Blame Games

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Last week began with a new twist in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, wherein a monster murdered 20 school children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut:  The victims’ parents have been given the go-ahead to sue the Remington Outdoor Company, the maker of rifle the monster used.  It ended with the mass murder of fifty Muslims at prayer in a New Zeeland mosque, evidently by an anti-immigrant white supremacist.    

As noted in previous columns, whatever the details of particular atrocities, especially those involving murder by firearms, the responses are always predictable, including demands for tough new gun control measures.  The prime Minister of New Zealand, for example, in her first statement on the latest atrocity, quite predictably said the government would propose legislation to ban the sort of rifle used in it (whether such a ban would have prevented the acquisition of the gun by the atrocities perpetrator, or will prevent future atrocities, is debatable at best).

Also noteworthy, however, in the Remington case at least, is the predictable attempt to widen the circle of blame for the atrocity.  The parents of the Sandy Hook murder victims have been given the go-ahead to sue the manufacturer of the rifle used by the murderer of their children.

One cannot help but sympathize for the Sandy Hook victims, children and parents alike.  And it must be noted that they have already filed a much-needed (in my opinion, at least) lawsuit against right-wing radio host and certifiable nut job Alex Jones for claiming that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax staged by anti-gun activists seeking to promote the enactment of tougher gun control measures, and that some of the parents of the victims were in on the hoax.

But what motivates the lawsuit against Remington?  Is it a desire to punish gun makers and hold them more accountable for the carnage wrought by those who use their products?  Or is the motive simpler—the desire for more money, the standard means by which grief is legally assuaged?  After all, neither the Sandy Hook monster nor his mother had much money to begin with, so even if they were still alive, recovering damages would still be problematical and yield little success.  On the other hand, Remington is a wealthy corporation, and therefore an inviting target.

And so, too, was the Cinemark theater chain, owner of the theater in Aurora, Colorado, where a mass murderer killed members of the audience seeing a Batman movie.  Survivors sued Cinemark claiming that it had failed to foresee the possibility of mass murder and had therefore failed to provide adequate security.  In this instance, Cinemark won.  Whether Mandalay Bay, the Las Vegas resort and site of another mass murder, will be able to successfully defend itself against a similar lawsuit charging it was negligent in allowing the gunman to smuggle so much firepower into his room there remains to be seen.

Another motive behind the deflection of blame for atrocities from those who perpetrate them may be political.  If, for example, the murders can somehow be linked to lax gun control laws, as well as to the National Rifle Association, the NRA can be shamed and diminished politically, and its ability to block proposed gun control measures diminished.  The NRA has even been brought into the discussion of the New Zealand atrocities:  AOC, while not explicitly blaming the NRA, nonetheless has mocked the mention of “thoughts and prayers” for the victims, claiming that calls for “thoughts and prayers” is the NRA’s standard tactic for avoiding gun control debates.

And, of course, so, too, has President Trump.  As of this writing, no specific link between him and the New Zealand monster has been posited.  Yet his rhetoric in opposing illegal immigration and specifically immigration by Muslims to America is being linked to a putative worldwide rise in anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and hostility to immigration.  Efforts to link his rhetoric to the massacre of Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh seem to have fizzled.  Will these newer attempts to impute moral blame for the New Zealand massacre be more successful?  Time will tell.

These mass shootings are horrific enough.  They justify the quest for future security means—even some form of greater gun control should such a measure be proven to demonstrably reduce the likelihood of evildoers getting guns without reducing the rights of the law abiding to acquire guns for self- defense.  And they justify the imposition of stricter sentences than those normally imposed on convicted evildoers.  For example, Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered 77 Norwegians, mostly children, in 2011, was sentenced to a grand total of 21 years in prison—a little less than 4 months for each murder victim.  Some commentators have noted that his sentence could be extended for an indefinite number of five year terms should he be considered still a menace to society one his initial 21 years are served.  Nonetheless, life without parole, or the death sentence, would have been more appropriate.

But these atrocities should not justify the effort to spread the blame from the perpetrators themselves to others whose connections with the massacres are tenuous at best.  To do so for whatever reason diminishes both the responsibility of the perpetrators themselves, as well as the willingness of society to hold them accountable.  Rather than allow these tragedies to be exploited for financial gain at the expense of those who did not perpetrate them, or for political points against those whose arguments we may dislike, we should hold the perpetrators accountable and inflict strict enough punishment on them to diminish the chances for future atrocities.  For starters, once we determine beyond any reasonable doubt that the man currently in custody in New Zealand is indeed the monster in question, he should be sentenced to the longest prison sentence available under New Zealand law, if the death penalty is unavailable.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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