The Possibility that You Might Get Shot Is a Depressing Fact of American Life
The first time I did something about America’s epidemic of mass shootings was not when I looked up and saw on TV that a child had shot up a school full of children – although that’s happened a lot of times here.
No, there wasn’t social media or an online death reel of snuff films in the midst ofa sniper’s killing spree in the Washington DC metro area, way back in 2002.
I didn’t write my then-congressman demanding more gun control, of which we have little.
I didn’t email my then-senators demanding that they do something to reduce the number of guns on the streets, because I knew they didn’t really read their emails.
I didn’t even call my state assemblywoman or my state senator in Richmond, Virginia, to demand that they close the state’s well-known and egregious loophole that lets people buy guns easily at gun shows.
Instead, I positioned the back of my car toward a building, and stood, bent over, behind my car door while I pumped gas – in case a teenage sniper was aiming at me, from somewhere I couldn’t see, hunting me.
The blasÃ© acceptance that, yes, you might well get shot some day is as much of a facet of American life in 2015 as it was in 2002. We are as desensitized now as we were were in 1993, when Colin McCarthy shot up a Long Island Railroad train car of commuters and in 1984, when James Huberty shot up a McDonalds in San Ysidro, California. The shooting at the University of Albany, in upstate New York (1994) didn’t change anything. Columbine (1999) didn’t change anything. TheLancaster, Pennsylvania Amish schoolhouse shooting (2006) didn’t change anything.
Nothing changed for Americans because our political leaders didn’t change anything. Instead, a nation ducked.
The lesser-known ones (Jonesboro, say, or Carson City, or the courthouse shooting in Reno, or the other shooting on Fort Hood, or Northern Illinois University): those we only dimly recollect, because we saw ourselves in the victims, because we could hardly even remember all of details of all of the mass shootings in our lifetime. We remember because of the press coverage, the calls for more stringent gun control, because this one went after women and the other walked into a cineplex screening of the next movie you thought you’d probably see.
We remember because we’re kind of scared to go to the movies in America now, or pump gas – or even watch TV or go on Facebook because we might catch yet another glimpse of a grim spectacle looking back at us.
In 2015, as in 2002, the threat is everywhere, and it’s nowhere.
The threat of American gun violence is the guy who walks into the movie theatre after the lights go down.
The truth of America’s firearm obsession is the kid who walks into the school long after the bell’s rung for class.
The horror of the United States doing nothing about the Glocks you can get for a couple hundred bucks is the lookie-loo in your peripheral vision as you’re trying to do a stand-up shot next to a lake.
Is it still shocking that there are legally-armed Americans killing innocent strangers?
The Washington Post points out that there’s been more than one mass shooting per day in 2015 (that is, shooting incidents in which more than four people were injured). The Centers for Disease Control statistics show that more than 33,000 people will have fatal encounters with guns in a given year.
When gun violence happens every day, it’s hard to be shocked; fatal shootings are, at this point, a given of American life, whether we like to admit it or not.
Let’s admit it. At least that’s doing something.
Politicians call for background checks because it’s the least they can possibly do to respond to yet another mass shooting and, besides which, there’s growing support for background checks even as general support for gun control declines. It doesn’t even matter that there’s no good way to use America’s incredibly flawed mental health care system to somehow populate a database of people too ill to own guns without turning them on other people. It doesn’t matter that the meagre background check system in place now flagged Charleston shooter Dylann Roof’s reported marijuana arrest, but an arrest isn’t enough to disqualify one from gun ownership. Background checks are apparently the only answer to mass shootings, because it’s the only answer politicians can offer and still get reelected.
When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns, the gun lobby helpfully opines – but at least then we would be able to tell the difference. Now, you don’t know until someone starts shooting. (Especially if you frequent restaurants preferred by so-called “open carry” advocates.)
There will be another mass shooting soon enough, of course. There will be another period of mourning in which any talk of doing something about just how many guns we have will be shushed by conservatives eager to not politicize the deaths of some new number of innocents.
There will be another round of political promises, another round of legislative failure, another period of time in which we all duck behind our cars until the fear eases just enough to carry on with our regular lives.
And then someone else with yet another gun will murder yet another group of people, and we’ll start the cycle all over again. And you’ll be watching. Now what are we going to do about it?