The Unbiased Eye

A scientist's commentary on events and culture

Archive for December 2012

Aftermath of the Newtown Murders

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Bang, bang, you’re dead.

I saw Wayne LaPierre, the million-dollar lobbyist for the NRA on TV today, and I imagined the pastoral Christmas Day he would want.

Wayne LaPierre of the NRA

Wayne LaPierre of the NRA

Grandchildren sitting on the floor waiting for the OK to grab their presents; their weary parents and the grandparents presiding. It’s strangely quiet. The setting looks a lot like what I remember as a weary parent of little children many years ago, but this one is downright grim.

Everyone is keeping an eye out for sudden moves by the others. People hold still, waiting, watching.

Of course, they have all followed LaPierre’s advice carefully and have descended from their locked bedrooms with their fully armed and loaded, Glocks, Barettas, Colts, Rugers, Steyrs, Tauruses, Smith & Wessons, Brownings, Makarovs. One never knows from whence danger and madness will descend. There may even be an enemy within. And they are ready. Their fingers are on the triggers; the safeties are off.

These are not big weapons, but handguns, lightweight and convenient. They are not the military assault rifles that are intended to shoot through walls, car bodies and clear machine gun nests or mow down dozens of charging soldiers. But they sure can kill you.

Of course, just a week ago, a young madman named Adam Lanza walked into an elementary in pastoral Newtown, Connecticut, and murdered 26 children and teachers with an assault rifle from his mother’s gun collection. He killed her first, and then wandered over to the elementary school, shot his way into the locked building and started shooting. When the cops came, he shot himself.

A lot of words have been spilled since then. What made him do it, asked reporters. They had trouble with this one, as they couldn’t find anyone who was able to talk about the young man after he was in junior high school, and very little was said about his mother, Nancy, other than “she was responsible gun collector” who liked to go target shooting with her son.

Why might he have done it? I’m not interested in the voluminous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the Bible of psychiatry, which catalogs various degrees of mental states from unhappiness to total lunacy. It’s a nice try, but they haven’t figured it out yet. I do believe that violence and rage are part of the human makeup. Just as sadness and remorse are, and just as must as love and lust, ambition and greed, humor and ridicule.

A murder in New York in the 1940s by the photographer Weegee.

A murder in New York in the 1940s by the photographer Weegee.

It’s clear that we are intrigued by violence. For my money, the photographs of Weegee, the great news photographer of the 30s and 40s, are amazing in their perception and depth and power. There was an exhibit here earlier this year, and many books. But more immediate, think about Wayne LaPierre. LaPierre appeared on television this morning to give the NRA’s perspective on the Newtown shootings. He blamed Hollywood and video games for the shootings, just after he recommended that schools be as heavily armed as private homes. The NRA would like to put a gun in every pocket, which makes sense for a man who makes $1 million a year selling guns.

LaPierre’s got it backwards. The thing that we can do about murderous violence is to remove guns from as many pockets as possible, not to distribute more of them. The thing that we cannot change is our human fascination with violence, our ubiquitous fantasies of becoming magically powerful.

As I listened to him, I wondered about him, as I often wonder about people who relish the suffering of others, as they profit from it. There’s not a lot that’s been said about him other than a long trail of bizarre libertarian rants over the years, usually after mass shootings. I look at him and have to guess that there’s been a fair amount plastic surgery on his mug. But absolutely no tidbits about a personal life, a family, children. I imagine he must like shooting guns, the way tobacco executives all used to smoke, but I know as little about him as I do of Adam Lanza.

The most depressing thing about these last few days, was not LaPierre, who can be counted on to be weird, who, in fact, is paid well to do what he does, but the torrent of commentary from gun defenders, and other right-wing extremists.

The nadir, of course, belongs to Megan McArdle, who must have scored big for the Daily Beast with her suggestion to train suicide squads of little children, much like the Ayatollahs in Iran sent unarmed boys across the Iraqi minefields in the war between the two Islamic giants in the 1980s.


Written by theunbiasedeye

December 21, 2012 at 6:30 pm