What If The Guy Who Shot The Mid-Movie Texter Wasn’t Crazy?

This past week a retired police officer gunned down a man in a theater for texting during a movie.

He was texting his three-year-old daughter’s day care center.

Immediate reactions, including my own, supposed that the shooter was somehow mentally ill, or stressed out from a grueling career, or maybe fed up with systemic disrespect – the impoliteness of an in-theater text being the “straw that broke the camel’s back” in some sad parallel to Michael Douglas’ William Foster in Falling Down.

Falling Down

In any case the shooter was obviously crazy – as they always are.

Or are they?

I jump at the chance to explain away a tragedy like this, saying that something went wrong in the shooter’s brain in order to create space between myself and such horror; there simply must be categorical differences at play.

But I’ll be the first to confess that sometimes there aren’t many.

Cut me off on the freeway, bump into my cart at Costco, or cough in my face at the gym and my reflexes jump to fight, not flight – and what I decide to do with the impulse isn’t always pretty.

Maybe I walk around cursing others under my breath, yelling in my car at idiots on the road, or committing little acts of murder in my mind.

But sometimes I look at the driver cutting me off and say “looks like he’s got a pie in the oven.”


That’s what I learned from a lady named Kathy; whenever someone glared at her or flipped her off for driving slowly, she would wave and say “they must have a pie in the oven.”

I found that this neutralizes the entire situation.

I suppose that the initial biological “fight” response is involuntary and there isn’t much we can do about it.  What we do next, however, is up to our level of ability to control ourselves and to love others in spite of themselves.

If a truck swerved to hit a puddle of water and drenched you while you were waiting for the bus, you might get physically angry.  The moment you look up and notice that the truck was dodging a child in the street, however, your change in perspective sets off processes that calm your body down.

NewsyThe way we see other human beings affects our biological responses to their actions. 

When people are being selfish and hurtful, my wife likes to imagine what they must have looked like as children – because every human was a kid once and it’s tough to stay angry with kids for long (and it’s really funny/surprisingly easy to picture selfish people as toddlers).  This is her pie-in-the-oven trick.

Maybe the man who fired his pistol in the theater wasn’t different than me.  Maybe he had the same biological reaction as I often do and started seeing his fellow human in a way with which I’m all too familiar.  Maybe he just walked down our path a bit further and carried the fight response to its ultimate conclusion?

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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5 thoughts on “What If The Guy Who Shot The Mid-Movie Texter Wasn’t Crazy?

  1. There is no substitute nor is there a shortcut for developing the discipline of reigning in one’s appetites. It is something that must be developed through childhood and adolescence. All of us have that fight or flight response. We must train ourselves and condition ourselves and our children to master them.

    1. Absolutely.

      This is easiest when it’s a self evident sort of thing that we work on in our own selves. Teaching self-control to others walks the fine line of helping them and holding them back – which is why it probably isn’t an overwhelmingly popular subject.

      Except when we’re talking about fitness and nutrition… then by all means self-control is the gold standard.

      1. It makes me sit in wonder at the glorious design of parents. That someone would know you from infancy through adulthood, who would be in your life for your good for the long term so that you could have all of your physical and emotional needs met by people who have already been there and done that. I commented on another blog today about the 12 year old school shooter. Of course that thread is filled with objections about the proliferation of guns in this country. But 40 percent of children all over the nation grow up without a mother or father, 60 percent of Hispanics and 70 percent of black children. Our people are being starved of the essential building blocks for character development. And yet its all shock and awe when a tragedy occurs.

      2. I don’t have children, but my time in youth ministry with other people’s kids reflects this all too well. I can’t stress to parents how important it is to connect with the people that are working with your children, especially if you happen to be that single mom or dad – there are other people out there that want to be there for your kids too. That’s the beauty of community.

      3. In the church, we rightly major on meeting the material needs of those around us. But to give of ourselves emotionally to those who are hurting, and partner with and support the single parents who are striving to bring up godly children is just as fragrant an offering to Christ, if not more.

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