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Alex Hribal

Alex Hribal

The grim ledger of criminal justice does not account itself by the same principles as some other realms of life. There is never a completely positive outcome. All entries are judged on a scale of how bad they are, against how bad they could be.

And by this metric, yesterday’s tragedy at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, offers some instructive perspectives.

We don’t know why 16-year-old Alex Hribal allegedly attacked 21 of his classmates in the hallway of his school in this quiet community 20 miles east of Pittsburgh. We can listen to his fellow students describe him alternately as a really nice kid and a quiet guy without many friends who pretty much kept to himself and nod knowingly because we’ve heard these descriptions so many times before. We can speculate about all of the “usual” reasons teenaged boys launch into attempted mass murder scenarios. But let’s admit that at this stage, we really have no idea what was going on inside his head.

But here is what we do know: At this writing, all of the victims are alive, and it is highly unlikely that would have been the case had the attacker used guns instead of knives.

This is not to suggest the crime was any less vicious in intent, and many of the victims suffered grievous wounds. But a knife is not quite so “efficient” in its purpose in a mass assault situation as a firearm, and so at least there was time to get the most severely injured to Forbes Hospital where the excellent emergency department and surgical staffs were able to stabilize them and set them on the road to recovery. They likely would not have had that opportunity with bullet wounds inflicted at such close range.

Over and over again, after each new mass shooting, we hear the familiar refrain that if the killer didn’t have a gun, he still would have done what he did; he just would have used a different weapon.

True, but as we have just seen in Murrysville, the outcome could be substantially different. And in this case, 21 young men and women are likely to grow into adulthood and full lives as a result.

6 Responses to A Choice of Weapons

  1. seesthru says:

    Great article!

    My only thought upon hearing about the stabbings is that all may have been wholly preventable. It seems that the attacker sent threats to some of the kids, and allegedly called one the night before the attacks and threatened him. The call came from a private number, but most likely can be traced back all the same.

    If it is true, and he threatened some of the kids at the school, then again we are faced with that wall of silence that is stupidity among kids, just as it is among adults in lots of criminal cases. They are either embarrassed to be sounding the alarm in case nothing ever comes of it, or they are living by the code of “do not snitch” In this case it wasn’t snitches who needed stitches. It was lots of kids and adults who didn’t have to need them. Those who knew of danger and didn’t tell, should hang their heads because they could have helped prevent this! Instead of being heroes they have conspired to allow this attack to happen.

    No one spoke out, no one warned others, no one told an adult. The boy in critical condition in the hospital with severe injury to his liver and diaphragm need not be there. The injured need not be there. The attacker need not be facing adult sentencing when, if one person had shared the threats to an adult, the attacker might be in the hospital getting help, and the other kids might be carrying on their normal lives.

    It is not clear yet whether everyone will survive this. I hoe and pray they do. I feel for them, because this did not have to end up with them in the hospital. This could have ended up with one kid getting the help he seems to have so desperately needed.

    Just my thoughts on the case itself. Your article was impeccable as always Mr. Olshaker.

  2. Zeno says:

    Yet another incident only who 20 miles or so away from the case I have been asking John to look into. Not a good year for Western Pennsylvania. Very good points,Mark. Regardless of what one thinks of gun control the weapon of choice certainly has a outcome on the fate of the victims. Gun control laws may not be working,nor are guns the complete source of the problem,but they do play a part that needs to dealt with in some way.

  3. mdricex says:

    Mr. Olshaker,
    Although I value your articles and generally agree with you on most points, I have to admit that this one caught me by surprise. Why would you use this tragedy as a platform to further demonize guns? Firearms are machines. Machines do not work themselves, they are not intrinsically evil, they have no morality. In this article the implied impression is that guns, intrinsically, are negative, evil objects. That, somehow, guns make those who are intent in craziness more efficient killers, so, therefore, guns are bad. This is a faulty premise. Crazy people do crazy things. If they don’t have guns, they will use knives or ball bats or rocks. There is no way of you or anyone knowing that this person would have killed anyone had they had a firearm. In fact, behavioral psychology and similar offenses points to otherwise: When people are intent on killing, they can kill you with a milk jug, when they are just intent on violence and mass chaos, then they cause violence and mass chaos. I am just stunned that you would imply that, somehow, you (or anyone) can see alternate universes to somehow predict what would have happened if this or if that, and stunned as well that, considering your intelligence and familiarity with human behavior, you could make such an assertion when it defies what is known of human behavior in such offenses.

    The amount of injuries here has nothing to do with the fact that this person did or did not use a firearm. If you need proof of how knives and stabbings can be “efficient” as a weapon of choice then please take a look at the mass stabbings in China, where in one that happened just last month five people were killed.

    It does no good to anyone for you or others to constantly refer to firearms as if they are, within themselves, the modus operandi of evil. It does no good for anyone to claim that “gun control works” and evidence it via mass stabbings which did not use a firearm. That just makes no sense. It is like saying marijuana laws work and this is evidenced by drunk driving tickets. The two have nothing to do with each other and it is a misnomer to somehow imply that they do. Gun control laws mean nothing to criminals and crazies. They only punish law abiding citizens who recognize them. Demonizing guns means nothing to criminals and crazies, but it sure makes life harder for those of us who are trying to defend our second amendment rights.

    I would point you to the article posted yesterday in this very forum which noted: If you do not know something for a fact, please do not broadcast them as such. There is no doubt this is a tragedy, but please don’t turn it into a political one-uppance for those who already demonize firearms and treat those of us who are law abiding citizens and happen to be firearm owners as if we, ourselves, are criminals.

    MD Rice

    • I appreciate your comments and agree that gun control has proved ineffective in this country. But I can’t help comparing this mass casualty situation to ones in which guns have been used and conclude that almost any other weapon is less likely to cause large loss of life than a firearm. Yes, you could say that bombs can be more lethal, but not nearly as many people are capable of constructing and planting a bomb as are capable of obtaining and picking up a gun. I don’t mean to use this tragedy as a platform for anything, but it defies the imagination to suggest that had the offender used a gun in the same situation rather than a knife, there would have been considerable loss of life.
      Do I have a solution? No, and I’ve said so repeatedly on this website. If I had my way, we would have had no Second Amendment right and the United States’ attitude to firearms would be similar to that of England, France, the Scandanavian countries and Japan. The 1996 mass shooting in Dunblane, Scotland and the 2011 mass shooting in Norway were so horrific and unusual that they set off a national trauma in each country and changed laws. In this country, we take each new shooting as just another news item.
      We do have the Second Amendment and I agree with you that gun laws only prevent the honest and law-abiding from obtaining firearms, and since there are more than 100,000,000 floating around, gun control in any practical sense is unworkable. But given all that, I think it is completely disingenuous to suggest that the easy availability of guns doesn’t make mass killing easier and less personal.
      Thanks for writing in. We value your opinions.

      • mdricex says:

        Respectfully, Mr. Olshaker, without being a psychic or having some sort of time traveling or interdimensional traveling machine, there is just no way that you can logically make such assumptions. You freely admit in this reply that if you had your way there would be no second amendment, and it is apparent that this belief seems to be clouding your judgment. I do not despair you not wanting to exercise your right to NOT keep and bear arms, but you on the other hand clearly stated here that you want to take my right away and would if you had the power. See the difference?

        Upon this subject it is apparent we will just have to agree to disagree.

        MD Rice

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