Hate, guns: a deadly mix

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - Sandy.banks@latimes.com Twit­ter: @SandyBanksLAT

Hate crime or ter­ror­ism? Evil or in­sane? For all the prac­tice we’ve had over the years, we still seem to have trou­ble char­ac­ter­iz­ing or un­der­stand­ing mass killings.

Should we be sur­prised that a state that still flies the Con­fed­er­ate flag spawns a young man con­vinced of white supremacy?

Or that a na­tion that glam­or­izes and re­fuses to reg­u­late guns is back again to griev­ing a bunch of in­no­cent lives lost?

For all the head-shak­ing and hand-wring­ing over the at­tack that killed nine wor­shipers in a South Carolina church, can we re­ally say we didn’t see this com­ing? We can’t even wrap up one mass mur­der trial be­fore we have to be­gin pre­par­ing for the next one.

We learn noth­ing, it seems, from a mourn­ing process that’s be­come ob­scenely rou­tine — and never seems to move past plat­i­tudes to real soul-search­ing.

We’re stuck, for now, in a thicket of anger, pain and hope­less­ness.

It’s hor­ri­fy­ing to see a place of wor­ship turned into a tar­get, dot­ted with bul­lets and drenched in blood. And

I find it painful to ac­cept that some­one so young could hate us so much.

Ac­cord­ing to what we know about the mur­der sus­pect, Dy­lann Roof didn’t get along with his par­ents, wouldn’t stay out of trou­ble and couldn’t make it past ninth grade in two at­tempts.

Yet the 21-year-old knew enough about history to glo­rify the flags of African na­tions whose white su­prem­a­cist reigns ended be­fore he was born.

And he man­aged to choose a church that, for more than 200 years, has been an em­blem of African Amer­i­cans’ jour­ney from slav­ery to free­dom.

Roof may not be part of some or­ga­nized racist cam­paign, but he is a ter­ror­ist — just as cer­tainly as the Tsar­naev broth­ers were when they at­tacked the Bos­ton Marathon.

This time the en­emy is an Amer­i­can cre­ation: South­ern-bred and armed with a gun we made easy to get and an ide­ol­ogy we can’t seem to shake.

At the same time Wed­nes­day night that Roof was spray­ing bul­lets across the Bi­ble study class, I was watch­ing a se­ries of more or­di­nary shoot­ings recre­ated on the big screen, at a Los An­ge­les Film Fes­ti­val screen­ing of HBO’s “Re­quiem for the Dead: Amer­i­can Spring 2014.”

The doc­u­men­tary about gun vi­o­lence was cre­ated from “found footage”: fam­ily photos, Face­book posts, 911 record­ings, crime scene re­ports. It fo­cuses on eight of the more than 8,000 peo- ple killed by guns in this coun­try in just three months last year.

The movie isn’t preachy or po­lit­i­cal, but its sear­ing ex­am­ples make plain the toll guns take. It isn’t just the crim­i­nals or the cra­zies we should fear. It’s the power guns have to turn a brief flash of anger or a care­less ges­ture into a life­time of re­gret.

We meet the Army vet­eran who kills him­self and his wife be­cause she asked for a di­vorce. We see a bride be­come a widow on her wed­ding night, as the drive home takes the cou­ple into the path of a gang shootout. We feel the pain of an el­derly man whose gun dis­charges un­ex­pect­edly, send­ing a bullet through the bed­room wall and killing his wife of 50 years. We hear the an­guished cries of an 11-yearold who ac­ci­den­tally shot his best friend to death while show­ing off his fa­ther’s gun, which had been stored un­der the bed, un­locked.

The mes­sage of the film is more about gun safety than gun con­trol.

That’s be­com­ing the de­fault cam­paign in a coun­try too afraid of re­sis­tance by gun own­ers and sellers to tackle the need to re­duce the num­ber of weapons and reg­u­late who owns them.

At a panel dis­cus­sion af­ter the film, we talked about high-tech guns with trig­ger con­trols, gun-lock give­aways and so­cial pres­sure that would make care­less han­dling of weapons as un­ac­cept­able as driv­ing drunk.

I left there think­ing that might be good enough. Then I turned on my car ra­dio and heard about the

car­nage in Charleston.

Af­ter ev­ery mass shoot­ing, we say we’ve had enough, that this is when things change. But when the cry­ing lets up and the speech­mak­ing ends, our at­ten­tion wanes.

I’d like to think this will be a turn­ing point — but history won’t let me.

If the slaugh­ter of 20 first-graders didn’t out­rage us enough to win sup­port for gun con­trol, the mur­der of nine black peo­ple in church won’t move the nee­dle much.

I’m not sug­gest­ing that fewer guns would solve ev­ery­thing. This is about race, about hate, about weak­ness; about mak­ing ex­cuses for your own short­com­ings by blam­ing vic­tims whose skin color is the only thing you see.

It’s about the fear and ig­no­rance that draws blowhards to­ward racist ide­ol­ogy — and the cow­ardice that keeps de­cent peo­ple from call­ing them on it.

Two things will stick with me from this painful episode:

The re­gret among some of Roof ’s friends, who now say they should have seen this com­ing. His seg­re­ga­tion rants, racist jokes and threat­en­ing re­marks. His boasts about start­ing a new civil war. For sure, he was a racist, one friend told re­porters, “but I don’t judge peo­ple.”

The fam­i­lies and friends of those dead church­go­ers don’t judge peo­ple ei­ther. They showed up in court for Roof ’s bond hear­ing Fri­day, car­ry­ing loved ones’ pic­tures and of­fer­ing for­give­ness to the man who ended their lives.

“We wel­comed you Wed­nes­day night in our Bi­ble study with open arms,” said a woman who sur­vived Roof ’s rampage but watched him kill her son.

“You have killed some of the most beau­ti­fulest peo­ple I know,” she said, try­ing not to cry. “Ev­ery fiber in my body hurts and I will never be the same.

“But may God have mercy on you.”

HBO

A SCENE

Curtis Comp­ton At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion

ELAINE DAVIS, left, and Kim­mie Tom­lin­son em­brace at the side­walk me­mo­rial out­side Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on Fri­day. For more than 200 years, the church has been an em­blem of African Amer­i­cans’ jour­ney from slav­ery to free­dom.

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