Numbing statistics add to the horror of wanton killings

This column appears in the March 21, 2009 edition of the Daily Journal. Give your opinion below in the comments.

I chose the movie “In Bruges” because I’ve been to Bruges, and, as one character in the film repeatedly says, “It is a fairy-tale town.”

I wanted to see once again those lazy canals that run like silk thread between storybook buildings of Flemish architecture. I remembered swans, and a lovely, misty city that looked like a painting by Vandyke, who actually hailed from there.

The movie showed all of the above, including swans, plus, as a bonus, scene after scene of fantastically bloody, inexplicable if not entirely gratuitous violence. It was one long coroner’s inquest. The acting was good, and I took the theme to be something about honor among thieves. Even so, I spent most of the two hours trying not to look at bloody Bruges.

The news lately could be made into a movie called “In Alabama.” There was, in real life, the same incongruous bloody horror as there had been in the Bruges movie. Only this time the violence was not only on a screen, but in small Southern towns I’ve heard of all my life.

The plot made just as much sense. A young man – as always is the case in such cases, described by neighbors as previously “quiet” – was running around shooting others.

First this month, there had been the Illinois church killing; a stranger to a congregation marches up and cold-bloodedly kills the preacher. Then, in a horrible case of murdering one-upmanship a few days later, an angry Alabama son kills his mother, an assortment of relatives, plus random strangers across two counties and several towns.

The statistics flew like bullets. There were four guns and 200 rounds of ammunition. The death total eventually came to 11, including the gunman, who, right on cue, killed himself.

The poor police chief from the small South Alabama town of Samson looked shellshocked. He said the mad gunman had weapons his police department did not. The murderer also had a list of those who had done him wrong. Many of us carry a list like that in our heads; we don’t put it in our vehicle next to our four guns.

You think of the irony in that gruesome movie about the lovely medieval town of Bruges. You’re much more likely to get shot in the U.S. than Belgium, but then I’m sure that was a conscious decision on the producers’ part, the point of choosing that particular location. You don’t want, say, Belfast for your murderous rampage. You want sleepy Bruges. Anyone can imagine violent shooting deaths in Los Angeles or Atlanta. But Bruges and Samson?

I couldn’t help but remember that back during the primaries President Barack Obama narrowly escaped becoming political history when he made that ill-advised remark about yokels in the hinterlands clinging to their guns. Ah, the outrage.

It has become political suicide for a Democratic candidate to endorse any form or fashion of controlling guns. It’s a dead – pardon the word choice – issue. The National Rifle Association and its powerful lobbying force saw to that.

A “liberal” candidate, in fact, must bend over backward to appear gun-friendly, embracing responsible gun ownership by people who want only to hunt or defend themselves. Even in the face of campus massacres or South Alabama rampages, it’s not politically feasible to mention limiting firearms. If you forget, you won’t be elected to dog-catcher.

In Bruges. In Alabama. Crazy people are toting. And it seems, on screen and off, that’s irreversible fact, not fiction.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

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