Here in the Old Dominion we're keeping our heads down, at least when we go out for gas, to school, or to mow the lawn. Two people have been shot in Virginia by a sniper -- one in Manassas and the other near Fredericksburg. The latter crime has been laid at the feet of The Sniper, who is closing in on a double-digit kill rate. As this is written the Manassas shooting looks like it's probably his work as well.
I say "his work" not because we precisely know the identity of this criminal, or because it is my tendency to blame everything on men. Men may be responsible for most wars, dictatorships, assault and battery cases, child molestation, and ridiculous sporting endeavors, but there's no sense in tarring with too broad a brush. The vast majority of men are innocent, no matter how deeply provoked.
Yet it seems to be an operative belief that the killer(s) is a man, and some profilers add that it's probably a white man at that. No one has seen the killer face to face. Eyewitness accounts are very sketchy at best, and pretty much nonexistent. Yet the assumption that a white man is responsible seems reasonable, even in our age of non-profiling. When most people think of multiple domestic killers -- from Charles Whitman to David Berkowitz to the two young killers at Columbine -- they don't see the faces of black males or Asian females.
Speaking as a member of that often-misunderstood tribe, I can say this type of profiling is fine by me. There's no sense in patting down black grandmothers, Asian au-pairs, or Latino schoolteachers in the search for this fiend. Focus on white guys in white vans. Not that there is any shortage of those, but perhaps focusing even that much will save time, and time may mean lives.
While we're waiting for a capture, we're left to contemplate the possible motivations for these horrors and to wonder what steps might be taken to dissuade others from following this regrettable example. Experts have been filling our ears these last few days with their suspicions, many of which seem reasonable.
The discovery of a tarot card is said to tell us that the killer has left a "signature" -- that is, he wants to be known and admired for his accomplishments. I was reminded of a friend who once interviewed a mass killer who was known for beheading his victims. Pictures were shown of additional beheaded bodies, with the hope this killer might confess to those crimes as well. They weren't his, he explained. He cut heads off lower down the neck; this simply was not his work. My friend was somewhat taken back by his obvious sense of pride.
It is similarly suggested that the "Dear Policemen, I am God" scrawled on this card tells us he that he speaks respectfully to the authorities because he wants respect in return -- and that he has what are called "control issues." In his case, he's given himself god-like authority (as it is sometimes called) to decide who lives and who dies. Other insights are debatable. Some say the shooter is probably a former military sniper because he's such a great shot. I side with the expert who says if the killer were a real sniper he'd dispatch his victims with head shots. The real killer might have wanted to be a real sniper but couldn't make the grade. So he's making news instead.
The result of all this is to raise suspicions to a high level. Many of us never noticed, until this week, the large number of suspicious-looking white guys driving around in white vans. They're all over the place. African-Americans often remind us of the suspicious looks they get any time they leave home. Maybe this development will give them the week off.
Similarly, many of us have spent little time wondering what measures might reasonably be taken to dissuade this level of sicko from taking up arms against cab drivers, shoppers, and schoolchildren. If it is respect these people seek, perhaps society should make it clear that they will suffer severe and lasting disrespect if trapped alive. One recalls the treatment meted out to Mussolini -- heels up, brother! -- and Blackbeard, whose head was affixed to a post at the mouth of Hampton Roads as a warning to those contemplating a life of pillage and plunder. The Romans cooked up plenty of humiliating exit strategies. My vote goes for sewing the condemned inside a bag with a rooster, a few snakes and a rabid dog. Let 'em go a few rounds then drop the whirling menagerie into a cesspool. We would never know positively if this inspired other would-be killers to practice abstinence (in killing) but at the very least it seems more appropriate than giving such people a private room and three squares at taxpayer expense.
Meantime, other interested parties are making hay. Gun-controllers complain about the "appalling" availability (Washington Post editorial) of high-powered rifles. The typical beef against guns is over clip size and the ability to conceal. In this case, the gunman could be using a single-shot rifle, so the complaint becomes that guns are simply too accurate and can shoot "too far." This in the wake of the attack on BB guns. This raises the suspicion that anti-gun forces really do hope to end private ownership of firearms. Accordingly, here in the Old Dominion we're on the lookout not only for the sniper but gun melters as well. That's no problem. Most of us have two eyes.