Members Only | August 12, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Sadism Is Rational

Finally, recognition of what should have been obvious.

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Dmitriy Andreychenko is a white 20-year-old Missouri man who did something that might not have triggered a panic, say, five or six years ago. But the landscape of gun politics seems to be shifting a bit. The young man’s actions got him arrested. His story illustrates a point I’m going to make in this edition. Sadism isn’t crazy. It’s rational. 

What did Andreychenko do? 

He walked into a Walmart in Springfield wearing “military fatigues” and body armor. He was armed with a handgun and a semi-automatic rifle. His sister told him he was an idiot. Two young white men had just murdered dozens in El Paso and Dayton in the last week. But, Andreychenko told her, he was doing an “experiment on how his Second Amendment right would be respected in a public area,” according to CNN.

Whatever tolerance existed for the right to keep and bear arms, that tolerance now seems to be waning as the body-count climbs higher. 

Andreychenko was doing no such thing. 

If he was not in fact intending to kill, his clear intent was intimidating and terrorizing people, hoping to scold and mock them for feeling intimidated and terrorized. We know this because Andreychenko recorded the entire incident on his phone. He said he was recording in case someone asked him to leave. But he kept recording even as the store manager pulled the fire alarm and shoppers fled in a justified panic. 

Missouri is a conservative open-carry state, but you can’t carry a semi-automatic rifle intending to scare people. Police saw through his rationalization and rightly charged Andreychenko with terrorist threat. Springfield Prosecutor Dan Patterson added:

Missouri protects the right to open carry a firearm, but that right does not allow an individual to act in a reckless and criminal manner, endangering other citizens. 

As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously explained, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man … falsely shouting fire in a theater, causing a panic.”

This is what I mean when I say the landscape of gun politics seems to be shifting a bit. We didn’t see stories like this five or six years ago. We saw instead stories about law-abiding, liberty-loving, politically incorrect and (almost always white) “patriots” exercising their constitutional rights and liberties. But as I wrote last week, even leading Republicans are reconsidering their commitment to that line of reasoning.

All of a sudden, major GOP players are talking up expanded background checks and even the confiscation of guns (“red flag laws”). That small shift is being driven by widespread recognition of a clear trend: young white men are killing masses of people either because they hate nonwhites (Charleston and El Paso) or because they hate women (Orlando and Dayton). Whatever tolerance existed for the right to keep and bear arms, that tolerance now seems to be waning as the body-count climbs higher. 

That’s good.

But I wish it didn’t take piles of dead Americans, including white people, for the country to see what should have been obvious from the start. The whole point of being able to carry weapons of war in civilian life is not to exercise constitutional rights and liberties but to intimidate and terrorize people, specifically to intimidate and terrorize certain kinds of people, and getting a thrill out of having that kind of power. 

Dmitriy Andreychenko told local authorities that he “wanted to know if that Walmart honored the Second Amendment.” That’s not what he was testing. He was testing whether white people would continue to tolerate open displays of sadism; whether they would continue to rationalize what should never have been rationalized; and whether they still believe that violence-as-pleasure would not reach even them. 

Richard Friedman, a psychiatrist, said last week that mental illness doesn’t explain mass murder. The president has said as much. So have leading Republicans. But mental illness, Friedman said, has caused a fraction of violent episodes. The darker possibility, he said, is “the killer might have been rational, just filled with hate.”

Sadism isn’t crazy. It’s rational. 

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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