>> Wednesday, December 09, 2015
A month or two I lost a Facebook friend-of-a-friend who I don't even know how or why I'd friended. It's not a big deal. These things happen. It's not even worth mentioning except that the specific issue that led to us having words (via Facebook Messenger) was a bit of crankiness and disrespect I expressed towards gun owners. An actual direct, first-generation friend, someone I knew, probably I'd have bitten my thumb instead of letting my temper off the hook. That's a weak excuse, I realize. How you treat strangers is twice as important as how you treat friends, really; I know this. I don't think I've pretended to be a good man, though sometimes I remember to try. Anyway, point is, I was pretty uncivil.
It comes up because one of those direct friends, one Mr. Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station and UCF fame, brought to my attention on his Facebook wall that some schmucks in Austin, Texas, apparently have plans to stage a mock mass shooting at the University of Texas this weekend. "Schmucks" is kind--they're douchebags. Assholes.
I don't write this because they're "gun rights" people. I write this because they are either hopelessly ignorant of their own local history, or they are lacking in taste and decency because forty-nine years ought to still be too soon. What the turds want to do is described thus by Asher Price in the Austin American-Statesman (link previous paragraph):
The Open Carry Walk and Crisis Performance Event will involve actors "shot" by perpetrators armed with cardboard weapons, said Matthew Short, a spokesman for the gun rights groups Come and Take It Texas and DontComply.com.
"It’s a fake mass shooting, and we’ll use fake blood," he said. He said gun noises will be blared from bullhorns. Other people will then play the role of rescuers, also armed with cardboard weapons.
Mr. Price says that Mr. Short was asked if the historical recreation seemed tasteless after the recent mass-shootings in San Bernadino and Paris, but it doesn't appear Mr. Short was asked if the idea of reproducting the sounds and sights of a mass shooting on the grounds of the University of Texas, of all the places in the world, seemed singularly shitty and nasty in light of the fact that UT was the site of one of the most infamous mass-murder-shooting-sprees in American history (or at least one of the most infamous mass-murder-shooting-sprees in American history before these things became commonplace and scarcely newsworthy).
We're talking, of course, about Charles Whitman, who on August 1st, 1966, lugged a small arsenal to the top of the UT Main Building (they call it "The Tower," for its thirty-story bell tower) and from a perch in the building's observation deck injured or killed 45 people1.
|Charles Whitman, 1963 UT yearbook photo|
We get into stupid little arguments, we Americans, about "politicizing tragedy," as if a political, legislative response to a tragedy is somehow a bad thing. The Titanic sinking was politicized into legislation mandating, among other things, that ships respond to distress calls, maintain working radios, and that they have enough lifeboats to evacuate the full passengers and crew. John Kennedy's murder prompted Federal lawmakers--with backing from the NRA, no less (they were still a sportsman's association, not yet co-opted by the firearms manufacture industry)--to make it harder (i.e. impossible) for anonymous individuals to order surplus military weapons by mail. These--and all the other examples one could come up with--aren't examples of rank opportunism, they're examples of sanity, of people saying, "Hey, how could we have prevented this?" and "Hey, let's not do that again."
We have to say this about Charles Whitman: that he recapitulates much of the sensible and insane about our recent gun control and related arguments: a veteran, perhaps he could have been helped and dozens saved if the VA had offered better resources in the 1960s; himself a victim of mental health issues, perhaps better psychiatric or psychological care could have diagnosed the cause of his problems and prevented his murder spree; and he is a testament to the efficacy measures like waiting periods and background checks have simply by creating delay--it doesn't matter that Whitman would have passed a background check, since in the time it would have taken to conduct the check, he most likely would have been arrested for stabbing his wife and his mother (and the impulse to kill might have waned, too, consider). We should certainly be grateful, if we're being sensible, that you can't just walk into a hardware store, as Whitman did, and pick up a military carbine that morning.
Much of which leaves us wondering what the co-ordinators of "The Open Carry Walk and Crisis Performance Event" really think they're doing. Are they oblivious to the fact that they are coincidentally recreating what might well be the worst day in Austin's history, and inadvertently reminding all of us that spilled blood on the campus is not a hypothetical, but a historic fact, and that we ought to limit the possibility that undiagnosed brain tumor patients might be able to shoot fifteen people? Or are they just pissing on the graves of Edna Townsley, Marguerite Lamport, Mark Gabour, Claire Wilson's child, Thomas Eckman, Robert Boyer, Thomas Ashton, Thomas Karr, Billy Speed, Harry Walchuk, Paul Sonntag, Claudia Rutt, Roy Schmidt, Karen Griffith, and David Gunby on purpose? I mean, really, are they stupid or malicious?
Not, mind, that these are mutually exclusive.
I have not written much, lately, about gun control because I think it's mostly a dead issue and my side lost. And, in a way, this isn't really a piece about gun control, either. It's more a piece about callousness and stupidity, about insensitivity and amnesia. About not knowing enough or (worse) not caring enough to think that maybe engaging in deliberately provocative and frightening behavior that echoes a horrific tragedy that scarred your own community might be a shitty thing to do even if you're right. I mean, consider that last part of that in particular: even if we just agree for the sake of the argument that these assholes are absolutely right about the Second Amendment or some imagined clause in the social contract that says we all ought to be packing heat, this whole "Performance Event" is still a dick move. What a gratuitously asinine thing to do to make some kind of point, going to the very site of a mass murder and pantomiming it like this.
The people doing this don't deserve to have their views respected--not even if they're legally right. As human beings, they possibly deserve a little more respect than they want to show everybody else, but since the respect they show everybody else consists of acts only one step removed from grave desecration, I think it's fair to say that treating them better than they deserve still involves piss and obscene gestures.
We complain about a lack of civility. But how are you supposed to be civil towards people like this, I have to know? How do you not simmer with a righteous fury and aim dark thoughts in their direction, and how do you not look at them with contempt and ire? Treat them as human beings when they turn their backs on decency and when they renounce important pieces of their human heritage--empathy, memory, pity, kindness--by actions that are smug, pitiless, callous, and contemptuous?
There's no middle-ground with people like these. No compromise. No reaching out. I don't think they want you to look for one. They want you to be smug or scared, depending on whether you stand with them or across from them. Well. I'm not scared of them. I am angry and bilious. If there's a Hell, I'd wager there's a circle awaiting their admission.
They don't deserve fear any more than they deserve respect. Fuck 'em.
1Whitman stabbed and killed his wife and mother in the predawn hours of August 1st, 1966, before going to UT. He shot and killed three more victims ascending The Tower. From the observation deck, he killed ten more people outright and injured 33 others, one of whom, Karen Griffith, died seven days after her injuries and another, David Gunby, who died as a result of gunshot damage to his kidneys 35 years after being shot (Mr. Gunby's death was nevertheless ruled a homicide) by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner.
That tally is based on Wikipedia, where the breakdown of Whitman's victims is a little confusing; I think I've added things up correctly. The confusion, to be clear, isn't really the fault of Wikipedia's editors so much as it's Whitman's fault, ironically: the caprices of gunshot injuries are such that one might reasonably ask whether casualties like Ms. Griffith and Mr. Gunby count as "wounded" or "fatalities," and (in light of Mr. Gunby's long suffering at the wrong end of Whitman's rifle) whether those who are or were in the "injured" column may not sadly find their way into the list of those Whitman killed quickly.
This is a horrible discussion to be having, isn't it? How we count our dead and wounded?