When Columbine happened, I cried. Virginia Tech, I cried. Sandy Hook, I cried. After Sandy Hook, I thought I was finished crying. Then came the shooting in Charleston, SC this past summer. I cried again. Yesterday’s shooting in San Bernardino, CA–I didn’t cry. I’m horrified, deeply saddened, my heart aches and breaks for those lost, injured, and those who have lost loved ones in yesterday’s slaughter. You know the one, in a Social Services center, where the developmentally disabled receive services. I’m disgusted.
When did these types of shootings become an acceptable part of the fabric of America? Last night I thought it must have been after Sandy Hook. But I purposely waited before trying to put a blog post together, waited until I was calm enough to think beyond what.the.fuck. Earlier in the day, before I saw the news from San Bernardino I was still debating whether or not I could write anything that made sense about this past weekend’s shooting at the Planned Parenthood in Colorado. Whoops, I blinked, new shooting. So I make no guarantees as to the coherence of this post, sorry.
This morning I’m thinking this “acceptability” must be older. Maybe 1984, when 21 people were slaughtered (also in CA) in a McDonald’s. After all, not everyone goes to college. Not everyone relates to seeing churches as a sanctuary. Not everyone had a warm and fuzzy school experience. But McDonald’s? What could possibly be more American, more of a symbol of capitalism at its finest, than McDonald’s? (Hell, when I had my first child, McDonald’s was one of my thoughts when deciding whether or not to raise my children vegetarian, and decided against it.) Maybe it was 1986, when “going postal” became a punchline after 14 people were shot and killed in Oklahoma. Come to think of it, when did these mass shootings become a sacred cow? Not that they’re in any way, shape, or form funny– but somehow they aren’t a subject open for discussion. Or study. Or, yanno, action.
My mind is peppered with questions, but not the ones you might think. We’ve had so damned many of these shootings, in so many ordinary places filled with people going about their lives, there’s no question that any and everyone in this country should be able to identify and understand this isn’t a matter of a hazy “them,” it could be me, or you, or anyone we care about. We’ve had so many I don’t care about the specific why or who of each shooter. White, black, brown, male, female, Christian, Muslim, right now I don’t give a shit. When we look at these mass shootings, we are always looking at American citizens taking out as many other American citizens as they can. I think we need to focus on the how before anything else. And the answer to how is guns. Easy accessibility and the attachment to them. It is bizarre, that we live in a society where the right to own a personal, literal arsenal is considered so holy, we aren’t even allowed to research it.
Because, as the Facebook memes say, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. This is true–and they kill each other with guns. We passed the time when access to legal guns should have been given (much) tighter restrictions at least thirty years ago. It’s also true that increased background checks and tighter restrictions will not eliminate all gun related crimes and deaths. We can’t cure cancer, either, but we screen for it, pay attention to symptoms and warning signs, and treat people who are sick. Surprisingly enough, even though we have no cure for cancer, many of the people treated go into remission and go on to live full lives. Some don’t. If we used the same logic currently being used for arguments against gun control, we wouldn’t treat any cancer patients because some will die regardless of treatments available and used.
Last night I had a conversation about this with a friend who is also medical needs mom. Over the years, we have gotten very good at compartmentalizing. You kind of have to, in order to help your child as much as possible, but also to, well, live. Get the laundry done once in a while. Laugh. We have learned to accept what would have once been considered unthinkable, let alone acceptable. So I understand how and why we, as Americans, have learned to compartmentalize these atrocities, these types of “events.” When there are so many, we have to, in order to keep functioning. But there’s a huge difference in this analogy. We don’t stop caring and loving. We don’t stop doing everything in our control to learn what we can, access the best treatments, provide the best life. We don’t stop remembering our children, medical needs/special needs or not, are human beings. It seems to me it’s time for the larger we, the American people, to remember these victims (past, present and future) of gun violence are human beings. We’re supposed to care. Care with real discussion, not rhetoric. Care with action and the best preventative measures available.
“It’s too soon” is not a battle cry. It’s a deflection. And it’s nonsense when these horrors are happening so frequently there isn’t even a pretense of a time that isn’t too soon.
These shootings aren’t an act of God, a force of nature we’re powerless to prevent. We, as a society, are making a choice. We make a choice when we watch and read opinion pieces and pretend they’re news, we make a choice when we encourage hatred, when we value this life over that one, we make a choice when we tsk tsk about another mass shooting but don’t enact stricter gun laws. Federal ones.