Published on
the Bangor Daily News (Maine)

The Culture of Violence in America

Have you participated much in the debate swirling around George Sodini? He’s the man who walked into an aerobics class in Collier, Pa., last week, killed three women and wounded nine more. Since then I’ve heard more than a few discussions about gun control. See, it turns out that at least three of the guns Sodini had with him in the workout class he had purchased legally and this has fueled the argument that we Americans buy guns too easily.

I’d like to pose another possibility. I think we Americans kill too easily. Let’s face it, guns don’t kill people, Americans kill people.

If you read the list of guns the Allegheny County police superintendent says Sodini carried into the LA Fitness center, they include two 9 mm handguns, a .38 and a .45. He had four, but he really only needed one. Typical American: way too much firepower for the job. And sure, Sodini took the easy way out; it is, after all, easier to shoot 12 women all at once than it is to lie in wait for them one at a time and then kill them at close range with a knife or silk stocking. But that’s just what Jack the Ripper and the Boston Strangler did to their victims. I cite these notorious serial killers because they don’t require a lot of definition here to make my point — neither one of them had a gun.

The United States loves its weapons. We love our handguns and we love our cluster bombs. Remember the horror we justifiably felt when the terrorists in Iraq released video of Nicholas Berg being beheaded. The graphic killing of this young man was gruesome, heartless, senseless, and we were outraged.

How many folks do you think a cluster bomb decapitates? The use of our sophisticated weapons to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis makes us what? Sophisticated? USAToday conducted a four-month study of cluster bomb use in Iraq in 2003 and found that one such bombing attack ripped the legs off Rashid Mahid and he bled to death through his torso on a Baghdad street. In fact, in those four months USA Today found “dozens of deaths that were unintended but predictable. Although U.S. forces sought to limit what they call ‘collateral damage’ in the Iraq campaign, they defied international criticism and used nearly 10,800 cluster weapons.” And mind you, that was in the first six months of the war.


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Use of powerful weapons by the world’s most powerful military is just a sign of power, not an indication of righteousness. Just as the use of powerful weapons in an aerobics class sure didn’t make Sodini a good man with a bad gun. Even a quick glance at Sodini’s senseless murders proves them to be just that: senseless. See gun enthusiasts, collectors, and hunters would have you believe — and I concur — that a person could own a thousand guns and never harm a human being.

No, all this national debate over handguns stops us from talking about what’s really at the core of our nation’s problems. We are a violent and vengeful people. We resort to brutality on the national stage when things don’t go our way maybe because we resort to brutality in our homes for the same reasons. Or maybe our violent homes are a product of a violent government setting a large scale shock and awe kind of example. But whether the killing chicken comes before or after the killer egg, it’s time to get a better understanding of ourselves and who and why we kill.

If you read even a small portion of Sodini’s thousands of online blogging pages you can learn a little about the culture of violence. And those pages tell us the most basic thing: rejected by woman after woman, Sodini killed what he couldn’t have or couldn’t control. And in the end that behavior even included killing himself.

Perhaps the final lesson of Sodini’s killing spree should as a culture scare us the most: bullies eventually turn their weapons around and destroy themselves.

Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche is an author, activist and advocate. She is the author of "Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States."  Her new novel, The Magic Diary, is due out in late spring.

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