Whatever you think about the shooting of Trayvon Martin, it seems obvious that George Zimmerman was unhesitant about accosting his victim because he knew he was carrying the power to kill. A study of youth homicides in Chicago (reported July 2 at the National Public Radio site and quoted in the Statesman’s Insight section on Aug. 4) reaches a disturbing conclusion: “Most serious violent events are almost Seinfeldian in their origin — someone saying something stupid to someone else, and that escalating and basically turning into a tragedy because someone had a handgun in their waistband at the time.” A linked working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research says that Chicago police estimate 70 percent of those homicides start from “altercations.”
The phrase “trigger-happy” dates from World War II, but the mentality it describes can be found at the dawn of Western civilization. I’m referring to a line that occurs twice in “The Odyssey” at Books 16.294 and 19.13: “For the iron itself draws a man on.” The proverb justifies the removal of the Suitors’ weapons from Odysseus’ dining hall, implying that if a sword or spear is at hand when quick-tempered aristocrats are drinking together, a man, especially in a “shame-and-honor culture,” may feel irresistibly driven to use it.
The story you’re reading is premium content from the Austin American-Statesman. Subscribers get total access to all our in-depth news, digital editions and exclusive premium content. You can also buy a 24-hour digital pass or 7-day digital pass.
Read MyStatesman.com now — 24-hour digital pass99¢ for 24-hours
Read MyStatesman.com all week — 7-day digital pass$3.99 for 7-days
Subscribe to the Statesman for as little as 33¢ per dayView Offers
For Subscribers: Register your account for digital access.Access Digital
For Subscribers: Sign in here if you have already registered your account.Sign In
Dee is a retired UT classics professor living in Austin.