You can’t ask why, until you ask “Who?”
And then, you start digging deeper.
What could possibly be the motivation for shooting people in the back while they pray at a mosque, as happened in Quebec City on Sunday night? How could this happen? Who could do it?
But I think we have to start looking at the why in a different way, and knock one reason for mass shootings right off of the map.
So often, so very often, mass killings are the result of small people — usually small, petty and frustrated men — with large-calibre, large-magazine weapons.
Often, they are people who are marginalized by society, and seem intent on forcing us to know both their frustrations and their names. “You’ll remember my name — you’ll remember what I did” seems to be entrenched in their actions.
Truth is, I don’t care about their names. They could be “Shooter 1” or “Shooter 25252.”
By all means, we should look at the root causes of attacks. We should try to understand what forces of hate cause people to take violent action against strangers or even members of their own families, what their motivations and triggers were, where and how they got access to their weapons and ammunition — above all, what we can change to make such attacks less likely.
Root causes are fine, but let’s get rid of the trees: let’s stop mythologizing murderers.
Heck, other than in the courts, let’s stop naming them altogether.
Two people were detained after a mass shooting at a mosque; as I write this, their roles in the shooting are in flux. Police have said one is a suspect, the other, a witness who has since been released.
But here’s the real story: a university professor was shot down. A shopkeeper and a butcher. Normal, everyday people who you might pass on the street without even a thought, just normal people at worship.
In Quebec City, community leaders did something quickly and powerfully on Monday: they held a news conference, including Muslim leaders, and asked the media to tell the stories of the victims as individuals.
They shouldn’t have to ask.
By all means, let’s hear their stories. Let’s hear about their triumphs and successes, about their worlds and their families and their places in all of that.
Let’s hear that about victims generally. Tell the story about a woman killed by her partner by telling me about her dreams and aspirations and loves. Let me mourn for the loss of her plans and her life. Honestly, I don’t want to see a single story about her killer’s world; that’s a footnote. If he’s still alive, let him rot in anonymity in jail. If he’s dead, let him be both dead and nameless.
I want to know what the world has lost. I want anyone who would think of committing a similar act to realize that what matters to the rest of us is the people who futures have been snuffed out, and the damage that causes to everyone who has been left behind.
Why can’t we identify and mourn valuable, innocent people whose lives have been taken, and leave the identities of their killers on the dust-heap of history?
Myself? I’ve heard far too much already over the years about pathetically small men and their big guns. Let them have the invisibility they truly deserve.
Everyone will know your name? No.
They’ll know that a small and petty person has senselessly taken lives that actually had value.
Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @Wangersky.