Sunday’s shooting of two police officers at a Las Vegas pizza restaurant, and the final, equally tragic exchange between a husband and wife team of gun-loving, government hating, race-baiting white supremacists and an armed bystander thudded into our psyche over the weekend.
You think we’d be better at processing these events by now, committed as our country seems to be to their repetition. But we’re not.
We’ve also found ourselves at the other end of the debate, where people with little to no knowledge of firearms or our family history have found it within themselves to waggle fingers and cluck about our “obsession” with the muzzleloaders and ranch guns of our forefathers. That they could equate the country’s current thirst for high-velocity, multiple round-per-second assault weapons with a – on a good day and under optimal conditions – three rounds per minute black powder musket leaves us equally addled as the cold-blooded assassination of men having pizza in a Vegas strip mall.
Throw in the underlying current of conspiracy theory running fast and hot through the country like a poisoned river of illogical thinking and xenophobia, mix well with our apparently inability to care for our mentally ill and add the ready access to military-grade assault weapons we appear to crave and hoard like the neighborhood Crazy Lady takes in cats – and you’ve got an explosive recipe, mister, ready to cook off.
It cooked off in Las Vegas on Sunday. A marginalized husband and wife team with a taste for weaponry and anti-government views so extreme they were asked the leave the ranch of right wing poster child Cliven Bundy assassinated – there’s no other word for it – officers Alyn Beck, 41, and Igor Soldo, 31, both husbands and fathers, as the officers sat eating lunch. Reports have it that the male lead in this would-be comic opera, a 31-year-old convicted car thief and self-avowed “patriot” who viewed police as “oppressors,” walked past Beck and Soldo’s table, turned and opened fire before either officer had a chance to react. Some witnesses say he yelled “This is a revolution!” before he opened fire. Others say it was after. Police say the couple then lay the adopted banner of the right, a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, on the bodies of the two officers – along with a swastika.
Investigators are working to determine if either officer even managed to draw their weapons – much less return fire in their own defense – but initial findings found that unlikely due to the cold-blooded lethality of their ambush.
Five minutes later the self-avowed “patriots” walked into a nearby Wal-Mart where the male half snapped off a shot and may have repeated his revolutionary pronouncement. This time, a passerby named Joseph Wilcox confronted him, drawing his own weapon and ordering the intruder to disarm. That’s when police say the female half of this murderous equation, who Wilcox did not know was a part of the armed assault, opened fire on Wilcox – killing him.
As terrified customers fled the store the 31-year-old gunman and his 22-year-old wife moved to the back of the Wal-Mart and prepared for a final confrontation with police. Sirens wailing and “officers down” calls flooding the airwaves, police stormed the store and exchanged shots with the couple, police said. Ultimately, while it was the husband who kicked off Sunday’s shooting spree it was the wife who brought it to an end, firing a fatal round into her husband before turning her gun on herself.
The “Peeling,” the process we reporters go through to uncover details about the lives and leanings of the famous and infamous, is being done as we speak. So far, some YouTube clips and Facebook postings have surfaced, snippets of lives so connected to the cold, flowing river of hate and discontent in our country that it is difficult for many – including the father of the 22-year-old woman involved – to believe we are talking about the same people.
But we are. And we’ve heard the paranoid ramblings of others convinced their government is their enemy, their police the army in place to keep them down. And it hasn’t always been in desert towns where guns and alternative views mix – and murder can be construed as a revolutionary tactic. Sometimes it’s right here at home.