Dylann Roof and Vester Flanagan: Compare and Contrast

We now know that Vester Flanagan was a sort of mirror image of Dylann Roof: black instead of white, gay instead of straight, but like Roof a nut with a cause. Like Roof, Flanagan’s cause was race. Flanagan was race-obsessed and, like Roof, wanted to incite a race war.

I agree with Hugh Hewitt that it is a mistake to pay attention to “manifestos” left behind by insane killers. It only encourages them. But if we are going to take seriously the ideology of lunatics, it must be a two-way street. Dylann Roof’s racist ideology was taken very seriously, to the point where Confederate flags came down across the South. In Flanagan’s case, the focus is on gun control rather than his equally racist ideology.

Flanagan was consumed with race hatred, and was disciplined by the television station for which he worked at the time for, among other things, wearing a Barack Obama button while he stood in line to vote. So why do we not retroactively conclude that images of Barack Obama are hateful, like the Confederate flag, and must be banned? Glenn Reynolds asks, “Will Obama apologize for the behavior of one of his followers?” Of course not. But imagine if a racist white killer who worked for a television station had been similarly disciplined for wearing, say, a Ted Cruz button. Do you not think that fact would be deemed highly relevant, and highly embarrassing to Senator Cruz?

The Dylann Roof case was actually interesting from the standpoint of firearms regulation. The FBI said that Roof should not have been allowed to purchase a gun because he had a misdemeanor arrest for possession of Suboxone. The FBI said that an error was made in running the background check when Roof bought his gun. Whether this conclusion is correct or not is debatable, but the case could have been used to shed light on the biggest problem with firearms regulation: the list of prohibited persons is inadequate, and insane people like Dylann Roof and Vester Flanagan keep passing background checks. This is why liberals’ endless cry for “universal background checks” is futile. But the Left had no interest in gun regulation after the Roof murders. It was after bigger game.

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Conversely, in the aftermath of Vester Flanagan’s appalling crime, liberals have no desire to explore the roots of Flanagan’s hateful ideology. No one is blaming President Obama or suggesting that he should take responsibility for dividing the nation along racial lines, for the sake of political gain. No one is saying that the Black Lives Matter movement should disband, and stop stirring up race hate. Instead, the focus is on demands for more gun control, however useless the liberals’ prescriptions may be. The difference between the two cases is entirely political.

For what it is worth, if one wants to discuss the Flanagan case from the perspective of public policy, the issue it raises is not one of inadequate gun control, but rather, the absence of an effective mental health system. Vester Flanagan was nutty as a fruitcake, but his evident insanity only got him fired from a succession of jobs. (How he continued to be hired in television positions where he was exposed to the public is an interesting question.)

Once employers washed their hands of him, Flanagan’s craziness seemingly had no consequences. As he drifted into a homicidal rage, either no one noticed or, at any rate, no one took any action to protect the public from him. The patently crazy roam the streets unless and until they finally explode in violent acts. This is why the largest mental hospitals in the U.S. are in prisons.

This is, of course, a large subject, and most insane people never do harm to anyone else. But the fact that Americans can be crazy without consequences, seemingly indefinitely, is the real explanation for crimes like Flanagan’s.