I lost one of my closest childhood friends as a result of gun violence.
Driving to my office on a beautiful summer morning in the early seventies the news flash interrupted my thoughts. “Quincy businessman, Sidney Budheimer, was found by his wife and son in a pool of blood, dead on the floor of his den.” Sidney, we called him Buddy, was my best friend in fourth grade.
Buddy’s telephone was still clutched in his hand. In the early morning hours, a killer was lying in wait in the bushes obscuring Budheimer’s den window. He fired his double barreled shotgun only two feet from Buddy’s head.
His wife cried and screamed, “My husband has no face!”
I was shocked but not surprised by the news. My first reaction, so soon? We just talked a couple of weeks ago.
I got a call from the Budster (his nickname during the years growing up in the streets of Boston in the 30s and 40s). Though less friendly recently we did touch bases occasionally. Buddy was spoiled rotten by his successful father, Buddy was sickly during school years and missed a lot of education. The Budster shielded his lack of intellect by a volatile and explosive, sometimes nasty, personality. We shared a bachelor pad for a short while before I married and afterward I decided it best to keep an arm’s length relationship with him.
He wanted to meet me for lunch at Locke Ober’s. I could tell from his voice he was in trouble.
“Hi Bud. What’s up? Sorry I haven’t called -- been very busy lately.”
“What’s up Jake? I’ll tell you what’s up. They’re going to kill me.”
“Who’s going to kill you?”
Knowing that the Budster always had a penchant for gambling, I had a sense where this was going. “The mob? What mob?”
“I ran up a big tab on gambling junkets to Las Vegas and through their local race track associates they told me either pay up or they want half my business. I gave them half of my operation and signed a million dollar life insurance partnership policy. They’re going to kill me to collect.”
Still thinking this was high drama Budster, I said, “Why can’t you reason with them? They need you to run Metro (his business) and work out a plan to repay your debt. I wish I could help you but I’m fairly committed at the present. Maybe I can come up with a few hundred if that will help.”
“A few hundred? I need half a mil. And fast.”
“Bud. Get out of town and let things cool down.”
“It’s too late. They’ll find me.”
I got up to leave and calmly told him to either face the issue head on or leave town.
That was the last time I saw the Budster. He was forty-three, a wife, children and two weeks to live. I think everyone knew he was not a nice person; nasty to family and employees. From childhood he never thought about consequences of his actions. The last Saturday night of his life I heard he went to a dinner-dance at his club and went from table to table telling everyone of his plight and all turned their back on him. Did he deserve to be gunned down? Probably not. He had everything to live for but he was too stupid to realize it.
Time has passed and now I am in my eighties with grandsons. Of course I am concerned with gun violence. I hope for reasonable gun control laws but at this time that does not seem to be happening in our country. I have owned handguns and rifles in my early life and enjoyed their use. In my personal history I experienced the killing of one person to now being concerned with killings of groups.
The word massacre is defined as the “killing of a number of human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty.”
Since people killing people is as old as human existence itself, it should be no mystery why some people kill and others do not. Good people will not commit a heinous act. There seems to be a tipping point in the human psyche where most are able to step back from violence. We possibly can predict with some success who will transit that tipping point and become a threat to society but we can’t know when and where it will happen.
Massacre is still rare even in the fog of war but recently becoming less so. I remember most of the mass murderers dating back to Richard Spec and his cowardly murder of eight student nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital as they slept in their dormitory in 1966.
Some massacres are the result of religious fanaticism but, in my humble opinion, all are mindless acts of anti-social and malcontent behavior.
I have read much of Freud’s writing on human behavior but fail to see the connection between a planned massacre and insanity. I do not think insane people are capable of carrying out a massacre with guns. It is fundamentally complicated and requires careful planning. It takes a reasonably organized person with rational thought to put together the financing, acquisition of and training on the weapons of intended use.
At an early time in my life I visited an insane asylum in Boston with a sociology student I was dating. I saw insane men and women pacing back and forth in their cages naked and screaming as they tore their flesh apart; wallowing in their excrement, then throwing it at anyone walking by. I may be simplifying my observation but somehow I don’t see insane people on the other end of an AK-47. At the core I believe bad people are the problem and since they are always among us we have to remain vigilant and try to keep deadly weapons out of their hands.
These are my thoughts on massacre, but what about others, more knowledgeable who make a living thinking and writing on the human condition.
For some perspective I chose a master essayist of the twentieth century. W. H. Auden wrote about society and morality and the human condition in his classic essay “My Belief” in 1939 on the eve of World War II. Though written at another time his observations are quite relevant today. Auden wrote, “Men are born neither free nor good. . . , A society consists of certain numbers of individuals living in a particular way, in a particular place, at a particular time, nothing else.. . . If we look at a community at any given moment, we see that it consists of good men and bad men, clever men and stupid men, sensitive and insensitive, law-abiding and lawless, rich and poor.” The view of society and government develops from many factors. Auden saw the world in terms of “good and bad, moral and immoral.”
In a recent article on the subject of massacre by David Brooks of the New York Times, “When the Good do Bad” March 19, 2012, took the approach that evil lurks in the genome system and can surface at any given moment and a person may commit horrible acts of violence.
Allen Frances, Psychiatrist and Professor Emeritus, Duke University takes issue with Brooks. In his article, ”Mass Murder Psychobabble Misses Gun Policy Point” August 3, 2012, Frances sees mass murder as a product of sociologic derangements. Where Brooks looks to psychological remedies Frances looks to a more enlightened public policy dealing with gun violence issues. He writes, “There is no indication that psychiatry can change the statistics of violence or the proclivity of the violent. We need to look instead to sociological data and their policy implications. Statistics tell us that we have a saturation of extraordinarily deadly weapons unparalleled in our history and unique in the developed world and simultaneously that we also have the highest rates of gun related injuries. The burden of proof is on those who refute the seemingly obvious causal connection and to deny its policy implications.”
I agree with Frances’ position. Good people do not do bad things; only bad people do evil things.
The recent orange-haired Colorado killer will get his day in court. He will plead for his life even while taking the lives of many innocent people. We are a compassionate society and perhaps a strong attorney will help the judge or jury render a verdict which will spare his life or maybe the court will invoke the death penalty. I hope the insanity defense will not sway anyone.