The Right to Kill: Slights Real & Imagined

The Ten Commandments are explicit. Thou Shalt Not Kill. As Karen Armstrong notes in her monumental tome, A History of God, “scripture instructs us that whatsoever sheds human blood is regarded as if he had diminished the divine image.” It is, however, a commandment too often observed in the breach. Or, at the very least, a commandment defined by the human ability to make compromises with reality.

The Lies We Tell

Example: I strongly recall discussions about the War in Vietnam with the Jesuit priests at my undergraduate university. War is immoral, we argued. War is amoral, they replied. But abortion? Not so much. We bring our prejudices and perform moral jujitsu to enforce them.

And so it is in the contemporary debate about crime, gun violence and the “right” to kill.

Example: As historian Colin Woodward notes in a recent Politico article, “In May 2022, hours after 19 children were murdered at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott swatted back suggestions that the state could save lives by implementing tougher gun laws by proclaiming ‘Chicago and L.A. and New York disprove that thesis.'”

Courtesy: Nationhood Lab/Motivf (2023)

Governor Abbott was (and remains) sadly mistaken. Texas (and Florida) have per capita firearm death rates that are three to four times higher than New York’s (shown as New Netherland on the above map).

New York has a gun death rate of 3.8 per 100,000

To get to his statistical gloss, Abbott had to find even bigger numbers.

So he relied on absolute numbers. Because, of course, locations with higher population tend to have higher absolute numbers. But that’s not what counts when honest statistical debate is at stake. What actually counts are per-capita numbers.

Which is not to say Abbott’s absolute numbers are useless. They work best for performative agendas. Hence, Rep. Jim Jordan (R. Ohio) travelled to New York City rather than Columbus, Ohio, when he wanted to amplify crime statistics. Just for starters, Columbus, Ohio — which is adjacent to his congressional district — has much higher per-capita gun death rates than New York. Given the opportunity, we all love lies, damned lies and statistics.

Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati have rates of 13.5 gun deaths, 16.8 gun deaths, and 15.0 gun deaths per 100,000 people, respectively.

Every Stat, Gun Violence in Ohio

A Culture of Violence?

The Nationhood Lab study, referenced above, reveals a ghastly persistence in American gun deaths across time. And amid that persistence, the Deep South has one of the highest rate of gun deaths among major regions. (Only Alaska Native areas are higher.) You might ask, why? There are, it turns out, profound cultural influences at work.

In a 1993 study of geographic violence, social psychologist Richard Nisbett, from the University of Michigan, noted the cultural antecedents of those who settled the Deep South. Much of the region, Nisbett wrote, was settled by “swashbuckling Cavaliers of noble or landed gentry status, who took their values… from the knightly, medieval standards of manly honor and virtue.”

These southern regions developed what scholars call a “culture of honor tradition” in which males fiercely guard their honor and believe it can be diminished if an insult, slight or wrong are ignored. “Arguments over pocket change or popsicles in these Southern cultures can result in people getting killed,” notes psychologist Dov Cohen of a 1996 cross-cultural study that included male students from southern regions, “but what’s at stake isn’t the popsicle, it’s personal honor.”

Remember the duels that scattered through our early history? Remember Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton? Somehow I recall a famous musical… Is it any wonder why this region is one of the leading exponents of “stand your ground?”

Kill Kill Kill

It isn’t only the South, of course. As the map below demonstrates, people kill people with guns almost everywhere. And big cities seem to stand out. That said, remember your statistics.

Courtesy Nationhood Lab (2023)

In recent months, guns were used to kill six at a Nashville Christian school. A firearm was used to kill five at a Louisville, Kentucky, bank. Four were shot and killed at a sweet sixteen birthday party in rural Alabama. Teens were shot for accidentally ringing the wrong doorbell (Kansas City) or getting into the wrong car (suburban Texas). A young man executed his parents and two family friends in rural Maine. And, yes, a woman was killed for turning into the wrong driveway in rural Hebron, New York. These last two incidents were in Yankeetown, where gun homicides are considerably more rare.

Oh no… Are we all turning into swashbuckling Cavaliers?

Copyright Leland E. Hale (2023). All rights reserved.

Leland E. Hale

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Order my latest book, “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE. True crime from Epicenter Press about Alaska’s Worst Unsolved Mass Murder.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *