Monday, November 20th, 2017

Evil is always with us


(Note: This column ran in the Waukesha Freeman back on July 26th in reaction to the shooting in the Aurora movie theater. I did not post it last week, but given the shooting incident in Oak Creek today the column has an unfortunate timeliness. – James Wigderson)

Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Jul 26, 2012; Section:Opinion; Page Number:6A

Evil is always with us
Mass murderer determined to kill

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

It’s the tragedy of tragedies. We’re confronted with a horror that none of us could contemplate and our minds grasp for an explanation. We’re hoping that some explanation will prevent the next horror, but the explanation eludes us.

In this case, we’re trying to grasp what is in the mind of a person who entered a Colorado movie theater at midnight one week ago and ruthlessly gunned down as many victims as possible. While in police custody, he informed the arresting officers that his apartment was booby-trapped with explosives, endangering any officer searching for clues and all of the suspect’s neighbors.

Why would someone do something like this? We’re fortunate, if that’s the word, that the person who conceived such a horror is in the hands of the police. We might get some clue, some insight into why the killer chose to murder so many people whose only crime was to enjoy a midnight movie.

Unfortunately we’re unlikely to learn much about what twists a soul to such evil, and what we do learn will likely prove to be unsatisfactory.

So we’ll be left to imagine ways to prevent such mass murders. Banning guns of various kinds won’t help. Countries that have restrictive gun laws suffer from these kinds of incidents, too. Banning this type or that type of gun will only cause the mass killer to choose a different weapon.

Even limiting the number of shots a single gun can fire without reloading won’t help. Reading the chilling account of one of the witnesses, we learn that the shooter actually stopped to reload before continuing to fire.

We have even learned that the theater did not allow patrons to carry weapons. Such a policy did not stop the killer. Nor would any but the most naive believe that it would have prevented the shooting.

On the other hand, some have suggested that the no-weapons policy may have prevented some of the victims from defending themselves. However, the theater was dark. The shooter used some sort of smoke device and wore SWAT-like body armor, perhaps anticipating that someone might try to return fire.

We don’t know how many other people might have been killed in the melee, or how many the police would have mistakenly shot when they arrived.

So what are we to do? We have mandatory background checks (he passed). We could ban large quantities of ammo, but it’s not like the killer feared the law. Besides, he would just make more than one purchase. We could even ban gun sales at gun shows, although there is no indication that is where he made his gun purchases.

We also know that the killer is something of an amateur bomb maker, so even the wildest gun control fantasies of Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York or Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee were unlikely to have stopped the killer.

So we’re stuck with the question of evil. It’s the same question we have been asking since Cain killed Abel.

But we don’t need to go to Colorado to see evil. Every day the newspaper is full of crimes that would be unimaginable to most of us. Sexual assault and murder of children. Spousal murder. Terrible cruelties to one’s own children.

The poet Dante tried to quantify evil, imagining proportionate tortures in hell to match men’s crimes. Perhaps we can imagine those punishments ourselves, and be grateful that nobody in our society is charged with carrying them out.

There’s a real possibility that Colorado may pursue the death penalty in the movie shooting case, for all of the good it will do. The shooter’s death will not bring back one victim. It will not deter one crime similar to his, any more than the prospect of the death penalty deterred him.

Whatever Coloradans decide, there will not be any sense of proportional justice. There will not be any new government policies that will prevent such horrible crimes in the future. There will not be any definitive answer to what compelled someone to walk into a crowded theater and kill so many of his fellow human beings.

There will only be the lasting knowledge that there will always be evil among us, and that the perfection of heaven is not achievable on this Earth.


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