I remember clearly the first time the phrase “deeply saddened” came to my mind in response to an atrocity. It was 1999, and in Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, two students slaughtered 12 classmates, 1 teacher, injured 24 people, and then killed themselves. At the time it was so shocking, so hideous, I couldn’t stand to watch the news or stay in the apartment; I took (then a baby) Nerd Child and went up the street to the preschool Man Child had attended. I stood there with the director and teachers, all of us crying silently while we watched the little ones playing on the rooftop. (NY, you make play spaces where you can.)
Deeply saddened. When the loss is so huge, so shocking, nonsensical yet calculated, it feels deeper than a personal tragedy; a public loss we all share and mourn, yet feeling we’re powerless in the face of it, and what we feel doesn’t scratch the surface of those whose loss is personal, those who lost children and family members, spouses, friends and teachers.
In the 17 years that have passed since then, it feels like there have been many occasions when I have found myself deeply saddened by a no-longer-extraordinary mass shooting here in America: Virginia Tech, Virginia, Binghamton, New York, Fort Hood, Texas, Sandy Hook, Connecticut, Washington Navy Yard, Washington DC, Charleston, South Carolina, San Bernardino, California, and now Orlando, Florida. This is by no means a complete and comprehensive list of mass shootings here in the US, nor does it include any slaughters that came before Columbine: Edmond, Oklahoma, Killeen, Texas, San Ysidro, California–to name a few “big” ones. Hell, I think the largest mass killing of this type was back in 1857 in Mountain Meadows, Utah.
By the time Sandy Hook occurred, maybe the “shock” of the targets being children so young, I was tilting from deeply saddened to furious. And now, with this most recent mass shooting in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, 50 dead and 53 injured, I’m still sad, I’m still angry, but I’m sure as shit not shocked. That this occurred in an LGBT nightclub during Pride Month? Not shocked. How can anyone pretend to be? Look at my (incomplete) lists above. Children, teens, young adults, adults, black, white, asian, latino, gay, straight, rural, suburban, urban, elementary schools, high schools, colleges, churches, post offices, immigration centers, motherfucking military bases. If the list of victims, perpetrators and locations is so scattered, the only answer is to find the common theme.
Yeah, I’m going there. I know, many will see this and roll their eyes, “it’s too soon!” “Mrs Fringe is politicizing a tragedy!” It cannot be too soon when we know the next mass shooting is only a matter of time. And this is a political tragedy. A tragedy of policy, when we live in a country that refuses to enact stricter gun control laws, a country that has in place a congressional ban on gun violence research (renewed, by the way, immediately after 9 people were killed inside a Charleston church), when we know most of these slaughters occurred with legally obtained weapons by people who should never have been able to obtain guns if we had any collective common sense. Obviously, at this point we, as a nation, have accepted that next time it could be us personally, our children, our loved ones, and we’ve decided we’re ok with that. Oh sure, we’ll hold vigils and wail, offer prayers and tweets and gnash our teeth–if it’s really a big number killed we’ll even apply an appropriately colored, somber overlay onto our Facebook profile pictures.
Many of us have had personal tragedies, upheaval or illnesses in our lives that have caused us to accept a new normal. Well, mass shootings are our not-so-new normal here in the US. The NRA–hell, friends of mine–will be defensive, certain of their right to mourn alongside the rest of us and those who lost loved ones this weekend. They’ll mean it. Most of those I know who are against sensible gun control will genuinely be saddened by this most recent tragedy–maybe even deeply. They’ll hold up the shooter’s history of hate, insanity and domestic violence as “proof” that we need more guns. Above all they’ll point to the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms as sacred, not to be contained, controlled, or god forbid tampered with above all else. Above all else. Above:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among those are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. ~~Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, 1776
1776 was a long time ago. As a country, as a world we have grown, changed, and advanced so much it makes no sense at all to apply the guidelines written then as a document to be followed to the letter now. We know it, but it’s inconvenient. So much easier to be reactionary and defensive, luxuriate in the righteousness of our greed and mourning, to cry, Patriotism! while accepting our new normal. It is greed when our elected officials put the contributions of gun lobbyists and their interests over those of their constituents. When we continue to elect and support those officials, we, as a people, are validating that greed.
Even in Fringeland, we’ve been down this road and I’ve written about this subject too many times before. Some will read this or other pieces better written with more facts than mine, and they’ll point to other nations. Hold up as proof of America’s greatness charts of violent death rates by country, point to how far down the list we are, how many more are killed by violence in Columbia, Honduras, Somalia, etc. Is that the type of comparison that makes sense, that we want? These are nations shredded by internal strife, wars civil and otherwise, ruled by poverty and desperation. They’ll point to statistics on crime and shout that criminals have guns, so we all should. No, the answer to gun violence is not more guns. They’ll then say we will not be able to eradicate all guns, so we shouldn’t eliminate any. I can’t even follow the intended logic on that one. We continue to fund disease research and treatments, even as we know we cannot eradicate all disease. They’ll say the CDC cannot conduct studies on gun violence because guns are not a disease. I call bullshit.
I won’t begin quoting statistics, they’re everywhere this morning. I will say that yesterday, while we were watching the antics of blustering politicians on Twitter, and crying as we watched the horrific scene outside of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, I saw another “small” story come up. This one local, not too many stops away on the train. A young mother of three was shot to death on a playground, protecting her children.
Gun violence is a disease in America, and mass shootings are the weeping of our bleeding hearts.