These past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about America’s culture. In particular the gun culture that is pervasive throughout the country.
In 2007 I was a student in West Virginia and one Monday morning in April there was a breaking news report of a shooting incident at Virginia Tech. Now, this was a university four hours away, but as the events of that morning unfolded and what was at first a ‘shooting’ turned out to be a ‘massacre’, it was as if it happened down the road. At the time, it was the most horrible thing I had ever experienced, though it did not happen to me.
When the planes flew into the twin towers, I knew then that America was a place where tragedies happened. In America, incidents that you couldn’t even imagine, somehow someone else would not only think of, but plan and execute. But I had already decided before then, that America was where I would live, and so despite the fact that on September 12th in a hotel in Port of Spain, I sat together with my father and watched repeated footage on CNN of the planes hitting the towers, and heard my fathers lamentations about this terrible thing that could only have happened in America, and despite his surreptitious warnings that if I wasn’t convinced before, this alone should be enough to assure me that America was not my promised land. But my mind had already been made up.
Woe is me.
After Virginia Tech became synonymous with massacre I realized that this sort of thing can happen at anytime, at any place and so I became vigilante, overnight. From then on, if sitting in a classroom I would always sit near a wall, preferably near a window or behind the back door so that ‘when the shooter comes’ I’m either jumping out the window, or running out the back door, assuming he comes through the front. I stopped listening to headphones in public that way If something started to go down I would be able to hear and make good my escape in time. And as time went by this just became a part of life. I was okay. I did not live in fear. I knew bad things could happen but I felt ready to handle anything.
Now thankfully I have had been in close proximity to a mass shooting, which continued with some regularity after that April in 2007.
Until 2012. It was my first summer living in Denver and working near Aurora. My coworkers and I often had lunch together, and on Fridays it was always a special event. We’d go to a restaurant and eat and chat and laugh and an hour later head back to the office then work hard for several more hours before it was time to start the weekend. It was an intense period because the company had recently been issued an FDA warning letter so there was a lot of work that needed to be done in a short space of time.
The Dark Knight was released at midnight on Thursday and we decided that on the Friday, we would take lunch together early, and see the matinee release of the film. It was something to look forward to.
Seven hours later, while we each individually drifted off to sleep in the comfort of our homes, me in my tiny studio apartment, a twin sized day bed I bought off Craigslist, that belonged to a 7 year old boy who was upgrading to a ‘big boy bed’. We had no idea what was unfolding less than half an hour away.
Everybody knows what happened that night, James Holmes, a doctoral student at UC Denver and an all round lunatic carefully and deliberately carried out his deadly rampage with weapons he purchased legally and easily. 12 people dead. 70 plus injured. Tragedy is not the word.
Now I know after every disaster there is a mad race especially on Facebook to see who can post their ‘thoughts and prayers’ status update first. And then a competition to see who is most affected. If there is a bombing in Paris everyone digs out their holiday photos in front of the Eiffel Tower and shares a memory of having been RIGHT AT THAT RESTAURANT! just a few months earlier. “It could have been me!”
The outage is real, the pain and suffering tremendous.
After a week or so, all goes quiet. The profile pictures revert to duck faced selfies and the previously suffering and outraged citizen goes back to reposting links to the latest celebrity gossip.
Then three months, or six months or some short time goes by and then, like clockwork ‘Breaking news….’
Five months after Aurora it was Sandy Hook.
Last November it was Las Vegas. This Valentine's Day - A High School in Florida.
I’m so sick of this country and the evil and unstable people who so easily purchase weapons for the sole purpose of shedding innocent blood.
And I am so sick of people who see something but refuse to say something or take no action when something must be done.
But most of all, I'm slightly terrified that it seems as if over time our society has become completely desensitized to these mass shootings. The media for one treats it like a carnival. With each mass shooting the obvious excitement surrounding the coverage grows more frenzied. Reporters hunt down survivors so they can show them on air in all their painful glory: tears, choked back words, moments of silence. It doesn't seem real. A young high school student is shown on CNN, wiping tears, looking at the camera then away, nodding to an unasked question, to convince herself she is alright.
"Are you okay?", the reporter asks, this after the girl reveals her best friend 'Did not make it'. The girl nods, wipes away more tears. ''We're sending love and prayers to you right now....", the reporter says. The girl cries some more.
Am I the only person who sees something extremely wrong with this?
Where is the FBI in all of this? The same FBI known to target ‘persons of interest’ who they believe to be involved with extremist organizations (Code for muslims) and have in numerous documented instances charged people wrongly with terrorism. Where is the FBI when an American white boy repeatedly declares on social media that he will be a ‘school shooter’. Some concerned citizen does make an FBI report. Nothing happens though. And so the American white boy goes out and buys his weapons, and his ammunition, and makes is plans. And then one Wednesday afternoon, February 14th, he carries out the plan as he had already confessed he would and in the news we are ‘shocked and saddened’.
Eyes are looking but nobody is seeing. People are talking but nobody is listening.
There needs to be a cultural shift, away from guns and their trigger happy owners.
People need to ask themselves some tough questions and seek to find the answers.
I have the first answer to the question we should be asking - it is NO. Under no circumstance is it acceptable for a (deranged) eighteen year old to own a semi automatic weapon.
Imagine an intoxicated person going into a car rental and asking for a vehicle. They clearly are not in any good condition to operate a motor vehicle, but they show their drivers license, and a credit card, ‘I can pay, I am a licensed driver, the *law states that if these two conditions are satisfied you must rent me a car’. What should the rental owner do? Take the money and hand over the keys?
Then ten minutes later when a drunk driver speeding going the wrong way on the interstate crashes and kills several people in the process who is at fault?
What ever happened to common sense, and responsibility? If these two virtues were to be reintroduced in our society and among our policy makers, so many of our current problems could potentially be solved.
In the mean time, all we can do is remain vigilant, and hope for the best. As far as my promised land, I know now that this isn't it.