Saturday, February 24, 2018

Literary Corner: Do shooters just want to have fun?

Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic no, 110, 1971, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, via Wikipedia.

This quirky little piece flashes with odd insights and surreal pictures, like that of a bank where they have armed tellers and loan officers instead of security guards, or of a man so rich he owns everything in the plural, things like banks that people really do own, and things they don't, like schools, and might plan, "I'll do that thing with my schools that I do with my banks." Or of "hardened" schools, I realize he's not making that one up, but when the expression acquires Trump's voice it acquires the strangeness of its literal meaning, of schools in danger of melting or crumbling that need to be reinforced, stiffened, or they could disappear into the natural surroundings. Then it slips into imagining something darker, the mentality of what he's elsewhere called the "sicko shooter", the attacker against whom the banks and schools must be guarded.

They Live For Gun Free Zones
by Donald J. Trump

You'd need 100, 150 security guards... But you
could have concealed on the teachers.
I want my schools protected just
like I want my banks protected.
We have to harden our schools
not soften them up. A gun free zone
to a killer or somebody that wants
to be a killer, that's like going in
for the ice cream. That's like here I am,
take me! We have to get smarter in gun free zones.
When they see it says this is a gun free zone
That means that nobody has a gun except them.
Nobody's going to be shooting bullets in
the other direction. And they see that
as such a beautiful target. They live for gun free zones.
The shooter in Trump's head is unexpectedly cheery, enterprising, eager for the pleasure, like somebody after that extra scoop of ice cream that nobody else gets; wanting to be wherever he's the only guy with a gun, the only source of the bullets. In this way the concept of the gun-free zone fills him with delight: you can picture him scoping out neighborhoods, looking for the gun-free zones. They're "beautiful targets"—they call to him, "Take me!"  He lives for gun-free zones.

So that if you're "smarter" you'll make it generally known that you have guns on your premises, and he won't be interested. When he's checking you out, in his search for beautiful targets, and finds on your website, or driving by your signage, or whatever it is killers do, that you've got a gun-rich environment, he'll be put off, and keep looking.

Of course if you're thinking about reality, that doesn't work very well. Politifact finds that there's no good evidence to correlate mass shootings positively or negatively with gun-free zones. Robert Mackey writing for The Intercept finds that mass shooters rarely if ever take this into consideration, since their main interest seems to be typically in killing people in places they have an emotional connection with—a hated workplace, for instance, or a school they've attended, or an abortion clinic. The case of the Sandy Hook killings seems like one clear exception, but it should be remembered that that shooter did begin by shooting his mother, and ended by shooting himself.

Which is another thing: almost none of these killers survives, so it's impossible to ask them whether they were picking gun-free zones or not. This also indicates that they're not in it for the ice cream, but for death, as Scott Bonn argues, either as a suicide or in what's becoming familiar as a suicide-by-cop, what Michael Kimmel and Cliff Leek describe as the white guy who wants to die. Avoiding getting shot is not the mass shooter's main motivation.

But Trump isn't writing social science, he's writing poetry, and what we see in these lines is not to be read as some kind of theoretical prediction. Rather it's the poet imagining what it would be like if he were a mass murderer with a semiautomatic rifle; it would be fun!

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