Tucson, Arizona. Black Saturday, January 08, 2011.

A 22 year old male opened fire at a gathering held in a Safeway lot by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, shooting her in the head (she may yet make it), but killing federal judge John Roll, a nine year old girl and three or four other victims. Another dozen or so were wounded as well.

A nine mm Glock pistol (doubtless a semiautomatic) was reportedly recovered at the scene, and the suspected shooter is now in custody.

The killer’s putative “reasons” for this madness are unclear. We know that Ms. Giffords is an attractive, well liked conservative democrat who is married to a former astronaut, and that Judge Roll was appointed by President Bush senior. We know that both had taken flack over the immigration issue, because they allegedly “sided” with the plight of the illegals. We know that Ms. Giffords is Jewish and that the judge was not expected to attend the event, but just dropped in. If there was a specific target, it was likely Ms. Giffords.

We know that the shooter, when/if he is convicted (a different outcome is only remotely possible) will be eligible for and probably receive the death penalty.

It strains credulity that this was a purely random killing. The circumstances point to the congresswoman, not the judge, as the primary target. I note that the shooter could not have reasonably planned on getting away.

Given the issues afoot and the circumstances, the shooter was probably not aggrieved in the sense that a fired employee or an angry spouse would be. Instead, the shooter was likely grieved in the sense that some unbalanced types are capable of getting worked up into a homicidal froth over mere issues. But this seems even more. This event looks and smells like a grand gesture killing by someone who intended to go down in a blaze of glory.

Not to put too fine of a point on it, this sort of thing clearly meets the minimum definition of evil, to wit: a purposeful, intelligently planned course of action that has as its very object the wanton elimination of human life, via an attack on intelligent discourse and the minimum conditions of a free civilization, and not just for some mundane personal gain. Ironically, had this been a killing in the course of a bank robbery, say, it would be despicable and warrant the worst punishment, but would not necessarily be evil in the classic Burkean sense.

In my moral framework, this is an instance of actual evil because these malevolent objectives were wanted in themselves, not just as the necessary side effect of something as banal as a robbery. My heart and prayers go out to the wounded and the affected families and friends. From their point of view, this is a tragedy. So are earthquakes and floods. Where evil is involved, tragedy is a mile short of the mark. This was a brazen attack on who we are, not a mere transgression of the moral law, but an attempt to negate it and twist it into something less.

Spare me those who will “try to understand” the killer’s motives, as if a twisted empathy could disguise evil. And spare me the attempt to medicalize the whole episode, as if evil were some psychological malady instead of a profoundly moral one.


A necessary caveat: This is an opinion piece based on the available reports. The court processes will unfold and the outcome, by definition, will be justice. All else is just talk. That said, while I could be wrong, about this sort of thing I rarely am.

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