What message does sniper’s life—and death—send about gun violence?
In light of the recent resurfacing of the debate on gun control in the United States, CNN reported the death of “America’s deadliest sniper.” Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper whose military career consisted of five combat tours in Iraq, was allegedly shot and killed by a former Marine, who reportedly suffered from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, with a semi-automatic handgun. The former Marine, who fled the scene after the event, also killed another veteran while the three of them were shooting for fun at a gun range in Texas.
During his time in Iraq, Kyle set the record for the most kills by any U.S. sniper in American history. He claimed that he took the lives of 160 people, his first being a woman holding both a toddler and a grenade. His motto: "Despite what your momma told you, violence does solve problems."
After returning from duty, Kyle made a lot of money from marketing his violent past in the media. His book, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History (William Morrow, 2012), quickly became a bestseller. He also starred on the NBC reality television program “Stars Earn Stripes” where he met Sarah Palin and her husband Todd. These two ventures, as well as interviews on talk shows and in newspapers, gave Kyle’s actions a lot of publicity. One benefit to his success was that he was able to cofound FITCO Cares, an organization whose aim was to help former military officials cope with and fight against PTSD.
When asked about his works as a sniper, Kyle reportedly had a modest personality. He claimed that he was “decent” at killing to a Time interviewer and also, when asked if he had regrets about killing 160 people, he replied, “No, not at all.” He was regarded as an American hero by many, including the Palins who, in a statement on Sunday claimed, "Chris was a wonderful man, a good friend, and a true American hero who loved our country and served honorably. He was loved and admired by so many, and he will never be forgotten."
I understand that his case is an extreme one, that he was doing his duty to protect the lives of other military personnel, and that he was following his orders from his superiors; however the entire situation frustrates me. It seems to me that his ambivalent attitude toward killing was what made him an “American hero.” Is this really how we want our country to be defined? Do we want those who are considered heroic symbols of our nation to also be those who kill? Whatever happened to “Blessed are the peacemakers”?
I am, by no means, glad to hear the news of Kyle’s death. Any loss of a life is tragic but I cannot help but notice the irony of the whole situation. The old saying, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword” pops into my head. In this case, having a gun of his own, not to mention being a highly skilled sniper, did not make Kyle any safer from gun violence, as one argument against gun control often suggests. Will this influence the gun control debate at all? Will it help in the fight against PTSD and other mental illnesses?