Professor James Wilbanks was the shooter—that much we know. And he was also an Assistant Professor of Management at the College of Business, University of Arkansas-Little Rock. And a part of me wishes I didn't know that.
On Friday, February 20, he shot his wife, his sister, his two dogs, and himself. He also set his house on fire.
According to Capt. Hansard of the Maumelle police, "the case is now closed."
Our first business, and it is a business that we know all too well, is to mourn this tragedy. Of course, we will never really know what caused the Professor to take this horrendous path in his life, so our only defensible responses are those of compassion and, as time passes, prevention.
We wish his friends and his family, as well as his colleagues at the College of Business in Little Rock, the strength to find peace in the coming days.
We will eventually want to know if there were any warning signs that we might use, indicators that will allow us to recognize others who pose similar risks to our communities and to our schools. Prevention should always be the first line of defense, particularly when our students are concerned, and strengthening these preventive measures should always be our priority.
After all, we know these stories too well—over the same weekend, there were murder-suicides in Georgia, New York, and Missouri, as well as here in Arkansas.
We even have a name for it now; it's called "familicide."
But Arkansans surely took special notice of this story, not only because it concerns a Professor in the Arkansas system, but also because guns have been much on the minds of all Arkansans since the 90th General Assembly convened in January.
In that Assembly, there are currently bills to allow guns on college campuses, in parking lots, in polling places; to allow 18-year old veterans to obtain concealed-carry licenses; to allow gun-owners to stand their ground if they feel threatened. Have I missed anything? Probably.
So it is also our duty to ponder the future that our General Assembly is designing for us—a future with guns in places where once their presence was insulting to our shared and hard-won civility: in our schools, in our polling places, in our parking lots at work, and even in our churches. Now, all around us, we can feel that civility unraveling.
Next, we have been told, our college and university students should be able to carry their firearms to class.
We are becoming an uncivil nation.
America is already one of the most heavily armed countries in the world, and the most violent among developed nations, and yet some of our legislators seem frantically trying to add more firearms to the few places where they have historically been unwelcome. It borders on manic legislation, but it is, in my opinion, a very dangerous mania to indulge.
The photographs here of Professor Wilbanks, released this morning by The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, are from his Instagram account, and they are publicly available to those who have the free app. In the picture above, he is wielding an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW, for short), the work-horse light machine gun of the American military since the US invasion of Panama in 1989. From the backdrop in the photograph, Professor Wilbanks would seem to be at one of the so-called "machine-gun" boutiques in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Machine Gun Experience, advertised in the photograph, offers shooting scenarios that allow their patrons to fire automatic weapons in imaginary engagements, such as "Spec Ops," "SWAT," or even "D-Day."
The other range mentioned on the backdrop, Discount Firearms—Las Vegas, offers its customers similar fantasy-focused missions.
Playing army, in effect, for adults. Battle-rattle for civilians.
If you've never looked at these sites, or were even unaware of these fantasy shooting-boutiques, you will learn a great deal about America's militarized gun-culture by paying them a visit. And even more importantly, you will see how the gun industry is marketing and selling its lethal product.
We owe it to Professor Wilbanks, to his family, and to all of our loved ones, to understand more about this culture, its genesis, its development, and its effect on our citizens.
But we start with this observation: far too many people in our country are dying from gun-violence, and we must bring all of our resources to bear on this national disgrace.
And we take action, having made that observation, by joining together to resist those legislators who would put at grave risk the security of our college campuses.