Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On the Existence of Evil

Dear Mackenzie,

Good and decent people find it very difficult to process the notion that evil exists in the world.

A few days ago, a gunman walked into a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado where a packed house had come to watch the newest installment in the “Batman” series.  According to news reports the gunman walked in, surveyed the theater and the people in it, and walked back out. Moments later he returned wearing full body armor and holding a semi-automatic assault rifle and various other weapons. He tossed some tear gas canisters into the crowd, and then opened fire.

By the time he exited the theater and waited by his car for police to arrest him, more than a dozen innocent people were dead and fifty more were injured. From what has been revealed so far, when the police went to the gunman’s apartment they found that it was booby trapped with explosives and the like, designed to kill whoever walked through his door.

Once they arrested him, ABC News called the man’s mother in San Diego to get some information and confirm identity. She didn’t hesitate.  “You have the right person,” she told them.

You have the right person? I can imagine your mom might say several things in response to a call like that, Mackenzie, but “you have the right person” isn’t in the universe of them.  Did she know of her son’s proclivity to evil?  Should or could she have done something about it if she did? I don’t know. The mother later recanted the statement and said she had been quoted out of context.

The stories of the victims of the Aurora tragedy are beyond sad.  Veronica Moser, who had gone to the movie with her pregnant mom, was only six years old when she died. Her mother is now paralyzed. Twenty-five year old Jon Blunk died when he heroically covered his girlfriend with his own body and the bullets hit him instead. He was one of three young men who died in this courageous fashion, saving someone they loved.

Jessica Ghawi had moved from Toronto to Aurora less than a year ago.  Last June, she had survived a killing spree in a mall in Toronto. She had written a blog shortly thereafter commenting about “how fragile life is” and how lucky she was to be alive and able to pursue her dreams. She was twenty-four yeas old. The stories, and the tears, go on and on. What does it all mean?

The tragedy has ignited yet another nationwide debate about gun control. Initial reports indicate that the gunman had bought the assault rifle, various other guns, explosives, and more than six thousand (!) rounds of ammunition, completely legally. Six thousand rounds, and no one raised an eyebrow.

Advocates of more stringent gun control laws believe that the perpetrator’s ability to get such firepower so easily made this tragedy and other similar ones more common.  They also argue that the second amendment is no longer relevant or necessary in today’s world because these days our militias are very well armed and prepared.

Opponents of gun control argue that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”.  They also argue that the bill of rights is sacrosanct and that as part of the bill of rights, curtailing the right to bear arms must withstand the strictest of scrutiny.

Both sides are right.  It’s unlikely that if the founding fathers were writing the constitution today the right to bear arms would find its way into the bill of rights. And what are the odds that the bill of rights would protect the ability of an ordinary citizen to buy and carry around an AK-47?

At the same time, it’s too easy to simply lay blame for this horrible event at the feet of the NRA. This gunman was smart, deliberate, malignant and well prepared.  Guns. Bombs. Tear gas. Dynamite.  He had them all. One way or another he would have found a way to act out and kill his prey. Lunacy and evil are not the purview of the NRA.

The tragedy has also re-ignited the debate about violence in movies and in the media generally.  No doubt both sides of the debate will make worthwhile arguments. Similarly, experts on human psychology are turning over everything from this guy’s baby food to the information on his dating websites to try and make heads or tails of what went down.

What caused this highly intelligent young man with no known history of violence or of trouble with the law to randomly go berserk on a group of innocent people? So far no one can tell.

What all of these debates miss is a simple and scary truth. Some people are simply evil and there is no rational explanation for their bad deeds. There are some 310 million people in the United States, all of whom had pretty much the same access as this killer to assault rifles, to tear gas and to violent movies. Yet 99.999999999% of them haven’t shot up a movie theater, or a school, or a mall, or even a mouse. 

As a society, we feel a need to analyze what happened from a thousand different angles specifically because we can’t fathom that a similar being could possibly do something so horrible. But the fact that most of us can’t comprehend this sort of pure evil is good news.  It simply means most of us are not.

There is evil in the world, my sweet daughter.  Ultimately neither gun control nor G rated movies can defend against it. The most you can do is acknowledge it, stay out of its path, and hope it doesn’t find you when you least expect it.

All my everlasting love,



  1. Very good post. Very good points. And, this being the first post I've read of yours, I gotta say that I love the idea of the blog itself, writing letters to your daughter. Genius.

    I'll keep reading here. Thanks for sharing it with me. @MatthewSCoker

    1. Thank you so much. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the other posts as well.