Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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I read that a murder takes place every 28 minutes in the United States. Which seems very frequent: two real people in less time than it takes for Kojak to get his man/woman. Guns, of course, are the overwhelmingly favorite means of dispatch, and within this family of ballistics, genus handgun, species revolver and pistol, the trusty six-shooter is the hands above the head winner. Which is not to editorialize in favor of the twenty-five dollar phallic symbol, as there are many other equally efficient and often less costly instruments of destruction. There are more than a few devotees of the knife; in the Philippines (as a National Rifle Association circular once informed me) the blade is preferred three to one.
Well! There is a little point in attempting to list them all, human ingenuity being what it is. The point is that once every 28 minutes, Gary Gilmore or no, another poor soul is elevated to the ranks of “Dearly Departed.”
I suppose, because I mentioned Gary Gilmore in the same sentence as “every 28 minutes,” you expect me to go on about how capital punishment is not a deterrent to murder. No thanks. Arguments of this sort are invariably boring and sometimes fatal depending upon how deeply your adversary holds his conviction. In the interest of self-preservation I am willing to believe the contention of the more urbane capital punishment proponents who claim that deterrence is an intangible factor not open to measurement. To wit: There is no way of knowing how many people have been deterred from murder in fear of losing their own life.
Sure. I’ll believe that. By the same token I am willing to believe that smoking marijuana deters Zoltan and his rings of Saturn space raiders from parking in your backyard. Gilmore was simply an unsettling aberration, what with his moth-like fascination with flames darting from rifle-bored candles. Best we leave capital punishment alone as a topic.
A friend and I accidentally hit upon what may be a more sane manner in which to deal with this problem. As with most of our greater inspirations this notion was coaxed forth with a little help from our good friend Jack Daniel’s, which accounts for the childish number of exclamation points after the title. We called it, and I pass it on in faithful reproduction:
We decided that short of separating the fire from the arms, which would be an act of divine interdiction, and in the face of the fact that no punishment, no matter how cruel and unusual, keeps people from killing others, the country might as well legislate the act and make a few dollars on it. A joke . . . right?
Well, it started out as simply a bad one, but recent history has shown how even the worst of jokes can grow up to be president, and this one just wouldn’t go away either.
“Free Kill.” Just imagine. Part of every citizen’s inalienable birthright the freedom to off one other soul. Not for a moment were we thinking in terms of carte blanche chaos. We were searching for the civilized solution which obviously does not lie in demolition derbies of mayhem. Keep it simple. One kill. For free.
It is at least worth considering. It seemed to me drunk and even more so sober that one of the main reasons people get killed is because they simply don’t think it will happen to them. At least half the deaths are “crimes of passion,” rage instantaneous and insane; well over half involve people who know one another. Strangers kill, but friends do so more often. People yell at each other, cheat, lie, steal, give one another the finger. Insults great and small, casual and serious and on occasion, terminal. The element of uncertainty exists, but it is rarely conscious until too late.
Free kill would change all of that. The bully at the beach would henceforth kick sand at great risk as would the after-dark Lotheros who cruise the streets hassling strolling women: “Honk, Honk! ‘Hey, baby. Wanna ride?’ ” “Pow!” The sport of pulling wings off insects does not extend to wasps and hornets.
On the surface this would seem to make for a very bloody daily existence, but remember the catch .22 caliber, one free kill. The first one you walk away from; aggress a second time and the State either steps in or signs up some of the disappointed volunteers from Utah to pull the trigger.
Good things and bad to say about such a crazy idea. Those in favor of capital punishment would have a deterrent about as effective as the looneytoons laws now in effect that proscribe death to some but not all killers. Justice would be on the street, the lesson available for all to ponder. After an initial flurry as old grudges are settled and the newspapers run separate editions just to carry the obits, a level of cautious calm might descend as people begin to realize that once they have used their violent option they are at the mercy of those who have been more frugal and less quick to anger. At the least it would be a welcome reversal. One real enemy would be all you could afford and even that might be more than you want.
Naturally, the idea is totally impractical in this real world of ours. Certain functions are sovereign to the State, foremost among which is the right to contravene the few civilized habits we have picked up in our journey from the trees, through the savannah and finally into the city. This is as it should be; having swarmed nature under, the State has won the right to alter evolutionary laws, to cull the herd of those it deems unfit, unable to adapt to the new order: Individual killing individual = murder; group killing group = holy war; group killing individual = the new order.