It's OK, but just this once

BY DAVID ENDERS
Weird science
Published October 31, 2002

It's Halloween and because I waited to start my midterm papers until two days after they were due, thinking about a costume wasn't my first priority this week. So I need a costume, quickly. Is it too soon to go as a sniper?

Paul Wong
David Enders

I can only assume at least a few partygoers (probably students from the D.C. area) would be offended. But doesn't everyone's Halloween need a little controversy? (Last year the debate was whether it was too soon to go as Osama bin Laden, but the idea was scrapped as a threat to my safety.) Of course, I would ask anyone taking issue with my costume to justify their sense of aesthetics. I expect anyone offended would also be in favor of stricter gun control. Murders are going to happen when your country is full of easy-to-obtain, hard-to-trace guns. But, as the argument against stricter gun laws goes, it is your constitutional right to be shot in the back while loading groceries into your car in a suburban parking lot. (On a positive note, I understand the friends and family of Charlton Heston are all a little safer now that he can no longer remember where he left his gun.)

If you're offended by the notion of senseless killing, then you should be offended by the early push to try sniping suspect Lee Malvo in Virginia because capital punishment laws there allow the execution of 17-year-olds. (Capital punishment is a pointless, vengeful solution to an irreparable crime. If one follows the logic that supports it, convicted rapists should be subjected to state-sanctioned raping. Use your imagination to deduce the likely penalties for a number of other crimes.)

So it can only follow that if you support the death penalty, you support the sniper. One life is not worth more than another. But if that is even remotely true, why is it so many states have the death penalty? It's because people are often unwilling to commit absolutely to an ideal. I find many death penalty "opponents" fall into the camp of being against the death penalty "in general" yet acceptant of it "in extreme circumstances." They cite things like victim's rights or the unbelievably horrific nature of a particular crime. Those middling feelings are as responsible for the carnage that goes on as National Rifle Association lobbyists and people who openly support the death penalty. Every time the execution of a Timothy McVeigh is justified, the justice system that allows unjust punishment to be unevenly applied is legitimized.

It should be noted that such waffling prevents progress in other arenas. A number of people have let themselves fall into the trap of "normally I'm against going to war, but Saddam Hussein is such a bad man that it's justifiable," in remaining quiet in the face of a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In a war that could result in the same number of reservists being called up as in the Gulf War, there would be a number of U.S.-caused, civilian casualties. What is the difference between an Iraqi citizen killed by a U.S. missile and an Iraqi killed by Hussein's regime for political reasons?

Once again, the voices too afraid to dissent are just as complicit as those hastily making plans for war or those who tow the line "we have to trust our government." Where has the dissent gone? Why all the reverence for this sense of militaristic justice and state-sanctioned murder? There is no lack of irreverence in our country. (Could it be that the same culture that makes "Jackass" a No. 1 movie is unwilling to apply that same attitude toward politics? We know we shouldn't light fireworks in our parents' bedroom, but isn't dissent an essential part of democracy?)

I am taking a class this semester that focuses on the U.S. prison industry. For nearly the first two months of class, no one addressed the subject of race in discussions on incarceration. Poverty had been addressed at length, sans race. Was the class (comprised largely of white students) afraid of bringing up the subject? Were we so na