The Killer Always Comes Back

Jack Palance in "Shane"

Jack Palance in “Shane”

An article in the Huffington Post noted that Monday’s Navy Yard shooting (12 dead) is the sixth mass shooting in the U.S. since the December school killing in Newtown, Connecticut.

Before reading the article, I thought that I was managing to observe at least most of our massacres here, but now I realize that I would have to dedicate this blog solely to gun violence if I wanted to keep up.

In a cruel twist, the Navy Yard shooting happened a week after two Colorado representatives were recalled from office for having supported background checks and restrictions on high capacity magazines.

I’ve posted links to my previous articles on mass killings below if you want to review them. For today, I share a poem by my late father, a World War II veteran who believed that guns only lead to more violence and who wouldn’t allow his children to have anything more potent than water pistols. Also take a look at his blistering attack on the National Rifle Association, which I posted this past December after Sandy Hook and which may be the angriest poem this gentle man ever wrote.

In the poem below, Scott invokes the classic western Shane and the riveting figure of the villain, powerfully played by Jack Palance. As I interpret it, the poem is about the fantasy that guns are our saviors and will keep children and homes safe, which is the basic line promulgated by the NRA.

But there is another and darker fantasy embedded in the story as well. Jack Palance, who fires our imaginations far more that the bland hero does, is our dark shadow side, secretly in love with violence. As the poem puts it, “We liked your style.” This fascination helps account for why so many Americans are drawn to guns. Attribute it to thanatos or the death instinct.

In the movie, the savior who shoots the killer leaves and never comes back. In life, as the chilling last line of the poem reminds us, the killer always comes back.

Palance, or The Return of the Killer

By Scott Bates

We always liked you, Jack,
Even though Shane never did.
Even though Shane
Nailed you to the wall
With a lightning draw
(“He was fast,”
Said Shane, after)
To save the kid
And the farm and all
From you, who were one
Mean hired gun,

We liked your style.

And even though the kid
To the empty plain
Shouted, “Shane! Shane!
Come back! Come back!”

never came back.

But you did, Jack.

On a happier note, here’s a limerick my father wrote on the one kind of gun he allowed us to have:

Water pistols are penis substitutes.
Guns are penis substitutes.
But a guy with a gun
Is a lot more fun
If it’s only water he shoots.

Previous posts on mass shootings

America’s Heart of Darkness Beginnings

Wilmot Understands Our Gun Obsession

Only Comic Satire Can Do NRA Justice

The NRA’s Modest Proposal

Why (Some) Americans Love Guns

Songs of Innocence Destroyed

Will Obama Be Beowulf and Defy the NRA?

In Praise of an Anti-Gun Western

Grendel as a Norwegian Christian Fascist

Happiness is a Warm Gun (Shoot Shoot)

Dostoevsky and the Arizona Shootings

Analyzing Loughner’s Booklist

Grendel’s Invasion of Fort Hood

A Modern Grendel on the Rampage

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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