Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Calculus of Death

They’ll say he was crazy.

They’ll say he was a determined murderer who would have killed in any case.

But nobody will convince me that this guy could have easily slaughtered six people and critically wounded another if he hadn’t had a fcking gun.

Yeah, I know: You can kill people with knives and hammers and andirons, and even with your own hands and feet… but all those things require you to get within arm’s reach of your intended victim; none of them can command a whole room full of people the way a handgun’s promise of instant death at a distance can.

We’re not talking about some CIA-trained assassin or movie ninja here; we’re talking about a disgruntled former delivery driver who decided to target the family members — children and grandparents among them — of his estranged wife. Four of the seven shooting victims — two adults and two teenagers — were old enough to have plausibly put up meaningful resistance, if he’d had to kill them hand to hand, and while he might still have done some damage, it’s doubtful he could’ve killed them all before they could subdue him or chase him away.

More to the point, it’s doubtful he would have even begun to act out his deadly rage without the sense of empowerment and impunity that comes with a gun.

Make no mistake: Guns were invented in the first place, and they continue to exist, because they make it vastly easier for unskilled killers to kill, and to do so in volume, and to do so at greatly reduced risk to themselves.

In my senior year of high school, I took introductory calculus, and it seemed almost like magic: A simple principle that made easy a whole class of problems that seemed impossible before I gained this new tool. The gun — specifically, the relatively cheap, widely available semiautomatic firearm — is a kind of calculus of killing: It makes easy something that would’ve seemed impossible – unthinkable in fact – to many of us, if we didn’t have that tool.

I know plenty of people who wave around studies ostensibly showing that more guns in circulation does not increase death rates, and I’m a big fan of following where the evidence leads, even when it leads to counterintuitive conclusions. But there’s a qualitative difference between counterintuitive and absurd. When your evidence “proves” something that’s patently absurd on its face, you need to think harder about where that evidence came from and how it was gathered.

I imagine almost all of us have had moments of murderous rage at some time in our lives. The more guns there are, and the more of us there are who can easily reach out and pick one up when our red hour comes, the more of us will be tempted to engage the calculus of death instead of counting to ten.