I have absolutely no idea - and no way of finding out - what really happened the night Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend. One side says it was pre-meditated murder. The other says it was an accident. In time, a judge will render a legal verdict, which may (or may not) be factually correct and which may (or may not) convince those disposed to think otherwise. So I make no judgment at all about the guilt or innocence of anyone in this case.
But I think this South African tragedy does highlight some things worth thinking about.
The mere fact, first of all, that this case has received so much international attention - so much attention at all - speaks volumes about our obsession with celebrity. Perhaps the one story that perennially fascinates modern popular culture even more than the personal lives of celebrities is a celebrity behaving badly. And we've had no shortage of such stories. For some strange reason, celebrity athletes are assumed to be as morally fit as they are physically. So when they disappoint on that score, somehow we feel they have let us down. One would think that contemporary society would have been cured of that strange attitude by now, and perhaps it will be eventually, but evidently that has not happened yet.
As powerful as is the cult of celebrity, so is the comparably curious - but much more dangerous - fascination with guns. The cult of celebrity disposes us to want Pistorius's story to be true. But, if it is true, if it really was an accident, then we are still faced with yet another example of the enormous horror that can happen in a society which tolerates private gun ownership. If indeed this tragic death was an accident, the fact remains that it would likely never have happened had Pistorius not had a gun at his immediate disposal and had not been ready to use it.
How many domestic killings are actually accidents that would never have happened were a lethal weapon not readily available in the home? How many domestic quarrels have escalated to homicide because of easy access to a gun? How many suicides might never have happened were it not for the presence of a gun?
These are serious questions, which our gun-crazy society has for too long resisted. The celebrity tragedy in South Africa has highlighted them for us again, but these questions are not new, nor will they go away - regardless of what actually happened in a star athlete's home on Valentine's Day.
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