In Kentucky this week a five year old boy shot his two year old sister to death with a rifle that he was given as a present. The rifle, a .22, was kept “in the corner” and the family was unaware that it remained loaded. When the mother stepped out on to the porch of the home for “no more than three minutes,” the boy found the gun and killed his sister.
This occurrence, horrible on the surface and worse when the details are learned, embodies a too common refrain of the contemporary American news cycle. It goes something like this: A gun, a child, a dead child. Or: A gun, an adult, a dead child. It’s not always a gun, and it’s not always a child. Often these events are accidental. Other times, it’s just murder.
My local news is filled with Aaron Schaffhausen lately. Aaron Scaffhausen murdered his three daughters in their beds. Cut their throats last year while they were sleeping. Who knows why. He says he was mentally unstable. Others say he was angry about his divorce.
Frankly, I don’t care. The tide of life has receded, for Aaron’s daughters, regardless. That two year old girl never got a chance before her brother shot her dead. These events are not equivalent, by any means.
Unless you are the child who is dead. Then, really, what’s the difference?
The breadth of human culture requires the inclusion of the monstrous human impulse. It also requires the accident of time and place which leads a momentary absence of a mother to a dead toddler. We cannot exclude from reality the capacity for darkness that the human experience embodies.
These are the shattering stories of American news, and they are all too common. Such are the events of human culture. We cannot understand them. But, how do we make them stop?