I started writing this piece a few months ago. I have struggled with the conviction that what I say will have no impact beyond, perhaps, attracting malicious responses. But with the mid-term elections here, I decided to finish the essay and post it. And as I was filling in the remaining gaps today, I saw that there was another shooting, this time in a synagogue in Philadelphia.
I am a Jew. Perhaps that shouldn’t matter, and I don’t find that I am more appalled at this rampage than I have been at all the many, many others. But I confess this one shook me. These were my people. I may not have known any of the congregants or victims, but this killing is still personal, and it brought to the surface not just what has become my usual fury, but also a core of fear that I wish I could deny I carry with me. So now I publish this essay not just in hopes of effecting some ripple of change, but also in defiance of that fear and of the people, like today’s killer, who have installed it in my heart and in my mind.
It has been over nineteen years since the slaughter at Columbine High School, nineteen years since we saw what destruction of lives, of dreams, of potential could be wrought by the proliferation of guns in our country. In those nineteen years, we have seen with growing frequency how gun violence does not just end the lives of people, of children who should have lived, but also how such violence leaves victims bewildered,1parents’ hearts shattered, siblings missing brothers and sisters and wondering whether their parents will ever be happy again. Friends and classmates are left with memories of carnage, memories that shape them for the rest of their lives. And we rarely hear about the children who are picked off one by one every day —an average of nineteen shot each day, three or four of whom will die.2 And those of us who want to prevent these rending losses with gun-law reform are branded as unpatriotic, our ability to understand the Second Amendment derided, our intentions attributed to a desire for some kind of self-serving political gain. Like Cassandra, we see clearly but seem fated to be dismissed.
It has been a little more than eight months since the Parkland murders, eight months since the survivors of that horror transformed their anger into a movement that (should have) shamed us all. The students spoke and marched and insisted — rightly — that such shootings should never happen again. Their demands were sensible and moderate, yet they were denigrated and ignored by many, especially by those in power who could have brought about changes that would have lessened the violence. And these young people continue to persevere by turning their March for Our Lives movement into a Vote for Our Lives endeavour, by travelling the country and encouraging other young people (and not so young ones too) to register and cast their ballots. They give me hope.3
And then there was another shooting, this time in Texas. And what was shocking was the lack of shock. It was Santa Fe student Paige Curry who, when asked by Foti Kallergis of ABC-13if there was part of her that had thought such a shooting couldn’t happen at her school, baldly replied
“No,” she said, without looking directly at Kallergis. “There wasn’t.”
“It’s been happening everywhere,” she said with a shrug. “I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too.”4
I find it unspeakably abhorrent that we have allowed, by refusing to implement sane regulations on guns, this expectation to become normal, that we have become comfortable with our children’s knowing we find their slaughter an acceptable alternative to regulating weapons in America.
The community of Santa Fe is still, as they should be, reeling and mourning.5 And yesterday, The New York Times reported that
Kentucky State Police foiled a man’s plan to attack a high school after they received a tip from a New Jersey woman who said he had sent her a racist message on Facebook, the authorities said.
The police traced the message to Dylan Jarrell, 21, of Lawrenceburg, Ky., and then discovered after searching his phone that he had been plotting to attack local schools.6
School shootings continue to be the signature villainy of our time, continue to be the salient point around which our arguments and fears coalesce. My husband is a teacher; he doesn’t know what to tell his students.
I continue to think about guns in our culture, about the people who do use them safely, and about those with opinions different than mine who are willing to engage in civil discourse on this topic. So I asked someone I respect, someone who grew up shooting guns, who could shoot from the back of a horse and the back of a truck, what she thinks we should do about guns. She told me that her local city newspaper recently ran a cartoon of a police department with guards all around it, and a hospital with guards, and a school that’s completely open. She thinks we must set guards around our schools, have our kids walk through metal detectors to get into their schools and be searched upon entry to the school building.
I know there are other thoughtful persons who agree with this view. But it is untenable. No school district has the money to post such security forces nor to purchase detectors and hire still more security to search our children. We are not even willing to pay the majority of our teachers a living wage.
More disturbing is the psychological effect that asking our students to go to schools that are set up like prisons will have. It is strange and upsetting that so many people, so many lawmakers are willing to ignore the effect sending children to fortresses every day will have but are eager to use the mentally ill as scapegoats. While some killers are indeed in need of psychiatric intervention, not all are cognitively or emotionally dysfunctional. The Las Vegas shooter had no mental illness. Too often the logic is that because a person, almost always male, picked up some guns and used them to kill more than four people, then that person is crazy, an aberrant statistic about which we can do nothing. But if we adhere to that argument, how can we hold any killer accountable? How do we calculate the amount of damage that we will define as insanity? Shooting four people isn’t much worse than killing three, or two, or one. And we can keep going from there. If killing a single person is madness, what about beating someone? Raping teens? Slapping a guy who got fresh at a bar? Calling the nerdy kid at school names? Pretty soon we would have to acknowledge that any act of harm against others, intentional or careless, willful, planned, or spontaneous is a sign of incompetence and illness, and that only the saints are sane.
We need to stop calling to our past, to our history as an excuse to maintain the status quo and to acknowledge that our present time has different needs. When our country was born, as Garrett Epps explains in The Atlantic7 more cogently than I can,
To much of the revolutionary generation, a standing army was the mortal enemy of freedom and self-government. Those ratifying the Constitution had vivid memories of red-clad professional soldiers—some speaking German—swarming ashore to enforce British tax laws, and then to try to crush the Revolution.
Despite that fear, the United States has established a federal military and invested the president with the powers and responsibilities of Commander in Chief. We have done away with state militias and bearing arms has never been a constitutionally unlimited right. It is long, long past time for the majority of us to stand up and say, “No more. Pass laws that will drastically reduce the number of guns in our country.”
America has always wrestled with the competing rights of various groups and individuals. We have, in the past, prided ourselves on our ideal (to which we may not always live up as well as we should) of protecting the less powerful from those in a position to oppress them. Those who argue for the “right” of all of us to own arsenals of whatever weaponry strikes our fancy are not preserving our freedom; they are refusing to see that the great American experiment with flooding the country with guns has notmade us or our children safer; it has turned us into a society that tolerates killers and the terror that our children carry with them to school and into life.
As we go to the polls, we should remember that the Second Amendment was meant as a safeguard against tyranny. It is a sickening and dishonourable shame that it has now become itself an instrument of tyranny.
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/05/opinion/sunday/emma-gonzalez-parkland.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FSchool Shootings and Violence&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=7&h