There are times when words are inadequate. There are times when only silence will serve. The recent massacre in Denver is such an occasion. In shock I was minded to say nothing at all, but in shock I have to say something.
Why speak, why say anything, other than to express a natural human sympathy for the victims and those they have left behind? Why? Because this kind of tragedy is the occasion for all sorts of comment, all sorts of judgements, often losing sight of the simple truth. The simple truth is all I am interested in.
Please, please, let’s stay focused. This horror is not the fault of a society, of a culture, of a nation; it’s not even the fault of the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms. It is the fault of one sick and deranged individual, a person I refuse to name, because naming is what he wanted. Naming was his only motive.
We live in a secular age; we live in an age that supposes we are beyond good and evil. But we are not. Evil is a constant presence, made all the worse because it now comes most often draped in the cloak of mediocrity. All it takes is one pathetic, self-obsessed loner, influenced by one shallow impulse or another, to bring down a curtain of depravity. All it takes is a joker who is nothing but a joker.
I love America. It’s a second home for me, a place I’ve been visiting on and off since I was a child. I love to shoot. I have licences for a .22 rifle and a 310 shotgun. I love to go shooting with American friends; I have done on several occasions in the countryside of south-east Georgia, old cotton land. Am I bad, am I wrong; are we wrong?
The Denver tragedy, like Columbine and so many others before, is inevitably an occasion for the usual unreflective reflex – it’s all the fault of America’s ‘gun culture.’ It becomes, in a sense, a way of indicting a whole society, the decent and the indecent alike. More; it becomes a way of measuring the decent by the standards of indecency.
Society is not at fault; my Georgian friends are not at fault; I am not at fault. I repeat – it’s the responsibility of one deranged and pathetic individual. Millions of ordinary Americans, like my family friends, own guns, few of whom are capable of such loathsome and inhuman behaviour. We simply cannot legislate for lunacy. Neither should we allow lunacy to destroy freedom.
Stricter gun laws would have prevented Columbine and Denver, the cry goes up. No, I say, not necessarily, perhaps not al all. Norway has some of the tightest restrictions on gun ownership in the world, but that did not prevent Anders Breivik’s rampage last July. It has not prevented similar tragedies elsewhere in the world.
Great Britain, my own country, also has severe restrictions on the ownership and use of guns. That did not prevent the massacre of the innocents in Dunblane in Scotland or a more recent massacre in Cumbria in north-east England. In America the District of Colombia has particularly tough restrictions on the ownership of guns, but it also has the highest rate of homicides involving firearms.
The sad truth is that we cannot guard ourselves against contingency and chance. Where there is a perverted will there will always be a perverted way. We simply must not allow this to distort what we are; we must not allow this to distort and mutilate liberty.
I think tonight of the victims who, I understand, include a three-month-old baby, shot at point blank range. My boyfriend wanted to take me to see The Dark Knight. He will have to go on his own now. For me this film, justified or not, will always bring up images of darkness in Denver.