Daily Archives: November 6, 2009

The shootist

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Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan

An Army Major identified by police as Nidal Malik Hasan goes on a killing rampage in Ft. Hood Texas, and the media calls him a “shooter.”  A student at Virginia Tech massacres his fellow students, and the press calls him the “Virginia Tech shooter.”  Brian Nichols murders a judge and a court reporter in cold blood, then kills two more people as he escapes the Fulton County Courthouse and flees to Gwinnett County.  Nichols becomes “the Fulton County Courthouse Shooter.”

How did mass murderers become “shooters”?  How did guys who left behind more carnage than the likes of Ted Bundy, Richard Speck and Charlie Starkweather get saddled with “shooter,” a handle that is easily confused with a shot of liquor during happy hour?

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Charlie Starkweather

It’s sloppy, lazy, inexact and limp to call a guy like Nichols a “shooter.”  A “shooter” can be a guy in the back yard with a .22 rifle, shooting cans off  a fence post.  Nichols is a “killer.”  He’s a “gunman.”  He’s a “murderer.”  He’s even a “mass murderer,” a term no longer used because it’s so chilling, and would describe too many homicidal hotheads in the late 20th / early 21st century.

It’s reasonable to take “mass murderer” off the table, then, if only to avoid the possible cheapening of the term, the same way “brutal” and “bizarre” are cheapened by overuse on TV.

Big Al

Big Al

But to replace it with “shooter” is to whitewash the meaning from an act that shouldn’t be sugarcoated.   Alexander Hamilton was a “shooter,” maybe — a guy pointing his gun semi-upward during a competitive blood sport.  Aaron Burr was the gunman who declined to point his weapon upward.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly killed twelve people and injured 31 in a rampage at Ft. Hood.  Police say he’s a killer.  If a jury convicts him, he’s a murderer.

If you can use a term that more accurately describes the lethal nature of the crime eg. “killer,” why would anybody call Hasan, Nichols et al a “shooter”?

(And it has nothing to do with legal hairsplitting; “police say the gunman walked from room to room” works just as easily as when substituting the less descriptive word.)

Pet peeve?  Yes.

It’s time to bury “shooter.”  Unless it’s happy hour.