CNN published a thoughtful article today that expounded on President Trump’s characterization of the Las Vegas shootings from a week ago as “an act of pure evil.” Daniel Burke’s comments there resonated with thoughts I have had as information has surfaced on the shooter.
Some want to describe the shooter as a domestic terrorist, but no purpose has been discovered for his actions to date. Others label him as insane, but other than having a propensity for gambling, his amassing of guns and his apparent mistreatment of his girlfriend, he seems, to this point, to be much like your average middle-aged man.
That lack of distinction from any of us is deeply troubling to me. It implies that the capacity for unthinkable evil lies in each of us, which make the plots for Steven King’s novels all too passé.
We are all too familiar this year with the evils that occur through “acts if God” or the spontaneous destruction that nature can yield. What is troubling to me is that we too are capable of mindless evil on a massive scale. It can be by a people who go on with their lives in the face of genocide, the daily accrual of damage to our world or acts of unprovoked war.
It seems that we, as individuals, are equally capable of pure evil, a reality that I struggle to comprehend, even with the events of this week. Johnny Cash’s line from Folsom Prison Blues, “I shot a man, just to see him die” suddenly becomes all too real.
I suppose we may be too sheltered in suburbia from people like that to recognize that pure evil does lie in some heartless hearts. What seems all the worse is that this particular shooter seemed like one of us. Efforts to uncover something to distinguish him may yet find a motive, but it will never explain evil on this scale.
None of this line of thought in any way diminishes my earlier comments on the need for sensible gun control laws. The ability to convert a rifle into a fully automatic weapon multiplies the impact of an evil act exponentially, and the fact that seemingly normal individuals are capable of senseless and pure evil makes gun control all the more essential.
Burke ends with a quote from the philosopher James A.K. Smith,”Evil didn’t have the first word in this world,” he said. “And I don’t expect it to have the last.” Perhaps we are capable of good as well.