Bidding on Charles Whitman’s rifle should force reflection on US’ gun culture

Eric Sundin

Correction: An earlier version of this column misstated the relationship of one of Whitman's victims to him. The person said to be his sister was actually his wife.

On Aug. 1, 1966, UT student Charles Whitman shot and killed his mother and wife before climbing to the top of the UT Tower and shooting 48 more people, 16 of whom he killed.

Today, one of the weapons Whitman used in his killing spree — a Remington Sniper — is up for auction at a starting value of $25,000. Undoubtedly Whitman’s rifle is a significant relic from a violent part of our University’s past, but what kind of message does an already gun-adoring society send by bidding so extravagantly on a weapon used by a murderer? 

The answer is that it says more about the complicated issue of gun rights in the United States than it does about any one individual or any one state. Namely, it says the desire for a gun-free America is just as unrealistic as the desire for a drug-free America. 

Imagine a scenario in which the federal government outright criminalizes the ownership of guns. How might this law be enforced? Aside from a small proportion of people who may get caught in possession of a firearm, most enforcement would presumably come in the form of self-reporting. The impossibility of buying guns legally would cause a $6 billion legal gun industry to go out of business overnight, creating an underground gun trafficking ring that could feasibly rival the War on Drugs, a “war” that has cost the U.S. about $1 trillion since 1971.

Many people in the United States can attest to the fact that this thought experiment of criminalizing guns would probably never occur. For proof of Texas’ love of and defensive attitude toward guns, look no further than this past summer’s “Open Carry Texas” campaign, a “movement” that involved assault rifle-clad Texans in innocuous public spaces, such as Chipotle and Target, in an effort to stand in opposition to perceived persecution.

There is an oft-repeated claim that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” The undeniable fact is that guns make it much easier for someone to commit murder, and as of 2012, a reported 34.4 percent of American households held some of the United States’ 310 million guns. Many people will continue to die accidentally or purposefully from guns, and the unfortunate reality is that we cannot legislate ourselves out of this predicament. It is unrealistic to believe we could ever live in a completely gun-free America, and it is unrealistic, though perhaps a nice start, to assume that increased background checks and similar regulations will effectively deny “bad guys” the opportunity of acquiring guns, when murderers often acquire guns from members of their own families. We appear to be a culture that loves guns more than we dislike murder, and we should seriously consider whether that’s something we want to be proud of.

Sundin is an English and radio-television-film senior from San Antonio.