According to a March 16 Sun story, the police that raided Maximilien Reynolds’ apartment found “the rifle [an AR-15], a bomb, 300 rounds of ammunition, body armor, chemicals, and a trauma kit”. A subsequent anecdote reveals that “once, in freshman year, a drunk student accidentally stepped on and killed Reynolds’ pet turtle… while Reynolds was upset, he told the student not to worry and that he understood it was unintentional.” And the last two paragraphs contain the real kicker; “the stereotype of the white, male school shooter doesn’t apply to Reynolds… Anyone who knew him liked him”.
Dehumanization is never a good thing. There was a controversy in my Massachusetts hometown involving the corpse of “the Boston Bomber” being kept at a local funeral home, but I never took issue with it. As Prof. Kevin Nixon was quoted as saying about Reynolds, “I don’t think anyone gets anything from scapegoating him as some kind of evil force.” I don’t consider compassion for the victims and human decency toward the perpetrator to be mutually exclusive.
But something doesn’t seem quite right about how Max Reynolds is being treated in the court of public opinion. The entire story seems to imply that his paranoia led him to stockpile weapons for self-defense, and that he had no intention to harm anyone. First of all, I think that’s bullshit — the dude had 300 rounds. And secondly, since when is paranoia a legitimate defense? Dylan Roof was paranoid about black people killing white people in the streets; should he be absolved of guilt too?
Obviously Reynolds didn’t end up harming anybody, while Dylan Roof did. Even if I concede for the sake of the argument that he never intended to go on a killing spree, I still feel obliged to point out that there was a homemade bomb in his apartment. I don’t know a lot about do-it-yourself explosives, but something tells me that they present a risk of accidental detonation. At the very least, Reynolds was endangering his next-door neighbors and any house guests he may have had by keeping that bomb in his room. Thank goodness it didn’t go off. Consider this hypothetical; Max loads up his 300 rounds and shoots into a crowd of people, but doesn’t hit anyone. To me that situation is directly analogous to hiding an explosive device in your closet.
Why is Reynolds being treated so well in the media? Because he’s “likable”? Because “he had an insatiable curiosity and was driven to understand the world around him”? I find that hugely problematic. I have a pet turtle. If some drunken asshole killed my pet turtle by stepping on him, I’d probably chew the guy out. Does that mean I deserve less empathy if I’m ever caught with an AR-15 under my bed? I don’t believe in dehumanization, but neither do I believe in selective compassion.
I feel sympathy for Maximilien Reynolds because he’s a human being, and because the necessary removal of an individual from society is one of the most tragic things that ever has to occur. I don’t feel sympathy for him because “the stereotype of the white male school shooter doesn’t apply to him”. Or because, as The Sun so diligently informs us, “his father Tim Reynolds MBA ’94 earned millions as a founder of Jane Street Capital”. I think humanity should strive for universal compassion, but I would rather have every school shooter (or potential school shooter) be treated with vitriol than have one be treated better than the other because they’re a rich and likable. What you have in the latter case is not empathy, but selective moral tee-totaling. Appeals to the human virtues of empathy and mercy are always desirable, but mentioning Reynolds’ affability in the same breath as the danger he posed to innocent lives is despicable.