There is a trend in America — and likely elsewhere — to decontextualise events like the mass shooting last week by turning the perpetrator into a completely autonomous, loner, mentally disturbed, ‘sinful’ individual. I’ve heard this from both religious and non-religious people over the weekend. However, I’ve begun to wonder about such a move — especially the last one (the ‘sinful’ part). In discussing this with ministerial figures, they were quick to differentiate ‘killing’ (especially that ‘sanctioned by God’ in the HB/OT) and ‘murder’. For him, at least, there is a prior commitment to accept the literal (well, literal in English at least) wording of the Biblical texts as being directly from God and, therefore, to reject seeing the language of ‘divinely-sanctioned murder’ as political insertions by religious and political leaders of the time. This person was also quick to declare the actions and life of the shooter as ‘sinful’ as a result of his final act. Yet, I wonder if the share of ‘sin’ extends far beyond simply the act of shooting children in a school room. Ignoring the additional argument that ‘guns don’t kill people’, I want to explore the ‘sins’ of the community which far outweigh the shooting of American children.
First, while the shootings occurred in Connecticut, the American military has been involved with an ongoing campaign of murdering people indiscriminately in Pakistan. This includes children just as innocent as those in American elementary schools. When this fact is brought up in conversation, most people shrug their shoulders as if it is an inconsequential number (as is attributed to Stalin: ‘if a person kills a dozen, it is a tragedy; if five million, a statistic’). Interestingly, there was another mass killing on Friday in China. While this did make mention in the news, it was lost soon after in the deluge of speculation about the latest shooting in the US. Apparently, it is only newsworthy to the media when American children are gunned down by posthumously ostracised ‘individuals’.
Secondly, there is the looming question of gun control. This shooting — like the many before it — has rekindled the debate regarding gun control. There is a liberal knee-jerk reaction every time which shuts down this debate in the name of ‘respect for the victims’ — as if it would not be respectful to discuss a way of preventing further instances. It is a myth to say that outlawing handguns and removing them from public access will not affect how ‘criminals’ can acquire weapons — as if there is a gaping hole in the government’s oversight of its borders whereby guns flow freely. I believe the issue stems from an American romance with the Wild West in which laws were suggestions and ‘individuals’ could interpret ethics and legalities by the gun. For these people, outlawing guns would be a tragedy because they think by giving a person a gun, that person is empowered as a defender, equipped with deadly force, trained as sharpshooter, and prepared to become a vigilante at a moments’ notice. Never mind the fact that the overwhelming majority of mass shootings are not stopped by average citizens with guns (and in fact, those who have tried to do so have become part of the body count) but by people who are actually trained and prepared to deal with mass shooters (i.e. the police and military). In other words, the general American romance with the mythological Wild West is one in which lawmakers and upholders of the law are also individuals decontextualised from their positions as government employees. They are freed from the constraints of the legal system and community mores in order to protect it. The same could also be said of the military. This kind of liminality makes the individual somehow superior to the urbanites who rely on civil services. It also implicates the desire to return to a post-civil society in which laws are relative to the individuals who are the sole and final arbiters of law (a la Judge Dredd).
Third, there is a meta-narrative which develops around each of these shootings whereby the assailant is a mentally unstable individual who must bear the complete guilt, shame, and sin of his actions against a ‘tight-knit’ community. Time and again, the police and the media work together to sell the story of the lone gunman who had serious signs of mental instability and was able to acquire (legally!) numerous weapons prior to his assault on the community. Rarely, if ever, does the ‘tight-knit’ community actually see the warning signs of such an individual, yet they are quick to excuse their own lack of care (how ‘tight-knit’!) for the assailant. In other words, if the assailant is an outcast of the ‘tight-knit’ community, it is mutually decided between the person and the community.
Fourth, the meta-narrative of ‘tight-knit’ communities is made to decontextualise the location from its embedded-ness in a city. Newtown, CT, for instance is a suburb of Danbury and part of the greater New York City region. Columbine is a suburb of Denver. Oftentimes, these ‘tight-knit’ and ‘non-city’ communities are part of an urbanised landscape. However, this decontextualisation is done to fabricate a fantasy of a Wild West town in which legal systems are superfluous and all the citizens of the town are as closely connected as can be without being related.
To speak, then, of the ‘sins’ of the shooter is misleading at best. Had the community been as close to its fantastical utopian narrative as it claims to be, the event of violence which actually occurred would not have happened. The ‘sins’ of the community may be that of the narcissist whereby nothing and nobody is of a concern except for the ‘tight-knit’ community which has a bad history of excluding people who do not fit the orthodoxy of the community. Adam Lanza, for example, was a stranger in his own community, alienated by the very narratives which construct Sandy Hook and Newtown as ‘tight-knit’ communities. If that is the case, then his violence was more than just violence for the sake of violence but also a cry of desperation for the community to see its narcissistic reflection. To put this in terms of ‘sins’, Adam Lanza was the sacrificial scapegoat by which Newtown and Sandy Hook can continue their ‘sinful’ practises of alienating those who live within their borders. Please do not misinterpret me here: yes, Adam Lanza shot and killed dozens of people; however, it is short-sighted to blame him as an individual for the sins of the community which produced him as the alienated individual.