Monday, March 28

Fatal Firearm, Full of Grace

The title is an opening to a letter that could have been penned by the mother of 14-year-old Brandenn Bremmer, a child prodigy who died from a self-directed gunshot to the head in his Nebraska home, as reported by the Associated Press writer Sharon Cohen on March 20, 2005 in an article that was widely syndicated. Brandenn was a high school graduate at the age of 10, a polished competitor in classical piano competitions, composer of original music, and aspiring anesthesiologist.
Let us first read in its entirety the letter, which I base on Cohen's report and quotations from Brandenn's mother, before we try to understand its underlying sense.

Fatal Firearm, Full of Grace,

the Lord be with Thee. Blessed art Thou who hast brought righteous contentment to the citizens of this holy nation. When you entered our home, we know not by what graceful act of God, it must have been pre-ordained that you would satisfy our son's desire to have his brains splattered in his skull upon impact by a high-speed metal projectile. Thereby, not only was his skull crushed in accordance with a righteously selfless whim but we have been able to pass on certain of his vital organs to other, surely needful children. Brandenn's heart now pumps in the body of an 11-year-old boy; his liver sits snuggly within the frame of a 22-month old child, and his kidneys have shared out their life-preserving powers, each one having being donated to a different person. More important, however, is the fact that, in thrusting an exploding piece of metal into my son's skull at his own behest, you have doubtless penetrated the hearts and minds of countless children by making possible the example of spiritual sacrifice crafted by our happy son on that most bittersweet afternoon. Although you are surely not conscious of the good deed you have facilitated and in that sense are selfless in your own right, you have helped our son realize his most prodigious achievement to date -- helping others.

Although our son, who was in perfect health and full of enthusiasm for imminent projects and events, left no note and indicated no pretext for his actions, we are absolutely certain that in taking your Righteous Power into his hands on that Tuesday in mid-March, Brandenn meant simply to save others. Born an adult, Brandenn was a prodigiously curious sort, but wise enough in the ways of the world to be familiar with the handling of lethal weapons of your stature, I think.

What's more, our son had this excessive need to help people and teach people... He was so connected with the spiritual world. We felt he could hear people's needs and desires and their cries. We just felt like something touched him that day, and he knew he had to leave. In fact, we know this to be true because, in the days since our son's death, we have felt his presence. Sometimes we wonder if maybe the physical, earthly world didn't offer him enough challenges and he felt it was time to move on and do something great. Of course, without your divine assistance, none of this would have been possible.

With your unchallenged force, you have touched our household indelibly. Thus it has come to pass that when faced with reporters' or investigators' questions, it is to you and to the Creator who speaks through your barrel that, again and again, we have let ring vociferous praise.

In gratitude and undying respect,

Ms. Patricia Bremmer
(The italicized words above are the actual words spoken by Patricia Bremmer or words of hers that were paraphrased by reporter Sharon Cohen.)

Setting aside the fictional letter, which I believe is faithful to the spirit of Patricia Bremmer's remarks, I note that, in reading the linked article by Sharon Cohen, what struck me as being perhaps not unusual for a run-of-the-mill U.S. journalist, but certainly absurd, was that, for one thing, behind all the pseudo-religious gibberish that the mother serves up to the reporter, there was no mention in the article of parental responsibility -- not a hint -- and, for another, no question raised as to why a loaded weapon was placed within reach of a 14-year-old child. This is especially odd, I think, given that the same article reports that Brandenn "showed no signs of depression... [and] had just shown his family the art for the cover of his new CD that was about to be released."

The possibility that Brandenn killed himself accidentally is not discussed. It is left as a merely possible implication... one for vigilant readers to ponder.

And, I wonder, why is this so? What makes recourse to pseudo-Christian messianic mythology appear an acceptable way of avoiding the question of gun-owner and parental responsibilities? It seems to me that the explanation has to be sought in the glorified status that handguns and gun ownership have been granted in the United States. When a 14-year-old child with no known pretext for wanting to kill himself shoots himself in the head, few readers would ever question the role of parental responsibility: that seems to be the assumption made by the AP reporter, Cohen. Moreover, few would ever think to ask where the weapon came from and why and how the child was given access to it. Cohen seems to have presumed that no one would raise such questions, as long as some higher goal or divine intention could be invoked as a cause for the incident and a "happy ending" could be fabricated for the public's unperturbed reading consumption.

For what other violent acts does this nation allow citizens to brush aside their own direct or indirect responsibility through talk of the victims' "knowing they had to leave" to "move on and do something great"? Whatever the case may be, it seems clear that for Brandenn, as for so many others, the misuse of handguns and other lethal firearms continues to be a topic impervious to investigation or criticism.

A related note: the National Rifle Association has now proposed giving school teachers handguns. Perhaps the NRA can address two social debates, or kill two birds with one stone, by suggesting, as well, that prayer in school be directed at praising the gun in the teachers' desks and breast pockets. If we are to accept Patricia Bremmer's version of things as recounted uncritically by Sharon Cohen, then we might believe that guns may, indeed, play a significant and perhaps privileged role in facilitating missions of spiritual enlightenment.

Read the follow-up to this post