So yesterday in Michigan a woman at a Home Depot sees a fleeing shoplifter and, despite the shoplifter being unarmed and she not being in any personal danger, decides to pull out her gun and shoot up the parking lot. And while many of my own political persuasion might like to laugh at this woman and make her an example of the sort of carelessness many gun owners practice, there is a deeper question, a far more disturbing question, we must ask:
Namely, when did shoplifting become a capital crime?
Think about it. These are unarmed shoplifters trying to run off with some $1,000 of merchandise. A felony, certainly, but not one that should warrant the death penalty as adjudicated by some random passerby. Though our opinion of the police has fallen immeasurably in the wake of numerous abuse scandals, it seems likely to me that even a police officer would face some measure of scrutiny should he have fired his service revolver at unarmed suspects fleeing the scene—indeed, I feel safe in arguing that such would be against standard police procedure. Moreover, killing an unarmed suspect would bring an altogether greater level of scrutiny and possible criminal charges, unless one could make that most common of arguments—he was reaching for something in his waistband.
But this was not the case. This woman was not in the path of harm, and neither was she seeking to protect someone else in the path of injury or death. Nevertheless, she pulled out her gun to fire several potentially fatal shots.
It’s not the first time that this mentality has been made manifest. After the NYPD was caught on camera choking Eric Garner to death, many conservative commentators went on the air to express the idea that if Garner didn’t want to be murdered by police officials, well, he shouldn’t have been selling loose cigarettes. Which raises the question:
When did selling loose cigarettes become a capital crime?
It reminds me of a rather lamentable first-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Justice,” in which the crew of the Enterprise encounters a culture that practices a universal death penalty—no matter the crime, as Wesley Crusher discovers, the penalty is death. Of course, the eponymous justice of this episode is carried out by officials of the state, who walk around with their own lethal injection kits at the ready, rather than by randomly armed citizens, but other than that, this seems to be the world which many so-called conservatives would like to create. Break our laws, and you’re out.
But it goes much deeper than that. Comedian Doug Stanhope has a good rant about how nothing of any importance will ever happen to you. Yes, we think that we are the centers of our world, heroes to ourselves, but the odds are that your life will not entail those sorts of events that make the news cycle. Even the rise of mass shootings leaves many people yet unaffected personally. Such is the nature of life in America. It’s actually a bit more tranquil than the media would have us believe, with violent crime actually on a downward trend in the long term.
Some yahoo called into the Diane Rehm show the other day to defend carrying guns out in public by proposing a hypothetical situation in which a man boards a bus, shoots the driver, locks the door, and then proceeds to shoot all the passengers. In such a situation, this drooling piece of shit said, only another man with a gun will be able to protect you and yours. Now, one must interrogate this scenario a bit and ask: How did this hypothetical shooter acquire his guns? Can we not work to create a society where a man motivated to do such a thing is incapable of getting his hands on so much firepower? But we must also ask: How often does this sort of thing happen?
Not that often, in fact. So what we have is a heavily armed populace, all of them dreaming of playing the hero in some kind of Hollywood drama like that outlined above, but, like Doug Stanhope notes, the chance to save the day just doesn’t come along all that often. The only thing that remains for them is to overreact monstrously to some half-assed shoplifters trying to get out of Home Depot with some electric drills or some such. And in that case, the shooting probably actually impeded the investigation because witnesses that normally would have taken note of things like the suspects, their vehicle, license plate, etc. were all ducking down to avoid being the casualty of carelessly expelled bullets.
The impetus toward casual murder is reflective of an attitude that negates the citizenship and humanity of other people. It is an attitude toward one’s fellow man that finds its reflection in the writings of many mass murderers. The Jokela, Finland, school shooter left behind a manifesto that read, in part, “I have come to the point where I feel nothing but hate against humanity and the human race.” Such shooters see themselves as heroes striving against an overwhelmingly evil world. They are even viewed as heroes among various online groups that praise and encourage the work of such murderers—often young men who feel themselves on the margins of society, who feel that they are owed more, in terms of access to women and money, than what they have, that the world as the media has presented it has stiffed them somehow, and they must take revenge. So they arm themselves to put the world to right and eliminate wrongdoers in a big, Hollywood extravaganza of violence.
And here we arrive at the crux of it all—your well-armed hero wannabe is pretty much the same creature is the mass shooter he dreams of one day taking out.