February 20, 2018

KANKANHALLI | Who’s Behind the Trigger?

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Voices flock to controversy like bees to honey. The case surrounding the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting is no outlier — without delay, a multitude of sentiments regarding the affair has peppered the national landscape.

As in prior responses to tragedy, we have heard vehement accounts from survivors, onlookers, afflicted families, and of course, politicians. This is precisely what we would hope for in response to an unthinkable calamity, is it not?

Hardly. The recent commentary around the shooting, which took 17 lives and shattered many others, is more perplexing than reassuring. It is a mosaic of those expressing hurt, disbelief and fury; it is fuel for conservatives and progressives ever eager to disagree about gun-control; it is a jolt, as events of this nature typically are, to the passive streams of daily life. In all this discussion, however, of systemic flaws that have led us to this point and solutions we might implement (supplying teachers with firearms is a particularly comical one), is an alarming undercurrent, deadly in its imperceptibility and insinuation: the discussion of the shooter.

Pain and circumstance notoriously weave themselves into any analysis of the motive of the shooter — we are incredibly prone to lacing our opinions with tales of personal hardship and enlightening struggles. In most scenarios, this poses no harm — we are products of our experiences, and rightly so. We are creatures who prize logic and reasoning, who continuously labor to identify causes and effects, so this is expected. Permitting our own situations to inform our viewpoints is a perfectly natural behavior.

In other scenarios, the harm is astounding. Positioning the troubles of any perpetrator, responsible for a mass killing or any heinous crime, at the fulcrum of discourse sets a dangerous precedent. Firstly, it offends the plethora of souls that suffer from sunrise to sunset, in identical degrees, yet somehow manage to avoid leaving trails of destruction in their wakes. We are all victims of some circumstance, but we do not all take victims.

Then, it encourages the notion that humanizing a criminal is due process — an utterly unfounded idea and completely separate from an evaluation of culpability. Be it a broken home, ostracism, bullying or any ingredient of a battered past, absolutely nothing could vindicate a killer. By implying that it could, through lengthy dialogue weighing the woes of our star offenders, we only invite similar transgression, signaling that an overly exaggerated external display of one’s misfortunes is defendable.

Granted, directing the pain inwards is not a cure either. Mental health professionals have long peered into the minds of murderers. I don’t believe this is a futile effort. The distinction between worthwhile and worthless pursuits, in this instance, rests in the consequence. Understanding a killer is productive, as far as flagging potential suspects; delusions that this understanding might simplify or validate the chaos is not. Prevention is a viable goal; justification is not.

Most will agree — at least in speech if not in action — that the premise of victim-blaming is inherently wrong. The burden of civility is doubtlessly placed on the abuser, certainly not the subject. Ironically, in reacting to premeditated killings, we contort the principle by framing the abuser as the victim himself. Not only is this an awful disservice to the real victims, but it is also an unnecessary, twisted effort to equalize and condense two entirely different scenarios.

Furthermore, assessing mass murders on a sequential timeline, considering the arc of the killer and perhaps the histories and lost futures of the victims, begets an insensitive message. It indicates that eventually the aftermath runs its course, and the horrors are to be dismissed to the depths of latent memory. Integrating a killer’s afflictions in the search for justice diminishes a persisting issue into a transient one. This is the exact opposite of what is owed to the deceased.

Pain is not relative. It’s absolute. There is no use in attempting to rank it or rate it. Nikolas Cruz seized Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in terror, publicly declaring his pain only by inflicting it on others. What I might have previously conceded was immeasurable distress and crisis in his life, and the lives of murderers over the years, was plainly quantified. On February 14, Nikolas Cruz lost his claim to sympathy. I only feel disgust.

Priya Kankanhalli is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at pkankanhalli@cornellsun.com. Matters of Fact appears every other Wednesday this semester.