One has to imagine that the men who keep shooting innocent people think of themselves as brave. The Buffalo murderer even claimed to be defending a cause, placing himself on the dangerous front lines of a war he imagines coming. He said he was willing to be imprisoned, even martyred, to rescue his ‘culture’ from a threat.
Of all the motivations behind public mass slaughter, ‘cowardice’ is one of the least likely the killers claim for themselves. On the other hand, some variation of ‘bravery’ comes up often.
It’s easy to find this sickeningly offensive. Murdering shoppers, churchgoers, and children is the opposite of brave. That the butcher might deny being a coward is so foul, in fact, that one instinctively has to urge to punch back, to scream an argument.
Because these men are cowards, whether they understand it or not. They are cowards, of course, because they murder the defenseless.
But they are also cowards because they use a gun. And not any gun, but the ultimate gun of the coward, the assault rifle.
Which is not to say that all guns are cowardly. A gun has many uses, and most of them are good. I hunt (if infrequently), but I don’t hunt to be ‘brave’. I hunt for the same reasons I fish: to connect more fully to the natural world, a world that includes the death of one animal to feed another. Those who object to hunting often make the argument that the sport is cowardly, and this might well be true if one hunts to prove courageousness. There’s obviously nothing brave at all about killing a deer from a 100 yards with a rifle. But that’s not really why the majority of people usually hunt anyway.
If I had a gun to protect my home, that’s not bravery either, but neither is it exactly cowardly. If I feel there is a threat out there, a gun is a sensible response, especially if the threat is large. My fear may have objectionable reasons, from prejudice to paranoia, but the gun isn’t there to prove my courage. The gun is there precisely because I’m afraid. And the bigger the gun I feel necessary to own, the more stark my dread.
And shooting things is fun. It’s confusing to bring that up in this kind of context, but it’s true. There’s a reason so many video games involve shooting things, and it has nothing to do with those who play them…