Keep this in mind, as it will be important later: In 2002, one David Gardner paid a visit on Long Island, N.Y., to relatives of Adolf Hitler who had lived in the United States for five decades under assumed names and had not, until then, spoken publicly about their lives as the family of one of history’s all-time worst monsters.
Killers are not conjured up by judicious use of eye of newt, wart of toad, and the tears of unicorns. The mass shooting suspect was once a baby boy crying for a meal or a diaper change. The woman who drowns her children once skinned her knee playing in a parking lot.
What gets them from awkward class photos to mug shots, or blurred photos on the nightly news set against a video loop of police and ambulance lights flashing and yellow crime tape lining some scene of carnage, is a matter of no small debate.
Some will blame socioeconomic pressures. Some will point toward a grossly underfunded mental health care system. Some will talk about the cycle of abuse. And some people will blame Madalyn Murray O’Hair, never mind that she was murdered years ago.
Only one thing is certain: If the killer used a gun, you can be sure that after a proper period of silence (7-10 days at most), the National Rifle Association — which I have come in recent years to regard as America’s largest and most beloved terrorist organization — will boldly stand up and say the cure to random shootings is to have even more people out there with guns because a confused crossfire is exactly what we need happening by the time emergency crews are able to respond. If you believe that, the good folks at the tobacco industry would like a few minutes to talk with you about the healing, therapeutic properties of their latest cigarette.
My ideal solution would be to make guns as difficult to obtain in the United States as they are in the rest of the civilized world. And, really, when you consider that the only other country that is in our ballpark in terms of gun ownership per capita is Somalia, I’m not sure that we can call ourselves “the civilized world” until we do something about all this bloodshed.
I don’t know how far the realpolitik will allow gun regulation to go. Support for a variety of measures is the highest it has been in a long time, from banning military-grade weapons that have no legitimate civilian use to barring armor-piercing bullets that are likewise unneeded by anyone not planning to commit a crime, from longer waiting periods to universal background checks for guns and ammunition whether sold commercially or privately.
But that same support arose after Columbine (which, by the way, had the armed security guards the NRA says would solve everything). And then the public’s attention drifted elsewhere: killer tornadoes over the summer, the launch of the music-sharing service Napster, the deaths of John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, and the release of Star Wars, Episode 1 all drew people away from thinking about all those deaths in Colorado. Besides, you know how Uncle So-and-So gets when anyone even talks about gun control; best not to bring it up at the dinner table, and besides, the NRA has said it will primary any politician who makes a move that way, and next thing you know, we’re on to another tragedy and maybe THIS time it will be different.
It’s worth noting, however, that the NRA’s blood money ended up funding a lot of blank rounds in the 2012 elections. Last month in Illinois, a Democratic congressional candidate who had previously run on her A+ rating from the NRA lost in a special election primary to another Democrat who turned that badge of dubious honor into a scarlet letter. That could suggest that society is, through fits and starts, moving toward a position that is more peace-oriented — one wishes the term “pro-life” weren’t weighed down with other connotations.
Those polls that show increased support for gun control show that support is above 50 percent in most American religious groups, the main exception being white evangelical Christians. The fact that this was the most heavily Republican part of the religious community is not a coincidence; they are receiving their news and views from Fox, Focus on the Family and the NRA, Christian radio and conservative talk shows, reading Newsmax and WorldNetDaily, all of which work lockstep with the Republican Party to benefit big business.
After a mass killing, the first response of faith communities should be to provide aid and comfort to the victims, the survivors, the families of the deceased. But comfort blankets, teddy bears, and casseroles are not enough. Righteous anger is required.
The living may include innocent relatives, friends, and loved ones of the shooter. They deserve care, love, and a bit of grace, particularly if there was genuinely nothing they could have done to stop it. (Some killers snap as a result of abuse, but others do not) The families of the killers should not, as did Adolf Hitler’s nephew, have to take on a new identity and move to another country to get away from the family name.
There is shame to go around, but it belongs on the head of the killer. And, I would suggest, on those who position themselves to become killers. We know from history that religion is quite good at doling out shame; I would suggest that the work of healing the world would be advanced nicely if religious groups set about making gun lust every bit as disreputable as flying Hitler’s flag and making the NRA’s hall of fame as desirable a place to be as a sex offender registry.