According to the FBI, in the United States in 2017, almost 11,000 people were murdered with guns. The next closest category, knives or other cutting instruments, accounted for fewer than 1,600 murders. Why is the gun the runaway favorite murder weapon? Because the consequence of shooting a gun is divorced from the act of pulling the trigger. It’s a simple concept: Pull the trigger here, and the bullet does the damage over there. The distance between here and there is irrelevant. The concept is the same.

Think about how shocking it is when you learn that someone was stabbed to death. A stabbing is a gruesome, visceral, and intimate crime. That’s why the creepy killers in horror movies always use some kind of knife. It scares the bejesus out of us. The killer has to get close to his victim. Touch them. Feel them. Look them in the eye. Stabbing is horrific because it requires human connection. Guns require no such connection. Pull the trigger here. Do the damage over there.

The same idea applies to the most common weapon in our modern age: the keyboard. Our society, and our local community, is full of keyboard terrorists. Type the words here, in the comfort of home or office. Watch the damage occur there. The aim, in most cases, is not to kill someone in the physical sense. The aim is to kill reputations, character, decorum, and decency.

In a fit of rage, a punk with no self-control and a cheap handgun will reflexively shoot the target of his ire in the middle of a parking lot. A deranged assassin, however, will carefully choose his target and plan his actions. He will use a more advanced gun, such as a rifle with a scope. In both scenarios, the cowardice and moral failure of the shooter is the same. Pull the trigger here. Kill someone over there. The consequence to the victim is the same.

In our rage-obsessed, social media world, the punk with no self-control is the person who types angry and vulgar missives filled with obscenities that they won’t allow their own children to speak. The deranged assassin is the person who poses as the erudite scholar, crafting well-thought, but malicious screeds. In both scenarios, the cowardice and moral failure of the author is the same. Type the words here. Harm someone over there. The consequence to the victim is the same.

Defending oneself against either a punk with a handgun or an assassin with a rifle is difficult, at best. Real killers can be hard to catch because they need secrecy and anonymity. Keyboard terrorists, however, crave the spotlight. Like spoiled brats who throw tantrums in the grocery store, they want everyone’s attention. After all, when one’s real life has no meaning, it’s easy to invent purpose in a narcissistic virtual world.

Fortunately for the good and decent majority of citizens, defending ourselves against punks and assassins with keyboards is simple: Just don’t look. Unfollow the keyboard terrorists. Block them. Mute them. If you don’t know how to use those self-defense tools, ask someone who does. Or abandon the social media platform altogether.

We can’t decide if a real killer is going to impact our lives at some point. But the choice of allowing the keyboard terrorists into our lives is entirely within our control. Life is too short to dwell on negativity. Why take the chance of getting caught in the virtual crossfire of hate? The real world is waiting.

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Patrick Wilson currently serves as the district and county attorney for Ellis County.