Mass Killings, Our Most Dangerous Game

McCrae, Banks in “The Most Dangerous Game” (1932)

Tuesday

In the wake of the Parkland, Florida shootings, one word in particular stood out. One survivor declared to NRA fan Marco Rubio that “guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in this school this week,” and the father of a dead child emphasized that his daughter had not been shot so much as “hunted.” Former John McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt used the same disturbing verb on MSNBC but extended it to high school kids around the country: “They feel hunted.” The word brought to mind Richard Connell’s well-known short story “The Most Dangerous Game” (1924).

I thought of the story again when Donald Trump fantasized the following day about armed teachers taking out killers with concealed handguns.  Since he’s no reader, Trump may not have read “Dangerous Game,” but he’s certainly seen many of the hunted-turned-hunter movies that Connell’s influential story has inspired.

In case you missed it, here’s what Trump had to say while meeting with survivors, parents and others in the White House:

“If you had a teacher who was adept with the firearm, they could end the attack very quickly,” he said, stating that schools could arm up to 20% of their teachers to stop “maniacs” who may try and attack them.

“This would be obviously only for people who were very adept at handling a gun, and it would be, it’s called concealed carry, where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them. They’d go for special training and they would be there and you would no longer have a gun-free zone,” Trump said. “Gun-free zone to a maniac — because they’re all cowards — a gun-free zone is ‘let’s go in and let’s attack because bullets aren’t coming back at us.'”

Among the many, many problems with this scenario—Lawrence O’Donnell finds all the holes in what he calls Trump’s “fantasy war game”–the president doesn’t acknowledge that handguns would be pitted against AK-47s. This is pretty much the situation in “Dangerous Game.”

Big game hunter Rainsford is (improbably) washed ashore on the island of the Russian Count Zarroff, who has become tired of hunting animals and now only hunts human beings. He gives Rainsford a knife, a few hours head start, and three days to stay alive. In addition to rifles and a brutish attendant, the count also has a pack of dogs.

So much for giving the prey a sporting chance!

The story conveys the panic of being hunted with lines such as “It was flight now, a desperate, hopeless flight, that carried him on for some hours.” Nevertheless, being a man who has fought in World War I and also hunted large predators—in other words, not a teacher—Rainsford outfoxes the Russian, leaping off a cliff into the sea (so that Zaroff thinks he has died) and then swimming back to the count’s estate to finish him off.

Somehow Rainsford does this without being detected by Zaroff’s pack of hounds but, hey, that’s only a minor plot hiccup, one that the reader is willing to let slide. More important is Rainsford enacting Trump’s NRA fantasy of a good man with a gun (knife in this case) taking out a bad man with a gun.

There was a time when governing parties didn’t turn to action adventure fiction to address the nation’s problems. I never thought we’d see as hopeful the maxim that candidates campaign in poetry but govern in prose—hopeful because we can only wish we had a president interested in governing. Instead, Trump sees all of life as drama and is no more interested in fixing America’s gun problem than he is in fixing its DACA problem, its healthcare problem, its infrastructure problem, or its opioid addiction problem. Fixing problems is not cinematic.

The GOP as a whole faces this challenge at the moment, but Republicans try to be more restrained about desiring Wyatt Earp gunfights at the O.K. corral. As usual, Trump rushes in where more cautious souls fear to tread, thereby reinforcing his reputation as a man who tells it like it is. Those who govern in prose, however, know the pure and simple truth is that more guns mean more deaths. Anything else is NRA spin.

For our purposes, it is appropriate that Count Zaroff is Russian given that Russian bots flooded twitter with pro-gun tweets following the Florida shooting and that (although this has yet to be definitively proved) Russia may have funneled campaign funds to 2016 Republican candidates through the NRA. Think of the 90% percent of Americans who favor universal background checks as Rainsfords, fighting for our lives in a rigged game where we only have our wits and determination to fall back on.

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