Well, we’ve had another rampage killing, another church shot up. Pretty much everyone in the firearms community is aware of this, but for future readers I’ll spell out the specifics. On Sunday morning a man armed with a semi-automatic shotgun and 76 rounds of ammo walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church during a children’s performance of “Annie Jr.” and opened fire. According to the reports so far, he fired three shots, and was then subdued by congregants when he attempted to reload. There were two fatalities and seven wounded. From the reports, the first person killed placed himself directly in the shooter’s path in order to shield others. As of this writing, four people are still in the hospital, two in critical condition.
The shooter, 58 year old Jim Adkisson, left a four-page letter in his vehicle that gave clues as to the reason for his rampage and leading authorities to believe that he intended to use all of the ammunition he brought, and die in a hail of police gunfire. In the letter, Adkisson indicated antipathy towards Christians, and extreme antipathy towards “liberals” and their causes, gays in particular.
He did not expect resistance.
When I wrote Why I Am an Atheist, I included a couple of jokes, one of which was a “how many X does it take to change a light bulb?” joke. For the Unitarians the punchline was:
We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, you are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your light bulb for the next Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, 3-way, long-life and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.
If there’s a “liberal position” on something, the Unitarian Church can be counted on to support it. The particular church Adkisson chose was openly friendly to homosexuals, and that may have had an influence on his choice of targets as well.
Mr. Adkisson was unemployed and apparently unable to find work, at least work that he found acceptable. He was receiving food stamps, and there was a letter found that stated that his food stamps were to be reduced or cut off. Mr. Adkisson’s only criminal record was two DUI convictions in two different states. CNN reports that Adkisson had threatened to kill his fourth wife and himself in 2000 which resulted in an order of protection barring him from contacting his wife. He apparently drank heavily, and had done so for quite a while.
Adkisson purchased his shotgun a month before the shooting. He was not a prohibited person. A waiting period would not have helped. The shotgun was not a high-capacity “street sweeper,” but apparently a standard hunting shotgun with a three-round capacity. He was an angry, bitter old man of 58, probably alcoholic, who wouldn’t or couldn’t face the fact that his problems were of his own making. Like too many people today, he decided to end it all, but to take as many with him as he could in a burst of rage.
Some time back, Billy Beck wrote an essay in response to a post at the newsgroup misc.activism.militia. I linked to it in my 2005 essay, March of the Lemmings, and I came across it again recently. In that piece Billy stated something that I unconsciously absorbed, I think, and have restated myself in my various “Reset Button” postings:
Every human being has a “threshold of outrage” beyond which a transgressor proceeds at peril of response. At this point in our history, individuals are responding ever more frequently. The only question to me concerns the nature of the response.
It would appear that this is the case in Mr. Adkisson’s rampage. In 1997, Carl Drega killed two policemen, a judge, and a newspaper editor in New Hampshire over property rights. In 2000 Garry DeWayne Watson killed a town alderman and a city worker and wounded two others also over property rights. Also in 2000, 77 year-old Melvin Hale shot a Texas State Trooper to death because he’d been pulled over for not wearing his seat belt. In 2003, Arthur and Steven Bixby of South Carolina shot two Sheriff’s deputies to death over the taking by eminent domain of a 20-foot wide section of their property. Also in 2003, Stuart Alexander, owner of a sausage manufacturing business in California, deliberately murdered three of four state inspectors in his office. The fourth escaped only because Alexander couldn’t run him down. In 2004 Marvin Heemeyer destroyed a good chunk of Granby, Colorado with an armor plated bulldozer before taking his own life, again over property rights.
And yesterday, Jim Adkisson decided that he was going to kill himself some liberals because they were keeping him from getting work.
Last week and over the weekend there were a lot of pixels spilled over a letter to the editor written by an outspoken member of the militia movement, a letter threatening bloodshed against “anyone who tried to further restrict our God-given liberty.” A lot of the discussion was heated, too much of it was insulting. Far too much of it lacked perspective and thought.
Billy Beck is spot-on. Everyone has a “threshold of outrage.” For everyone it’s different, and what happens when that threshold is crossed is different for everyone as well. But the general public doesn’t share the outrages perpetrated by society on its individuals. No one is able to accurately gauge the egregiousness of the insults and injustices – or lack thereof – visited upon those whose personal “thresholds of outrage” were crossed. Our media hasn’t done it. In many cases of government overreach that do end up in the media, I (and I’m sure others) wonder what prevents the victims from exacting a similar revenge. Perhaps their own personal “thresholds of outrage” weren’t crossed, or simply a violent response just isn’t in them.
But when someone states in a public forum that “There are some of us “cold dead hands” types, perhaps 3 percent of gun owners, who would kill anyone who tried to further restrict our God-given liberty,” the picture the general public gets isn’t one of a patriot standing up for the rights of all, it’s this:
That’s not the picture I want attached to the battle for my individual rights.