Early yesterday morning, a man wielding an AK-47-type assault rifle killed two of his co-workers at the Old Bridge, New Jersey Pathmark supermarket, and then shot himself to death with a .45-caliber pistol. The senseless killings reverberated well beyond the township of Old Bridge, especially to those who were raised there and still have friends there, including me. My family moved to Old Bridge when I was little more than a year old, and remained there until my senior year of college. I, like the two victims, graduated from High School in Old Bridge, and many of my former classmates and their families continue to reside there.
I am told that one of my former classmates is the mother of the young man who was killed by the gunman. I am also informed that one of my former classmates is the aunt of the young girl who was killed by the gunman, an 18-year old who was working her first overnight shift at the Pathmark, a girl who was a 2012 graduate of the High School. Words cannot express the feelings of loss and shock with which those families must be grappling. While little can be said to console the families, a candlelight vigil was held last night in front of the High School, and there is little doubt that my old hometown will pull together to support the families of those lost in the rampage.
This should be the story. The story of this shooting, and the cautionary warnings that should inevitably follow, should focus on those lost – of the recent High School graduate who was set to, as one friend stated, “begin her life”, and of the 24-year old man with an affinity for punk rock music and writing. Yes, the newspaper and internet accounts describe the victims and their lives. But far more of the press, as is always the case, has been focused on the shooter. And this is where three large issues will (or should) emerge: 1) the desire to ban automatic weapons; 2) proper treatment of our returning veterans who exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, and 3) the actions that should or could be taken against someone based on twitter or other social media statements.
The first is simple. Despite the reluctance of our major political players to offend the NRA and call for an end to the sale of such weaponry, there has been a groundswell of public opinion in favor of eliminating the availability of AK-47s and other guns that, quite simply, have no purpose other than the killing of many people at one time. One does not need such a weapon for self-defense. New Jersey has already banned the sale of such weapons, but they are readily available, it appears, in neighboring states such as Pennsylvania. The call for the banning of such weapons grew to a roar after the recent “Dark Knight” shootings in Colorado, and should reach deafening levels after yesterday’s senseless murders. There is no valid reason for members of the public to possess such guns.
In his keynote speech the other night, NJ Governor Chris Christie stated that it was time for politicians for both parties to stop making decisions just to be “popular”. Clearly, this is one of those times. Even if it means possible defeat in the next elections, all politicians should tell the NRA, despite its status as one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the US, that enough is enough and that automatic and semi-automatic weapons have no place in our society. Logically, if both President Obama and Republican nominee Romney publically denounce the NRA and call for an end to assault weapons, then where will the gun lobbyists place their vote? Ted Nugent?
The second issue is more difficult to track. The shooter in this case was an ex-Marine who, according to reports, was described as suffering from “major depression” at the time of his discharge. Despite this notation in his discharge papers, there is no indication of any follow-up by the military or government as to his mental well-being during his re-assimilation into society. All too often, we hear of veterans, especially those who have served our country proudly in the various conflicts in which we have been engaged over the past several years, returning to their civilian lives and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or some other form of difficulties. Despite the numerous reports, it appears that the burden of dealing with these issues falls overwhelmingly on those veterans and their families. Relying on those individuals to seek help is not enough. A better outreach program must be put into place in order to facilitate a more orderly transition back into “civilian” life, a program which should continue for all veterans in need of assistance. It would be hard for anyone to argue with such programs as an effective use of our tax dollars.
Lastly, there is the twitter issue. The front page of today’s Newark Star-Ledger contains the following headline and sub-headline:COPS: EVERYBODY WAS A TARGET
Discharged Marine kills two Pathmark co-workers, self three years after he tweeted about shooting rampages
The article on page two of the paper contains this headline:
Twitter posts foreshadow slayingsEach article details various “tweets” made by the shooter during his time in the marines, back in 2009. The “tweets” referenced in the article speak of murder and killing sprees, including one in which he wrote “is it normal to want to kill ALL of ur coworkers? Maybe but I’m actually in a position where I can …”
A quick confession is in order here. My personal belief is that there are a scant few things in this world more unnecessary than twitter. There is no need for us to instantly know the thoughts of others, especially when the thoughts are ones that a person, thinking rationally, would simply recant a few minutes or seconds later. The world does not require minute-by-minute updates or photos of how Kim Kardashian is encasing her ample posterior; the world does not need to know the instant thoughts of athletes or other celebrities about political events of which they have no real knowledge (for those who recall the Steelers’ Rashad Mendenhall’s tweet which denounced the killing of Osama bin Laden); and, most importantly, the world does not need to know the second-by-second thoughts of our nation’s teenagers. Facebook (and, yes, blogging) is self-aggrandizing enough for most people. The need to “tweet” one’s unfiltered thoughts, vacuous though they may be, to tens, thousands, or hordes of “followers” is a need that should be suppressed as much as possible.
Moreover, if the twitter posts foreshadow possible danger to others or criminal activity, such as today’s paper screams, then what action, if any, should be taken against the tweeter?
One exception to the attorney-client privilege is that an attorney can alert local law enforcement or other authorities if he or she believes that a client will commit, in the future, a criminal act, such as murder. That being the case, shouldn’t there be a similar responsibility on behalf of the lords of twitter? Perhaps, had that been done here or in other reported cases where would-be criminals “tweeted” their intentions, the blood-letting could have been averted.
This would be too burdensome, many will argue, that you could not have the police investigate every time someone tweeted an ominous or threatening message. True. Perhaps, however, the possibility of law enforcement intervention would make individuals more hesitant to tweet such messages, and would make the recipients of such tweets more acutely aware of their possible responsibility to report such messages to the proper authorities. If one rampage can be averted, it will be well worth the effort to those who are spared.
Then again, one could easily argue that relying on three-year old tweets is a bit of a stretch. It would have been difficult to monitor this individual for the entire time since his messages were sent, it would follow, so the incident could not have been averted. Perhaps, however, if someone had alerted his superiors to his tweets back in 2009, his issues could have been better dealt with, both during and after his military service, and the two other residents of Old Bridge would still be alive today.
Better yet, just get rid of twitter. The loss of twitter would no doubt be less of a loss to society than those we lost yesterday morning.