Instead, it was the act of a tremendously disturbed young man with two handguns. Legally acquired, yes, but way more deadly than being the lone man on campus.

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