Make no mistake: I’m not one of these liberal anti-gun crusaders. I like guns. I like having them, I like shooting them, and the chances are that if you come into my house without knocking you may find yourself with a hole in your chest that wasn’t there before you kicked the door in.
The truth is, though, that we have more gun deaths than any other industrialized western democracy at 10.54 per 100,000 people each year. If you look at the list linked in the previous sentence, you’ll find that we’re not in very good company among the top twenty. We’re competing with countries like Honduras, Argentina, and Brazil which are, on their best day, flawed democracies. Argentina has been known to disappear people. Police in Rio de Janeiro shoot homeless children like they would rats. Brazilians exterminate uncontacted indigenous peoples in the Amazon when they get in the way of logging or gold mining operations, and the practice is seldom prosecuted. And Honduras is, well, Honduras.
Are guns responsible for this? No. It would happen anyway. Do they make it easier? Absolutely. And that’s the point. Human history is a history of developing new ways to kill each other.
I never fail to be amazed at how ingenious our species is when it comes to technological advancement in the science of killing people. I had never heard of a bump stock before the tragedy in Las Vegas on Sunday night. We are clever, clever creatures, and we are born to kill.
Don’t believe me? Ask the next Neanderthal you meet. Contrary to popular conception, Neanderthals were not underdeveloped troglodytes. Their brain cases were a hundred cubic centimeters larger than hours. They had bigger brains, and when it comes to brains, size matters. The gestation period of a Neanderthal female was ten months rather than nine, and that means that their babies were much more developed at birth, and therefore more likely to survive.
The Neanderthals didn’t go extinct because they were somehow physically inferior to Homo sapiens. Their failing was cultural, and they had some bad luck. They had the misfortune of running into us. The Neanderthals didn’t kill everyone they met who wasn’t the same as them. We did. They didn’t adapt to the threat we represented. Now they’re gone, and we’re here.
Our species has always made war. Pre-industrial cultures made war with other tribes. As civilization grew, so did the human capacity to make war. Domestication led to autocratic governmental structures and the rise of the standing army. We all know that civilizations that develop weapons eventually use those weapons. The English used the armor-penetrating longbow at the Battle of Agincourt. Chinese fireworks were turned into projectile weapons that changed the nature of medieval warfare. The Colt .45 made men equal. The Gatling gun shortened the Civil War. It didn’t take long for someone to get the idea of dropping bombs out of a biplane.
The wars of Europe in the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteen centuries were the struggles of monarchs against other monarchs, often related to each other. The World Wars of the twentieth century were the pinnacle of the human quest to make killing as efficient as possible.
The atomic bomb was the natural next step.
In every event, killing was normalized. It was prized. Killing fifty-nine enemy soldiers in combat makes a war hero. Without the blessing of the nation-state, killing fifty-nine noncombatants makes a psychopath. What’s the difference?
Context, and that you have to be the kind of person who can rationalize killing a lot of people. People do it for their countries. You have to be able to press a button and launch a Tomahawk at our enemies. You need to be able to turn a key and understand that twenty million people are going to die somewhere.
The motives of Stephen Paddock continue to be a mystery at the time at which this article was written. He doesn’t fit the archetypes. He doesn’t match an FBI profile. We may never know what his motivation was. What he did is an inexcusable aberration, and we must do everything we can to prevent this from happening again. Unfortunately, though, in the history of our species, he was nothing new.