The Ideology of Massacre

Prior to 9/11, the most destructive terrorist attack in America was the bombing of the Murrah Building in 1995. One-third of the nine-story building was destroyed, and casualties were concentrated in the day-care center on the first floor.

The perpetrators of the attack, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, were motivated in part by the actions of the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas. Both incidents involved compounds led by apocalyptic leaders that believed the government was a tyrannical conspiracy. Disaster evolved when normal law-enforcement procedures were initiated against paranoiacs that resisted contact with the outside world. Their possession of gun arsenals was a particular problem.

Where most might have seen government missteps as indicating problems in practice in dealing with a new sub-culture predisposed to violence, the separatist militia movement saw things differently. Propagandized by Reagan’s “government has a boot on your neck” rhetoric and Gingrich’s anti-government messaging, the two incidents in jurisdictions a thousand miles apart were taken as proof of tyranny. Buoyed by this political rhetoric, McVeigh and Nichols saw themselves as freedom fighters, exercising their Second Amendment rights to strike a blow against the ATF agents housed in the Murrah Building.

Gingrich never recognized this connection, because his strategy had much narrower political motivations: attain Republican control of a Congress that had been dominated by Democrats since the New Deal. Rather than deal with specific issues, Gingrich attacked the government as a whole, indicting the Democrats by association. The reverence in which Gingrich is held by the movement reflects the continuing effectiveness of that political strategy: smearing government and blaming Democrats for all of its defects.

It’s the smearing government part that relates to mass murder in our public schools. To a young adult, a public school is the only governmental agency they interact with. When bureaucratic procedures fail to protect students from abuse (as in Columbine) or impose sanctions for paranoid aggression (Parkland), to justify mayhem the affected parties have only to make the same step made by McVeigh and Nichols.

What needs to be understood is that the National Rifle Association and Second Amendment zealots in the Republican Party advocate openly for that step. They characterize gun ownership as an essential element in maintaining a free society, a characterization that makes sense only if guns are actually used by individuals in resisting authority. It is this logic that requires the provision of military-style weaponry to the public, which when turned on unarmed civilians results in heartbreaking trauma.

So for Gov. Scott in Florida and others to assert that these incidents are reflections of “pure evil” should be seen as a self-indictment. These incidents reflect people doing what you tell them they should do, against a government that is incapable of controlling the dangers that your rhetoric incites.

Disarming Incivility

Constitutional wrangling aside, as a Christian, my personal choice is to renounce violence as a means of conflict resolution. My experience is that a disciplined commitment to this choice overwhelms aggression in those that come into my personal space. This can manifest in two ways: either the aggressor realizes that I see them as a brother, causing their fear to melt away; or their aggression, finding no harbor in me, turns self-destructively inward.

I have many personal qualities that empower me to renounce fear: I am a man, tall without being imposing, and physically fit. I possess rare intellectual talents and traits of character that make me desirable as an employee. I have modest aspirations that I articulate clearly, and project good will that allows me to manifest my intentions where others might collide with bureaucratic restrictions. Last but not least, I have associations that bring patience and endurance gained through experience of the cycle of life and death that stretches over a billion years.

Recognizing the rareness of these assets, I sympathize greatly with those that crumble under the pressure of aggression. For me, the most powerful moment in the sit-in coverage was the testimony of a female representative describing the routine terror she suffered as a child when threatened by her gun-toting father. Listening to her summary of those events, I could hear the frightened girl crying out for aid.

So when someone touts their Second Amendment right to bear arms, I wonder why their protection against “infringement” must tread so heavily on the desire for others to renounce violence. I trust law enforcement, and see that our modern industrial economy provides financial levers to control governmental abuse of force that did not exist when the founders wrote the Constitution. These constraints are strengthened because mastery of military technology requires a focus that creates dependency upon civilian production of goods and services. On the other hand, I see the ready availability of weapons creating an arms race between police and criminals that tramples upon the peace of mind of the law-abiding citizen. Contradicting the claims that our freedom is secured only when a well-armed citizenry opposes the natural tyranny of governments, I believe that the greatest threat to my safety – and the safety of those I cherish – is the proliferation of arms.

On the whole, then, I am a citizen that would like to renounce his right to bear arms. I would like to be able to limit my associations to those of like mind. Why is it that Constitutional prohibitions against infringement of that right prohibit me from living that desire? Can I not form a community that requires people to leave their weapons outside our borders? But once formed, is that community not governed by laws, and does not the Second Amendment prohibit such laws?


As a boy that grew up scampering through the sage brush on the hills above the school, when we stopped for a bathroom break on one of our early camping trips, my first thought was to duck under the barbed-wire fence and wander in the woods it protected. I was tame enough to check first with my mother, who drew my attention to the sign:


Violators will be shot on sight

 “Don’t they have to give you a warning first?”

