October 30, 2002

The Sniper: an American Idol

Eight days ago, I forecasted some predictions about the notorious sniper with the intention of having it run today. When a manhunt like this evolves as fast as the bullets it tries to stop, however, the headlines change.

Authorities believe they have apprehended the man responsible for the shootings. Who is he? To quote my prediction from the aborted column:

“The sniper is, most likely, a red-blooded American citizen with a chip on his shoulder and a psychotic obsession with militant survivalism…he might personify the worst abuses of our most controversial right, but in his own mind he’s simply a proud citizen.”

As it turns out, the primary suspect is John Williams Muhammed, a native of Baton Rouge and Gulf War veteran! (Incidentally, he marks the second Gulf War veteran to wind up a domestic madman, the first being Timothy McVeigh.)

Why would anyone suppose in the Age of Terror and Evil that the latest heinous killer was an American citizen? The answer is quite simple.

America is in a wary period of suspicion. We have multiple issues on all fronts and are looking for ways to cope. Unfortunately, too many dwell on the negative and resort to violence and shooting in an attempt to ease the pain. More than anywhere else in the world, we in the United States have all the legal and literal ammo we need.

In retrospect, maybe we were exaggerating the threat. After all, aren’t guns the very backbone of our society, the whole reason that America exists at all? Why not applaud the sniper for using his sacred right to bear arms?

The Second Amendment is a seriously sore point with a lot of people. It is today’s equivalent of the “peculiar institution,” though I doubt another Civil War will result from it like it did from the first peculiar institution. It’s hard to fight the side with all the weaponry armed merely with a free press and some veggie burgers.

The right to bear arms is the only provision in the Bill of Rights that, when executed properly (no pun intended), results in loss of life. Even the most common and correct interpretation—that an armed citizenry is a populace free from government tyranny—is based on fear and threat of death.

Even so, don’t bet on the gun lobbies to reconsider their key issue positions because of this spree. They’ll probably decide that the solution is for everyone to carry EVEN MORE GUNS! I suppose the principle is that if you’re shot in the head at a gas station, your holstered companion will allow you to shoot back in the .000001 seconds you have left before fatally collapsing next to the overpriced pump.

But as they say, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” I’ll agree, as long as I can add “with guns” to that phrase. Firearms themselves aren’t the problem, as millions of Americans own and operate them legally; the danger today lies in our violence-worshipping subconscious.

This fact makes Muhammed’s rampage all the more puzzling. By all accounts, he was a quiet, relatively stable man growing up, though as an adult he faced two failed marriages, a truncated venture into karate instruction and a period of homelessness.

After leaving Louisiana, he found Islam and changed his last name from Williams to Muhammed. Because of this, the news networks hyperventilated over his alleged connections to terrorism (though I think anchors now do that even during cooking segments) and glossed over the fact that he fought for America in the Gulf War.

Kudos to law enforcement for realizing that not every crime that occurs here today originates from Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. Violence knows no political borders.

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