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Editorial: America’s infinite appetite for killing

  • A Vermont State Police Tactical Team member, left, talks with a Windsor County Sheriff's Deputy as police gather at the scene of a shooting death in Woodstock, Vt., on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

Published: 6/28/2022 8:38:07 AM
Modified: 6/28/2022 8:38:05 AM

In a collection of essays published in 1923, D.H. Lawrence wrote, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.” The British novelist was a stranger in a strange land when he made that observation, having been resident in this country for a little more than a year. But his insight was nonetheless acute and prophetic.

In fact, America today sometimes resembles nothing so much as a vast killing machine. We Americans kill in small towns such as Woodstock and Springfield, Vt., and in big cities like New York and Chicago. We kill to settle drug debts and neighborhood disputes. We kill demonstrators at political protests, and, under color of law, motorists during routine traffic stops. We kill elementary school children and high school students; concert-goers, movie theater patrons and nightclub revelers; grocery shoppers and people at prayer in houses of worship; domestic partners and, by suicide, large numbers of ourselves.

Americans kill out of hatred, rage, delusion, passion, greed, grievance (real and imagined), and sometimes just in cold blood, for reasons no one knows or can articulate. And also because the courts in their Second Amendment jurisprudence have issued what amounts to a constitutional license to kill; because gun manufacturers make enormous profits and use them to buy political protection; and because the young men we send to fight our endless foreign wars bring home the battlefield with them.

Indeed, violence is as American as cherry pie.

It is everywhere — in the news we watch, in the books we read, in the movies we stream and the cultural air we breathe.

The national killing spree is often attributed to easy access to firearms, and surely that plays a big part.

But we sometimes wonder, do Americans kill so avidly because they have so many guns, or do they have so many guns because the inclination to kill is embedded so deeply in the American psyche?

Consider the case of AR-15 military-style rifles.

That these weapons are designed to kill people in large numbers is incontrovertible and that they sell in large numbers indisputable. What sane society would rather subject school children and educators to “active shooter drills” than restrict civilian ownership of these terrible instruments of destruction? None.

By now, many readers will have taken issue with this harsh indictment of the national character and, to be candid, we are not so convinced of it ourselves.

But gun violence does seem to us the manifestation of something besides just gun ownership. The New York Times reported recently on the marketing efforts of gun-makers that have ramped up sales by expertly exploiting Americans’ fear and anxiety not only about crime but about any crisis. “Their goal is basically to induce a Pavlovian response: ‘If there’s a crisis, you must go get a gun,’ ” said Josh Sugarmann, founder of the Violence Policy Center, a gun control group.

Firearms manufacturers also appeal to anxiety of a different variety. In 2012, Bushmaster — which made the military-style rifle used in last month’s mass grocery-store shooting in Buffalo — ran a magazine ad with a picture of its product accompanied by the words, “Consider Your Man Card Reissued.” Such appeals to machismo are common among manufacturers of AR-15-style weapons, the Times reported.

This certainly does not fully explain a situation of enormous and deadly complexity. But suffice it to say that a healthy society does not allow itself to be ruled by its fears and anxieties, nor does it demonstrate its vitality through violence or the threat of violence.

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