A connection of mine posted the following to Facebook today:
I'm sure the people that write these fables (and yes, I don't think this is actually true) think they're being clever. But this is an example of what I wrote about the other day when I argued that Guns Don't Kill People, Ideas Kill People.
I've no doubt that a number of people will read this little vignette and think, "Yeah, right on! That'll show 'em!" They'll feel a warm, emotional glow of self-satisfaction as they bask in reflected self-righteousness. But in point of fact, this is a parable of barbarity. A society that actually worked this way would only be described as barbaric.
I will say, as a side note, that the person who posted this story is a church-going Christian who is proud of his/her faith. I apparently missed the part of the Gospel where Jesus commanded us to shoot thieves in the back.
The barbarity of this response - you stole my purse, therefore you deserve to die at my hand - can be clearly seen both in our own laws and in how we view other societies. In other parts of the world, people are shot or stoned for adultery, or their hands are cut off for stealing, and we call them uncivilized. In our own set of laws, a convicted thief is sentenced to jail, not to death - even the most ardent death-penalty advocates have never suggested that it be extended to purse-snatching.
"Hey," some will argue. "It's just a joke. Lighten up!" But it's not just that I fail to see the humor in jokes about killing purse-snatchers. The ideas contained in humor are serious, and they effect our behavior. Not so long ago, jokes about lynching blacks were widespread in the American South - and so were actual lynchings. Do we find it acceptable to joke about rape? About domestic violence? So why is this funny?
Most of the people who kill with guns feel quite justified in doing so. Yes, some of them are mentally ill - but even they have to get their ideas from somewhere. And many are not - there are thousands of gun murders per year in the US, and in nearly all cases the shooter felt perfectly justified despite being apparently sane. Those feelings of justification don't come out of nowhere - they are a part of our society, woven into our conversations and our collective consciousness, just like the "joke" above making its way around the internet.
If you want to live in a society where you can use deadly force to "defend" yourself any time you like, may I suggest relocating to Afghanistan or Somalia. If you want to live in a society of laws and civilization and a chance at peace, help stamp out these ideas. In the end, getting rid of our gut-level "justifications" for shooting is the only way to move towards genuine peace.