What the CO shooting “says about us”

Jack Shafer with a thoughtful piece:

. . . attempts at pattern recognition are as inevitable as they are necessary. Philosophers may be capable of throwing the null set at a suburban bloodbath. For the rest of us, attempts at finding causation – however tenuous – helps settle the mind. The shooter did it because he was crazy, we say. He did it because he was evil. He did it because we (or somebody else) made him that way. He did it because guns make it possible. Any explanation that will help us cope will do.

As a Michigander who grew up reading grisly accounts about the 1927 Bath Consolidated School mass murder, I find little solace in today’s discussion. In that small-town slaughter, a disgruntled school board treasurer named Andrew Kehoe (pdf) detonated the explosives he had secretly planted in the basement of the school, killing 38 children and four adults. Kehoe’s other targets: his wife, whom he bludgeoned to death at his farm before he torched the place and blew it sky-high; and the school superintendent, whom he pulped in a suicide car-bombing. The little town buried its dead over the course of several days, and the story gained national notoriety.

You can’t blame Kehoe’s spree on the mass availability of guns. He relied on another killing agent. You can’t blame Batman, Hollywood or midnight screenings, either. I’m sure Kehoe was crazy – according to historical sources, he was angry at authorities about the property taxes levied to support the school, taxes to which he attributed his financial troubles. The impulse to kill irrationally, and to use whatever means accessible to do so, resides deep in the American grain, perhaps integral to being human. That doesn’t mean our situation is hopeless. As Noel Perrin wrote in Giving Up the Gun: Japan’s Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879, cultures can change their violent ways, but building such a cultural consensus takes more effort and persuasion that just passing new gun-control laws.
The human reflex to find cause, meaning and lessons in the detritus of a massacre – and to impose a solution on the chaos based on those findings – should be trusted only to the extent that it allows us to muddle through the confusion churned up by such a crazed act. As we recover from the initial shock, we revert to our fundamental and irresolvable arguments about freedom and individuality, which aren’t very good at explaining why people shoot or dynamite innocents – or at stopping them from doing so.

As I say, a thoughtful piece worth reading in full. His line about the impulse to kill irrationally, being in the “American grain” or perhaps integral to our humanness is interesting to me. It was only last year that we saw 80 people shot by a gunman in Norway, and we have seen mass killings in Scotland, Russia and elsewhere in Europe.

There is a brokenness in the human soul, and it gives access to evil. And maybe it’s as simple and as complicated as that.

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

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About Elizabeth Scalia