The Woman Who Shot Liberty Valence

Well, the real facts are coming out about the Colorado church shootings, and as usual, the first draft of history got quite a few things wrong. This is not surprising, and certainly not anything worth condemning; it’s the nature of the beast. Initial reports on anything that big, that chaotic, that insane are almost always unreliable, and ought to be taken with several handfuls of salt.

First up, the gunman was not killed by Jeanne Assam. He killed himself. She wounded him, but the fatal shot was when he put his shotgun to his own head. And Assam is now known not just as a former Minneapolis cop, but a disgraced one — fired after lying during an investigation of her over official misconduct.

You know what? I’m glad these details are coming out. It just makes the story that much better.

One of the concerns I had about the whole thing is that Assam would have to live with the knowledge that she had killed another human being. That his death was not only justified, but almost absolutely necessary was irrelevant — she had still taken a life, and for some people that’s a very hard thing to live with. Now she won’t have to live with it; the cowardly little shit did our job for us and blew himself straight to hell.

He would have most likely done so anyway once the killing frenzy was over, much like the shooters at the Omaha mall and at Virginia Tech, but thanks to her shooting and wounding him, his killing spree ended much sooner.

I’m also glad that she wasn’t just simply an ex-cop, but a disgraced one who had been stripped of her badge. It removes any hint that she had some special authority or official sanction for her actions. She was an ordinary citizen, no more and no less, who chose to exercise her 2nd Amendment rights under the Constitution, and was in the right place at the right time with the right tools to save countless lives — and did so. She had exactly as much right to carry that gun as, say, Mark Furhman or members of the Minuteman Project. (Yes, two examples chosen just to poke certain liberal types right in the eye.)

And (this one is purely for my dear friend Candy, the very devout Christian) this makes her story that much better. This woman is about to become a fracking saint to the Christian community. I mean, you can’t make up a story like hers:

She’s a Minneapolis cop, full of pride and rage, whose own actions lead her to disgrace and cost her not only her job, but her career — she gets into a confrontation on a city bus, then lies about it to an official investigation — but the whole thing is caught on videotape and she is fired for cause. She packs up her life and moves hundreds of miles away, then joins a church where she finds new meaning in her life. Then, after a shooting at a missionary training school sixty-five miles away, she has a premonition that her church might be the next target the very next day. She goes to her church officials, who actually listen to her and authorize her and other parishioners to be present as volunteer guards — some armed, some not.

Then it goes down just as she foresaw. And she’s not even the first armed guard on the scene — a man is, but he’s in too much shock to respond. But there is Jeanne, the disgraced former cop, stripped of her badge and career, armed with a pistol against an armored psycho with rifle and shotgun and who knows what else.

She warns him to surrender, but he doesn’t. Instead, he turns on her and fires. She shoots back. Miraculously (there really isn’t another word for it), he misses — but she doesn’t. He’s wounded several times. But he’s still alive and conscious enough to kill one last time — he puts the gun to his own head and pulls the trigger. In the most critical time in her life, this woman who had cracked under stress in Minneapolis (first losing her temper on the bus, then lying and trying to cover it up) is calm, cool, and collected and does what needs to be done — in God’s house, protecting God’s flock.

And in the end, the bad guy isn’t even killed by the hero. Instead, like a bad movie or comic book (I’m reminded of how the villains tend to die in comic-book movies — beaten by the hero, but killed at their own hands, like Jack Nicholson’s Joker in “Batman” or Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin in “Spider-Man”), he takes the coward’s way out and ends his own life. The hero’s hands are kept clean even of the blood of the clearly guilty.

I’m an agnostic, but I’m not a hard-core religion-hating athiest, and even I have to admit that the argument here for “the hand of God” is a tough one to refute in this case. The story of Jeanne Assam is the kind of schlock I’m used to hearing from the incredibly-annoying hard-ass born-again Jesus freak evangelicals — but it’s all one-hundred-percent grade-A real. The only thing it’s missing is a history of alcoholism or drug abuse that pushed her into her fall in Minneapolis, an addiction that God helped her overcome prior to her absolutely incredible heroism this last Sunday.

I can’t imagine a police department in the country that would not want her on their force now. She’s more than redeemed herself for her past sins, and she’s shown that she is now precisely the kind of person we need as a cop. But I see three far more likely futures for her:

1) Motivational speaker, especially to Christian groups. As I said, she has one hell of an inspirational life story, and there is a real demand for people like her telling how she got to the point she was at last Sunday.

2) Church leader. She firmly believes it was the hand of God that guided her last weekend, and a lot of her fellow church members are in no mood to argue. The idea of following and associating with someone who was so personally and publicly touched by God certainly must have occurred to some of them.

3) Going back to her prior life and trying to slip back into obscurity. She gives every bit of credit for her heroism to God, not herself, and she might feel self-conscious in building on what she sees as God’s will and God’s hand and God’s actions for her own personal benefit and advancement.

As I said, I am agnostic. I simply lack any elements of religious faith. I do not ascribe to any religious tenets or beliefs; to me, I take “agnostic” absolutely literally. I literally “do not know” whether or not there is a God. It is an utterly meaningless concept to me; I do not know, and by the tenets of most faiths there is no rational way I can know — God’s existence must be taken as a matter of faith, not proof, and I find myself mentally incapable of taking that leap of faith without some concrete evidence — and every major faith agrees that God doesn’t do that sort of thing nowadays.

But when incidents like Jeanne Assam’s story (and it should be called her story — the name of the worthless shitbag who she stopped should be wiped from our collective memory, to deny him the fame and celebrity he so desperately craved) happen, it gives a healthy kick to my non-belief. At some point, the coincidences just seem to overwhelm simple random chance.

I’m not ready to renounce my agnosticism just yet, Candy — my lack of faith is very strong. But it’s taken a major blow.

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