I’m going to propose a constitutional amendment here, and I want you to stay with me for a moment before rejecting it out of hand: Henceforth, every adult citizen of the United States of America, male and female, should be permitted to murder two people in his or her lifetime without punishment or retribution from the law.
Hear me out.
First of all, I said “adult.”
Second of all, right now, all murder is illegal. There’s no incentive to keep it small. So a man is robbing a bank when the guard makes a sudden move and the robber shoots and kills him. Now, what’s to keep the man from killing everyone else in the bank? Nothing. In fact, if he kills them all, maybe he can get rid of the witnesses.
OK, you say, but a criminal mind is a criminal mind.
But consider this: A man is driving down a country road late at night, his wife dozing beside him, and their two small children asleep in the back seat, when a Honda Accord runs a stop light and collides with him. The driver is a drunken teenager. The man gets out and shoots the driver in the head. Maybe he should have, maybe he shouldn’t have, we can argue about that later. But right now, as the law stands, what’s to keep him from shooting the drunken girl next to the driver and the four shit-faced friends in the back? Nothing. But if the man is allowed two kills, he stops himself and thinks about it. He says, “Easy there. You’ve killed one, and that’s OK. You’ve got one left. Do you really want to use it on the girlfriend, too? It’s not like she was driving, and you were kind of saving your second kill for Mom or Dad.” If you’re picturing a world run amuck with violence and bloodshed, I have two points to make: (1) look around, and (2) with the knowledge that we each have two murders, I believe, on the contrary, we’d be much more selective in our murdering process.
I bring this up because this past Saturday, I was at a small-town fair that was raising funds for the local library. It was a beautiful day, full of warm sunshine, and the smell of hot dogs and hamburgers filled the afternoon air. There was a band, and face painting, and balloons, and, behind me, a man punching his young grandson in the face.
“Oh no!” I heard my wife gasp, and, when I turned around, the man was holding the boy by his shirt collar and the boy was screaming, “He’s hurting me, he’s hurting me!”
My own son held onto my leg, and I shouted at the man, “Hey, hey!”
“What are you doing?” someone else called.
“Call the police!” a third shouted.
The man stood up, grabbed the boy by the hand, and started to drag him toward the exit.
“I’ll be nice!” the boy cried. “I’ll be nice, I’ll be nice!”
And that’s when I remembered our foolish legal system, because I thought to myself, “I’d like to kill that motherfucker.”
If we had a Two Kill Law on the books, as they say, this motherfucker would be one of them, there’s no doubt about it. Though I think it would be good for the boy to see the motherfucker killed—to see his eyes roll back in his miserable skull as I tightened the rope around his neck, to see his face go red, then blue, then, at last, gray—I would probably wait until they were apart for a moment, and kill the motherfucker then.
You can’t fight fire with fire, you say.
Of course you can, I say. It’s called a controlled burn, and firefighters do it all the time.
What kind of lesson are you teaching the child? you ask.
A good one, I say. Not just that someone will come to his defense, and not just that there’s something called justice in this world, but a little something called selflessness. I have a lot of my own people I want to kill, far more than two, and here I am, a total stranger, using one of my two precious kills on him and asking nothing in return. A more selfish person would not kill that motherfucker—would want to hold on to his two kills for themself, to kill a bully at his son’s school, or the boy who breaks his daughter’s heart. But I’m not like that. I’m giving. I care, OK? And so I would take one of my kills and use it, without even being asked, to kill that motherfucker. That’s just the way I am.
The police were approaching, looking for the man.
“Officers,” I said, pointing the man out as he tried to hurry away, “that asshole is being really fucking violent with his grandson.”
They pulled him aside, and the boy screamed again; an EMS volunteer began examining the boy’s bruises as the police questioned the grandfather.
It’s a shame, it really is. Sometimes you want to do something nice for someone like shooting his motherfucker of a grandfather in the head, and the law ties your hands.
Perhaps someday the laws will change.
Until then, all we can do is hope that the boy survives this, grows up, moves away, and becomes a writer. Then he can spend the rest of his life, armed with nothing more than a laptop and a cup of coffee, killing the motherfucker over and over again.
Shalom Auslander is the author of Foreskin’s Lament and the novel Hope: A Tragedy. He is also a frequent contributor to This American Life.