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Victims No Longer

Guns change the balance of power, but what about changing the human heart?

by James Leroy Wilson
March 14, 2001

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Victims No Longer_James Leroy Wilson-Guns change the balance of power, but what about changing the human heart? A lot has been made of bullying and teasing as the causes, the provocations, for the shootings at Santana High School in suburban San Diego last week. So let me clarify at the start that even if all of the victims were indeed guilty of harrassing the shooter in some way, they are not to be blamed. If you are not yourself brandishing a gun or otherwise acting violently, you are doing nothing to justify getting shot. Way back in my day, the revenge fantasy against bullies and the "popular" people was some sort of come-uppance in which these persecutors were themselves somehow humilated. Murder was not realistically part of the equation, even though guns were, if anything, even more accessible then than they are now. Back then, if a white suburban teen used a gun illegally, it was usually for suicide, not mass murder.

This so-called epidemic of teen suicide was effectively satirized in the movie Heathers, in which a high school outcast committed murders but staged them as suicides. After killing two senior football stars, his justification was that they had nothing left to offer the world but "date rape and AIDS jokes."

I don't think that movie registered strongly on the cultural radar at the time. But what Heathers shows is the empowerment of the victim, of the outcast. If Santana High is like Columbine and some other recent mass shootings in high schools, it appears that some in this generation, unable to endure even just four years of the American Public High School, are determined to live just one day not as a victim, but as the victimizer. This may be my last day of life or freedom, but I'm going to go down shooting, taking as many of my "enemies" as I can (even if they happen to be just random bystanders).

In another movie, Falling Down, Michael Douglas's character feels victimized by divorce, a job lay-off, gangs, fast-food joints, and foreign-born grocers, and he finally snaps during a traffic jam one hot morning. His day of terror ends in a confrontation with a cop played by Robert Duvall. "So I'm the bad guy?" Douglas asks. Yes, he was.

Violence is destruction, yet those who destroy do not think of themselves as criminals, but as avengers. Rioting, destroying and looting shops owned by people of another color is okay, because a disagreeable jury verdict "proves" that the "system" is corrupt. Because I've been victimized for so long - oppressed by real or imagined slights by insensitive people and institutional racism - one day of getting back at the oppressors and persecutors might not make things even, but they can make me feel better for a little while. When such self-justifying hate is backed by firearms, and when the rage is not directed against a general social system but against some specific people, the results are of course deadly.

Nobody seems to know what to do about mass shootings. The heart of man is dark and inclines toward evil, and this will remain so no matter what laws we pass, what propoganda we use, or what programs we impose. The destructive passions of humankind may manifest themselves differently under different social systems, but will never be eliminated. The best that government can do is limit the evil effects. Giving more power to the government, such as by confiscating all firearms, only empowers some people (those in government), leaving the rest of us no means of protecting ourselves from their own oppressive designs.

Worse, it is very true that from a purely nihilist perspective, going down shooting is a far more liberating act than the total surrender that is suicide. The main project of moral instruction must therefore be to liberate the heart and mind from the evil imposed on it by others. Yet this is impossible because the human heart, being evil itself, seeks to repay evil with evil. True liberation must require walking away from the bullies and harrassers. It must require holding no grudges against them. The way to defeat the enemy, the way to be liberated from oppression, is to acknowledge that enemies and oppression do not really exist except in the darkness of our own hearts. Overcoming the darkness with light is impossible; humans just can't or won't do it. They need help. The good news is that help is available.

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