“That is the warning,” my father observed.

Looking up and down the lonely road, I thought, “But what if their car broke down and they need help?”

It was my first collision with the thought that property ownership trumped human life, and I was a little shaken by the experience.

I don’t see the signs much in my area any more – perhaps because most of the agriculture and ranching has disappeared. But technology may also have something to do with it: with helicopters and radio trackers, it’s probably pretty hard for cattle rustlers to disappear into the wilderness, and aerial crop dusting probably dissuades most casual fruit pickers. The spread of drone aircraft will also make easier to bring thieves to justice without risk of a confrontation.

It was only later that I learned that these signs were also posted frequently by those engaged in illegal activity. The classic image is the moonshine distiller or hillbilly sending off the “revenooer.” But I was confronted by another case when working on a friend’s deck up in Redding one summer. A piercing scream of terror came from the house across the fence – but there was the sign. None of the locals so much as turned a head in concern. I guess it wasn’t the first time.

The Bundy Family now camped out at the Wildlife Refuge in Oregon says that they are “defending their way of life.” One of their number, finding himself in the minority in a discussion of violent confrontation, went out to make a stand in the cold, observing that he had grown up with the wind in his hair and the sun on his face, and he would rather die than spend a single day in jail. On hearing this, I thought of Michael Douglas in Falling Down. A defense industry engineer, laid off and denied visitation rights to his child, trades in weapons in an escalating rampage, finally being gunned down before his daughter.

The Sheriff in Oregon has asked the invaders to leave, observing that they don’t have the right to come in with their guns and tell them how to live. But I wonder if anybody has asked the Bundy’s to consider what would happen if we all chose to act as they did. Will they take cause with the older software developer, defaulting on his mortgage because ageism makes it difficult to find employment?

The scariest exhibition, however, was the Alabama legislator who avowed on national television last night that the reason we have remained a democracy is because our government is afraid to confront its armed citizens. Comparing the M-1 Abrams tank and fighter jets to the hand-held weaponry in the homes of our citizen militias, we might draw a comparison with the armed knights of the middle age and every farmer with a pitchfork. Comparable parity of weaponry in the Middle Ages did not deter tyranny, nor does it do so today.

The Founders designed an institutional system that pitted the three branches of government against each other in a federation of states with their own security services. This institutional competition was designed to prevent any one branch or level of government from being able to impose its will on citizens. That the legislator suffers from a such a deep misunderstanding of how our constitutional system safeguards our liberties is perhaps the most frightening aspect of this situation, particularly because it has often been the Federal Government that has stepped in to ensure the rights of those intimidated by state and local authorities.

Devolving coercive power down to the citizens seems to promise only that those that relish and glorify violence will be able to terrorize those that don’t. We’ve worked long and hard to escape that condition. Why give in to it now?

Just a Merchant of Death, on Average

Just before the shooting in Roseburg yesterday, I was at Kaiser getting my flu shot. A man walked out of the examination rooms wearing a black t-shirt that proclaimed, “If guns kill people, then so do pencils.”

I guess the point is that a pencil is used to design a gun. It would seem reasonable, then, that God is the cause of all of our trouble with gun violence, for originating this reality in the first place. We have no responsibility for anything, do we? Not even for keeping weapons out of the hands of the people most likely to misuse them.

There are those that face the threat of gun violence every day. They are generally the disadvantaged: families walking through mean streets, the criminal militias known as gangs that seek power through violence, and the police that try to keep them apart. What the last group tells us about the second is that stemming the flow of weapons to criminals is impossible because we do not ensure traceability from the factory to the crime scene. If that information was maintained, they could identify and punish the merchants that purchase for illegal resale to known felons.

There are solutions to this problem. One would be to require that every gun be fired before leaving the factory, and the bullet registered with a federal ballistics database. Another solution is microstamping. A microstamp is an engraving on the firing pin that puts an identifier on every bullet when it is fired. The inventor of the technology has surrendered his patent to public use.

In California, Attorney General Kamela Harris has moved to require microstamping on all guns sold in the state. This came to my attention when I interrupted a young man at work bitching about how purveyors of excellent products would be forced out of the state due to this unfair requirement. This was indeed the threat made by the leading producer of semi-automatic handguns.

So I did a little digging, and found this: the average time between sale of a semi-automatic handgun and recovery at a crime scene is less than four years. Assuming that legitimate gun owners hold their weapons for life, this means that the vast majority of these weapons are sold to criminals.

It seems pretty obvious that the reason the manufacturer wished to pull out of the state is because microstamping would cut off this trade, and therefore eviscerate their profits.

The police, on the other hand, favor microstamping.

Who are we protecting, with our claims of Second Amendment privilege? The criminal militias that terrorize the inner city? Those that produce and sell guns into those communities?

It is certainly not our families or public servants.