09 April 2014
Amoklauf in Pennsylvania, with knives
In Murrysville a high school kid went on a slashing spree this morning and wounded at least nineteen people before he was arrested. Right now we don't know his name or much about him apart from the usual hearsay. Both sides of the gun-control debate are already spinning the story, one noting that in the absence of firearms no one has died, the other observing that sick or violent people will always find ways to hurt others and that gun control is no panacea or guarantee of peace. I'm not sure if any gun-control advocate has ever suggested that it would be, but it may sound that way to their critics. Gun control has never been the one thing necessary for peace; questions of mental and emotional health need to be addressed as well. Another part of the equation is an entitlement mentality that prevails in the U.S. more than in other countries. I don't mean the materialist entitlement mentality so often decried by Republicans, i.e. the right to have things necessary for life, but the sense of an entitlement to kill that seems synonymous with our quasi-constitutional right to individual self-defense. While other countries decide the fight-or-flight question in favor of flight, obliging citizens to avoid violence if they can, Americans demand to stand their ground and fight back. Something follows from this preference, I suspect, that can't be contained by moralizing distinctions between defense and attack. The U.S. affirms an individual prerogative -- an entitlement, if you prefer -- to declare another person's life forfeit under certain circumstances. While it's unclear whether the kid in Murrysville actually meant to kill people -- it's possible he only meant to make people suffer -- we have to ask, if murder was his intention, where he got the idea that fellow high school students deserved death. It may be that deserve's got nothing to do with it in many cases -- that people kill for the thrill of killing with complete indifference to the victims -- but it's more certain that our culture doesn't do enough to teach people that no one deserves to be killed, or at least that no individual has a right to kill, under any circumstances. Today's amoklauf wasn't about guns, but it was obviously about someone's assumed entitlement to violence, and no matter how much the gun lobby insists that their rights are exclusively defensive, their relentless assertion of an individual right to violence continues to have unintended consequences.