The White Rock Trail Murder and Whether It Makes You Think of Carrying a Gun

Do we want a world in which joggers like this at White Rock Lake must carry guns?EXPAND
Do we want a world in which joggers like this at White Rock Lake must carry guns?
el_taytus/Flickr

Just curious. In the wake of Monday's random machete murder of a jogger on White Rock Trail, police have offered pieces of advice. Carry identification. I assume that would make it easier for them to identify my body.

Don’t run alone. Sound advice. Even better, run only in the company of an imposing person. That way if it’s another horrific, truly random assault on a lone runner, somebody else will be the victim.

So I wonder. Among people like me — anti-gun, probably in favor of confiscation if it came down to it — how many of us thought of another precaution we might want to consider? Awful thought, isn’t it? Packing heat on your morning run.

You might shoot yourself. So how would that be worse? It would take too long to get the damn thing out and take the safety off or whatever that gun thing is you have to do and then aim it. But you could practice. Or just run with it in your hand. I’m not trying to be funny. I thought of all these things.

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Wait. In the matter of gun confiscation, how would that have helped in this case? We have no idea what was happening in the head of the confessed murderer Thomas Johnson, but we do know he didn’t use a gun. The witness I saw on TV described the killer hacking up and down with what the witness called a machete. We don’t know how close the witness was or how precise his observations may have been. But we know that no gun was used.

How do we explain something like this? The common reflex in confronting an act of random horror is to leap to the comforting bromides of psychology and chemistry. The guy had to be nuts or stoned. But we don’t know either of those things about him.

I’m reading a fascinating book right now by an old colleague, William Hart, called Evil: A Primer, published by Thomas Dunne Books in 2004. One of the things Hart demonstrates early on is that the term “psychopath” is mostly junk science psycho-babble with very little real forensic value.

He cites cases of horrendous serial killers who really didn’t qualify for any of the diagnoses available in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or “DSM.” By the metrics of the DSM, they were sane.

I haven’t finished his book, but I think I can tell where he is headed. I think he’s going to suggest that we have to consider whether some people may be sane but evil. I remember that when he and I were taking turns on the police beat at the Detroit Free Press in our 20s, we talked about experiences — things we saw out there — that could only be explained as evil.

You and I have no idea what the running trail killer is all about. We will have to wait and see. But the strange thing for me is this: I find a certain resolution, if not serenity, in conceiving of that act — hacking a random stranger to death with a machete — as an act of evil, rather than as the product of some kind of complicated psycho-social process. And if I think of it as evil, then I no longer want to react to it by carrying gun.

If the violence all around us in the world is really moral, rather than psychological or social, then I don’t want to respond to it by plunging into the same moral gutter myself. Then I know that the only answer is true and profound moral change, which doesn’t include me with a Glock on my hip.

But without that gun, am I not vulnerable to evil? Yes. And I am vulnerable with the gun. That’s where the gun-nuts have a point. Evil cannot be defeated by gun control. What they miss is that evil cannot be defeated by guns. Guns are merely an appurtenance to evil, an aid, a thing to make it easier and more efficient. We rely on guns because we give up, cede the fight to evil and join right in.

I will only be more safe, my loved ones will only be more safe and the world more safe when virtue grows mighty and evil starves. Nothing else offers hope. How do we get there with guns on our hips? C’mon. You know that one.

What can be said to the loved ones of the victim? Everything. Everything can be said. I should hold my tongue on that particular case for now, because we don’t know the facts. But in general we should despise evil and despise the people who carry it out. They should be punished in a way that clearly states what we think of them.

But then we also have to recognize that most difficult of all truths about evil. Evil doesn’t reside in a tribe, a type, a classification of human beings. A scapegoat. It is in each and every one of us. We defeat it in the world when we defeat it in ourselves. So I ask again. How does the Glock help with that? I thought about it.   


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