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June 10, 2024

"I Shot My Parents"

By Fred Russell

Last night on cable TV I watched a BBC documentary called "I Shot My Parents" about a 14-year-old boy who walked into his parents' bedroom in the middle of the night and shot each of them three times in the head. This happened in Moses Lake, Washington in 2013. The boy, Nathon Brooks, was a seemingly cheerful, seemingly well-adjusted basketball star at the local high school. Under interrogation he cooked up a story about hearing screams, seeing a man moving through the house, and himself hiding until the coast was clear. When he was told that the security cameras in the house had picked him up running around in his underwear with a gun in his hand, he broke down and confessed, and though he couldn't say why he had shot them he did say that just before shooting his mother the thought had flashed through his mind that he didn't have to do what he was about to do and that afterwards, when he sat alone on the staircase, he understood that he had done something awful.

In fact, no one understood why he had done what he had done -- not the parents (who had miraculously survived, the mother with impaired vision, impaired hearing and impaired memory, the father fully recovered, at least physically), not the boy, not the boy's best friend, not the prosecutor, not the defense attorney. It was only the prison psychiatrist who was able to diagnose him as suffering from major depressive disorder after ruling out psychosis, adding that despite his happy-go-lucky reputation he was in fact an introvert with bottled-up emotions and, what is more, angry and resentful at recently being grounded at home. Zeroing in on a psychiatric cause conceivably made everyone a little happier -- the parents, who might have felt guilty about being too hard on him, and the boy, who was relieved to know that he wasn't "insane." The only question for the prosecutor was whether to try him as a juvenile or an adult. If convicted on two counts of attempted murder as a juvenile he would be out at the age of 21 and conceivably be a threat to the community. If convicted as an adult he would get 40 to 50 years. In the end the charge was pleaded down to assault with a deadly weapon and he got 15 1/2 years, reconciled now with his loving parents.

In all this, amazingly, it didn't occur to anyone, not once, to bring up what had actually induced the boy to shoot his parents, or why five are killed by their children every week in the United States, though the answer was staring them right in the face. The answer, of course, was that the house was full of guns. The boy was surrounded by them. Not too long ago he had shot his first deer. His mother had shot her first at the age of 12 and had her own muzzle-loading hunting rifle in the gun cabinet. This was a gun-toting family. Admittedly Nathon was upset, even agitated, but had there not been any guns in the house, you can be sure that it would never have occurred to him to shoot anyone.

How do these things work? When you have a problem you generally look for a solution, figuratively scrolling your way down an internalized menu that shows you the options. Someone, for example, who owes or needs a great deal of money will consider a number of such options. He can borrow the money he needs, steal it, work longer hours, spend a day at the racetrack, even commit suicide. What he chooses to do will be a function of practicability, temperament, values, etc. Similarly a teenager who has been grounded and is boiling over with anger and resentment will also consider a number of options, however fleetingly. These might include begging forgiveness, making promises, running away from home, giving his parents the silent treatment, and also committing suicide, depending on his character. Without the presence of a gun in the house, the shooting option will simply not come up.

We're all familiar with the debate. The gun lovers say that it isn't guns that kill, it's people who kill. The gun haters say that without the guns they wouldn't be killing anyone. To be honest I don't know what the specific retort is to the latter argument. Maybe the gun lovers say that if the criminals and maniacs didn't have the guns they'd find other ways to kill, which is doubtful in the vast majority of cases, though I will say that if guns had never been invented the gun lovers might very well be walking around with sticks of dynamite to throw at targets and animals and even prowlers. Then their 12-year-old children would be taught how to light the fuse and when to throw the thing so that it didn't explode in their faces. In any case, I do understand that if you took away the guns (or the sticks of dynamite) these people would feel great deprivation. The rest is bullshit. I mean the Second Amendment and self-defense. Trampling on the Constitution never bothered these freedom lovers when it came to African American civil rights or banning books, so why wake up now? As for self-defense, the idea that untrained civilians can outshoot armed criminals is preposterous, and a surefire recipe for disaster.

It is not my intention here to reiterate the gun control argument. What amazes me, again, is that while searching for an answer, it did not occur to a single one of the principals to note the fact that the availability of guns in the house was at the very least a contributing factor in the shooting. The gun culture that envelops places like Moses Lake is so pervasive that the act of shooting is as natural as turning on the TV or fiddling with the smartphone. It is always on the menu. It is always an option. That is where the problem begins.






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Fred Russell's latest book, Aerial Views: Three Sci-Fi Satires (Wapshott Press/Storylandia 23), takes a look at contemporary American society from a distance of 500,000 years.

Article © Fred Russell. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-06-18
Image(s) are public domain.
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