On an ordinary summer day in Norway, a man detonated a bomb in downtown Oslo. The target was a government building which housed the office of the Prime Minister. Afterward, the perpetrator traveled the island of Utoya, where a summer camp was being conducted by the youth division of the Labour Party. Dressed as a police officer, he lured and systematically gunned down more than 70 people, most of them youth. He chased others who sought to escape by water. By Saturday morning, the Telegraph was showing bodies littered on the embankment. Stomachs exposed, shirts bloodied, limbs askew. Death.
The minute the first confetti piece of black soot settled to the Oslo pavement, speculation began: a terrorist for certain; Muslim most likely; propagandist, definitely. That was the script, but soon, all that was proven inaccurate. The perpetrator is Anders Behring Breivik, a blond blue-eyed Norwegian, a farmer who is now being revealed as someone who led an ordinary life as he meticulously plotted the massacre. That life included gun club membership and legal ownership of firearms.
I would like to pretend that I understand gun lovers. Yet, I confess, I do not. People who fancy themselves as weapons aficionados, hardcore gun rights activists, and avid hunters who don camouflage and crouch in woods to kill deer eating grass, I do not get them. And it’s not from any pacifist leanings. Other than Dad, gladiators, Captain Kirk and cowboys were the first men I ever loved-- but mostly cowboys, mostly James Arness as Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke and Clint Eastwood staring squarely into the sun with squinty eyes and a stunningly protective facade. That, however, was the movies. In real life when I hear the glee with which some take in hunting, weapons purchases, and killing animals, I cringe.
I once asked my Dad what he thought about guns. He is the proverbial Everyman. Once a boy with a dog and a hunting rifle on a country farm, he later came to the big city. Calm and kind with a steel temperament, his answer goes like this—“Growing up poor in the winters in Virginia you learned to hunt so you could eat . You were grateful when your father was able to bag an animal whose skins would be sent to NY and provide money for food. But now, other than one gun to protect a house, why would anyone need an automatic rifle? Why would anyone need anything automatic that could kill?”
The truth is guns mainly exist for two reasons: to maim and to kill. And for those intent on neither, to snatch a glimmer of security, a bravado that says I am bigger and badder than the random circumstances that so often befall human beings.
When Breiviek slaughtered the children, he did so with a Glock and an automatic, and he left behind a 1500 page manifesto which among other things teased coyly about his pivotal gun application:
“In any case; I would rather have preferred a Ruger Mini 30, but I already own a 7.62 bolt rifle and it is likely that the police wouldn’t grant me a similar caliber. On the application form I stated: “hunting deer”. It would have been tempting to just write the truth; “executing category A and B cultural Marxists/multiculturalist traitors” just to see their reaction :P”
I do not wish to live in a society where the only persons packing a weapon are the police, but the truth is living in one where firearms are easy to purchase and execute upon others is madness.
If only the gun application had a box to check that said “I m a vicious bigot full of murderous rage and long to kill innocent children, or a box that said “I am pure evil; so stop me now before I stop you.” But it does not.
The challenge for all free and open societies is to accept that when the doggedly focused deranged meet guns, it's a powder keg. Finding more effective ways to screen out the nutcases is complex, but consider it vital because when you take crazy and whip in virulent hatred -- be it cultural, racial or religious-- you get carnage. You get hand wringing. You get, “Oh Dear God what the hell just happened here?”