There are certain rules to urban life. There are places you don't go and times that you are not out and about the city streets. Follow the rules, and you can live a safe and prosperous life, even in a city with a high crime rate.
Not any more. Somebody has revoked the rules. Somebody has decided that there will be no safe place in the Washington, D.C. area. A man (we all know it's a man, don't we?) with a gun (a favorite kind of gun firing a favorite kind of bullet) has declared open season on humans in Washington.
Those of us who live here react like nothing so much as deer. The shooting on the night of Columbus Day set off a stampede of frightened deer-people rushing for safety, even though they could not be quite sure where was safe.
We deer-people go about our business with the awareness that we are being hunted. We don't know why we are being hunted. We have done nothing to deserve to be shot down while we haul our groceries or pump our gas. Nothing is rational about the hunter. The hunter just IS. If we are not careful, we'll become the next quarry, and the hunter rarely misses.
The problem, though, is that we simply cannot be careful enough. We must work, and eat, and gather provisions. Even the recluse comes out of the house once in a while. And who's to say but that the sniper won't start shooting into our homes, into our cars, and into our subways and buses?
An eerie quiet has settled over the city. People move quickly from one place to the next. Conversations on the street are furtive and hushed, and we look around us for signs of danger. We go about our forest of concrete, regarding warily every copse of trees and bushes large enough to conceal a man with a gun, looking for the mysterious white van that carries a killer. But trees and white vans are ubiquitous in the D.C. suburbs, so the angst never leaves us.
Our rational minds search for an understanding of who the hunter is, and why he is breaking the rules. The police (our game wardens) cannot be everywhere. They seemingly are reduced to listening for the next random shot, then racing to surround the hunter before he escapes.
Theories abound on what kind of person the hunter might be and why he has declared open season. His pattern of not hunting on Saturday or Sunday, each a holy day for one major religion or another, leads some to believe he might be a religious fanatic, perhaps an Al Qaida terrorist, or maybe a Jewish one, or maybe a Christian one.
Others say he takes weekends off in order to tend to a regular job, so we all puzzle over who, besides a student, only works weekends. Still others posit that he spends weekends watching the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC, the better to enjoy the fear he has created among the deer-people.
Perhaps he is Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh with patience and a gun. Perhaps he is part of a newly-activated "sleeper cell" of Muslim terrorists. Perhaps he is a Viet Nam veteran whose psyche was so damaged in the war that he thinks we all are Vietcong.
Perhaps he is a teen-ager who regards the shooting of humans as a game more vivid, thrilling, and satisfying than any computer game. Perhaps "he" is really "they." Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. The hunter leaves no signature, and so the deer-people do not even know what to look for and fear.
We all now are witness to the truly socio-pathic, the one who accepts no rules. Media "experts" debate whether there is something unique about the American culture that it should produce such a person, most concluding that the hunter is just a singular and unduplicated evildoer.
I don't buy it. Like all the rest of us, this person, I believe, is a product of our culture. Who really can be surprised that our culture can produce a killer without remorse? They abound in American history, and recent events demonstrate that they abound in the American present.
Ours is a violent culture with a violent history. The nation was born in violence, as any American Indian would tell you. That is hardly unique. The history of nations is that nations exist because they say they do and because they have the ability to do sufficient violence to force others to recognize their claim.
The American nation is more violent than most. We lead the "civilized" world in murders. We own more guns than any people, anywhere, ever have. Our tastes in television shows, movies, books, and even games tend sharply toward the violent.
Our entertainers mock our violent natures. "The Sopranos," for example, is not about Italian-Americans; it's about us, all of us. Few among us wouldn't like, at some level at some time, to be able to resolve our problems the way Tony Soprano does, with threats, intimidation, and violence.
Comedian George Carlin observes pungently: "We like war. We're a war-like people. And if you have brown people in your country, you better watch the f?- out!" Given the public support for an invasion of Iraq, it is very difficult to argue that Carlin is wrong.
Nor should it surprise anyone that our favorite sport is football. I watch it whenever I can, as do so many American males. Let's be honest about this. We like the violence of professional football. We like it when one player creams another, so long as it was a "fair" hit. (Tony Soprano would definitely agree.) The players are our modern gladiators, sacrificing their bodies for our entertainment. We applaud solemnly, and feel a little remorse, when one of them is wounded, perhaps grievously, and carried off on his shield.
For most of us, our need for violence is settled vicariously by watching movies and cop shows and the WWE and pro football. For some, seemingly some who are damaged or wounded in some profound and mysterious way, the fantasy is not enough. They fail to see, or at least fail to abide by, this violent society's rules about violence.
The difference between organized, lawful violence and socio-pathic violence perhaps is not so great as we would like to believe. If a mentally ill person is converted from merely troubled to amorally deadly by violent stimuli, our culture will continue to produce the likes of Timothy McVeigh, Ted Bundy, the killer-children of Columbine High, and the hunter of humans who now stalks and terrorizes the residents of our capital city.
I don't know that American cultural values are uniquely violent. Violence remains a regrettable part of the human condition from which we have not yet evolved, and perhaps never will. Our open society leaves us more vulnerable to determined killers, and the deaths of innocents are the price we pay. This hunter must be found and dispatched, and we deer-people will feel no sympathy for him when he is at last the prey.
For this killer is different. He does not kill for food or for money. He does not kill for God or country. He does not kill as part of some sexual perversity. He does not kill for revenge. He does not kill based on age, gender, or race. The hunter is more frightening than all of these. The hunter kills for sport.
Kevin Gover, a columnist for Indian Country Today, is a partner is the Washington, D.C. office of Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Mr. Gover's practice focuses on federal law relating to Indians and on Indian tribal law. He is the former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior.