In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, pundits are looking at the perpetrator’s history of torturing and killing animals, including maiming, crushing, and shooting. But not because they necessarily care about animals.

An OpEd in the Washington Post summarizes the true concern:

Inevitably, a mass shooting is followed by a public account of the ‘warning signs’ the killer may have evinced in the months and years before the attack… One of the most common, though — hurting animals — is also the only one that is sometimes illegal and, therefore, the only one that could theoretically be used to bring troubled youths into the mental and criminal justice systems before they do something horrible.

Before? It might not be too late to prevent them from doing “something horrible to people” and that, of course, is worth doing. But by the time they torture animals, it is too late to prevent them from doing “something horrible.” By torturing and killing animals, they already have.

We should care about getting these perpetrators into “the mental and criminal justice systems,” not just to prevent future violence to members of our own species, but to prevent violence towards animals, too.

In no way is this meant to take away from the immense and unimaginable suffering in places like Parkland, Sandy Hook, and Columbine. In fact that is the point: Love of our fellow humans, and anguish at their suffering, does not diminish because of love, and anguish over the suffering, of our fellow Earthlings.

To claim otherwise is a misanthropic view of humanity which suggests that compassion and empathy are zero sum; that they exist only in limited supply and must be doled out in a miserly fashion rather than copiously, as need demands.

That is why we must also reject the notion being advanced by legislators of all political stripes who are falling all over themselves to assure the public that any talk of gun control would exempt what they call legitimate violence, like “hunting.” Taking pleasure in harming others is not legitimate, is not sport, and should not be normalized.

Not only is the will to live among non-human animals strong, too, but it is born from the same wellspring. And, as Robert Burns reminds us in his epic poem of 1786, we’ve known that for centuries:

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickerin brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

That was written over 200 years ago. How long must the animals continue to wait before we put an end to the violence against them, too?


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