We don't know for sure whether, when Craig Stephen Hicks allegedly set out to kill his neighbors Tuesday night, he was targeting them as Muslims or he was "merely" pent up about the parking situation at his condo complex. What we do know is that he seems to have been a visibly unstable, volatile man, and he was licensed by the state of North Carolina to carry a concealed firearm.
Hicks' defense team, led by his wife Karen and her attorney, is attempting to convince the world that when he apparently fired rounds into the heads of three young Muslim college students in their Chapel Hill apartment, it was not a hate crime but rather a "simple matter," a "mundane issue of this man being frustrated day in and day out," and a consequence of the victims being "there at the wrong time at the wrong place."
The time was 5 p.m. and the place was inside the apartment where the victims lived. Never mind what the motive may or may not have been. Rather, mind the outcome. Mind the fact that in America, in 2015, a little over two years after 20 small children were murdered with a legally bought assault weapon in their elementary school and the gun lobby's prescription to prevent future tragedies was to arm more Americans, we could attempt to file away as "mundane" a triple-slaying by a licensed gun owner with a history of making threats and brandishing his weapons.
An attorney for Karen Hicks said that the shooting highlighted the importance of improving access to mental health care, but would not comment on whether Hicks had a history of mental-health issues. Another of her attorneys said that Hicks had a concealed weapons permit.
He was sick, but we don't have to tell you how sick. Also, he was empowered to move among you, armed.
Hicks is not alone. By one estimate, concealed carry licensees have killed 722 people in the past eight years, including 17 law enforcement officers. They have committed 28 mass-shootings and 44 murder-suicides.
I am not saying the licenses are without value. Quite the contrary. I am a concealed-carry licensee, albeit a circumspect and conflicted one. And 722 deaths is a fraction of the fatalities caused by firearms in a single year in the U.S.
But these licensees represent the most thoroughly vetted of gun-wielding private citizens in America, and even that vetting cannot keep out the mortally dangerous ones. Rather, it deputizes a good many of them. Like Hicks.
Neighbors knew Craig Stephen Hicks. He was the angry man on Summerwalk Circle, they said — irritated about noise, irascible about parking, hostile to religion. And armed.
Mr. Hicks was such a disruptive presence in the Finley Forest condominium complex that last year, residents held a meeting to talk about him...
"I have seen and heard him be very unfriendly to a lot of people in this community," said Samantha Maness, a resident of the complex. She said that Mr. Hicks had displayed "equal opportunity anger" and that "he kind of made everyone feel uncomfortable and unsafe."
In October or November, we went to dinner at Yusor and Deah's house. Right after we left, Yusor heard a knock at the door and it was Hicks. [Yusor] told us he was angry and said we were noisy and there were two extra cars in the neighborhood. We used visitor parking but he was still mad... While he was at the door talking to Yusor, he was holding a rifle, she told me later. He didn't point it at anyone, but he still had it. Yusor called to check on us after we left, to make sure he hadn't approached us. We thought that was so weird—our neighbors don't come to the door with guns! So when I heard the news it was shocking, but it wasn't a surprise that it was the neighbor.
Yusor's father also told the Times that his daughter and son-in-law "had been harassed for their appearance by a neighbor who was wearing a gun on his belt." Presumably that, too, was Hicks, who had proudly posted photos of his armaments on Facebook.
It wasn't clear if the victims had called the police after Hicks first confronted them with a gun. If not, you could hardly blame them. If they had summoned law enforcement, and if they had arrested Hicks, and if they had convicted him of "communicating threats," then he could have had his carry license revoked, but not his right to possess guns. That would have been the best case. Every other scenario would likely have struck Hicks as a further provocation.
And that's just in North Carolina. In other states, like Florida, the brandishing of a firearm has been decriminalized along with "warning shots," because legislators were concerned about infringements on the freedoms of concealed carriers whose guns were poorly concealed.
In fact, when cases like Hicks' raise questions about whether gun licensing could be more exacting, the nationwide trend has been to water down licensing regulations. Some concealed-carry states are expanding the spaces where such carry is legal. Others are becoming open-carry states. Open-carry states are forgoing carry licenses altogether. More states are removing a gun owner's responsibility to retreat from a threat before shooting, and scrutinizing police officers who scrutinize shooters.
Advocates acknowledge that this may all lead to more shooting deaths like Tuesday's in Chapel Hill. They don't really give a shit. They see it as the cost of freedom. Freedom comes with risks, and what are you going to do, limit freedom out of fear? That's just wrong. Better to take advantage of your freedom to arm yourself. Be the good guy with a gun who stops that bad guy who managed to get a license to carry his gun to your front door.
Exactly what kind of freedom is that?
It is not freedom for the average gun-free citizen. It is not freedom for the average gun-owning citizen who keeps their weapons and their ammunition separate, under lock and key, in the house. It is not freedom for the average mother and father, armed or unarmed, who see their children off to a schoolyard in the morning and entrust their progeny's welfare to teachers and peace officers. It is not freedom to anyone who believes in the old classically liberal values of rights being senseless without attendant responsibilities.
It's freedom for a certain kind of person who sees every man as an island, with some islands more volcanic than others, and fancies himself ready to withstand any nearby island's eruption. It's freedom for the pessimist who believes the best about himself and the worst about others, who believes it's a jungle out there, and consequently endeavors to make the out-there especially jungly. It is the freedom to fulfill a self-perpetuating prophecy of violence.
It is the freedom to be a corpse-making misanthrope. And it is increasingly the American way.
[Illustration by Jim Cooke]