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I had my Twelve piece ready to go early this week. I had it done by Tuesday noon, photos and all, which is unusual for me. That afternoon I did a collaborator call, ran some errands, and got some exercise.
And then, the horrific news about a school shooting in Uvalde.
More of the same: “There have been 27 school shootings this year. There have been 119 school shootings since 2018, when Education Week began tracking such incidents. The highest number of shootings, 34, occurred last year. There were 10 shootings in 2020, and 24 each in 2019 and 2018.”
I am working at home today (Wednesday) – or trying too. I survey my social media landscape, check and recheck the news. Pace in my living room. Having a forum here and not minimally acknowledging this monstrous evil by submitting that finished piece as if nothing of note had happened seems wrong. But what to say?
The 2012 killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School (20 6-7 year olds, 6 adult staff) affected me deeply and I brooded for days. Surely, I thought, this was a crime that so shocked the conscience that the warring over gun regulations could stop to begin experimenting with solutions designed to prevent it from ever happening again. Seems sadly naive now.
With the killings in Uvalde (currently reported to be 19 fourth-graders and 2 teachers), I cycle through my touchstones. My wife is standing in her own third grade classroom right now as I write this. I’m a dad with memory of all the anxieties that entails. I have dear friends who have small children. I work in the world of conservation where hunting, and therefore gun ownership, are common. I have my own guns, locked in a safe, in a corner of a closet.
There have been 23 mass shootings in the US since Sandy Hook and with each one, my brain’s regions for empathy and outrage grow incrementally numb. It’s likely some sort of self-preservation mechanism, but it’s not right. None of this is right.
I’m looking at the photos of the Uvalde victims as they emerge. Dead kids. Beautiful people all. I see our common humanity. I see anguished families. My pastor would tell me I am seeing the face of Christ. We can’t let this fade into abstraction. Feed that anger. Feel that despair. Distill it into resolve. And then take it to the polls with you.
Our gun violence is uniquely a United States problem associated with high levels of gun ownership and easy access. This despite being near average in violent crime generally for 14 industrialized countries, all or nearly all of whom allow civilian gun ownership (data from 2018). Those countries offer insights in how to fight this scourge – if only we had a functional democracy that wasn’t awash in gun industry cash.
Connecticut’s Senator Blumenthal gave a sober speech in the Senate this morning calling senators to search their consciences and return to work on “common sense” measures already on the table for policy approaches that honor the second amendment . The consequences of not doing so, he said, was (horrifically) “more of the same.” The Senate should act on the Bipartisan Background Check Act (H.R. 8) recently passed in the House as a start.
That’s where I’m at. For the love of God, do something! Experiment. And as a gun owner, I put my interests in the balance. I don’t want to contemplate dead kids. I don’t want more of the same.
One may be a freer person as a gun-owner under lax gun regulation, but we are not a freer people when we are being killed in racist gun violence at the grocery and when children and teachers are practicing active shooter drills to avoid being shot in their schools. And when parents send their children off to school and choke back the worry that they may never see them again.
A year ago, a mass shooting at another grocery in Boulder Colorado (10 dead) caused one of our Twelve writers to fear for her brother’s safety to the point that she felt it in the pit of her stomach and that it made her hands shake. Her post was legitimately pointed and rooted in the deep worry she felt for her brother and a toxic culture of gun violence. She ended provocatively, saying: “You cannot carry a gun and also a cross.” It generated 51 comments – which is a lot for this blog.
I disagreed, and several in the comments disagreed respectfully. Others, though, entered the comments wearing belligerent arguments on their sleeves. One openly taunted her. I wish I had the words at the time to stand with her despite disagreeing, and it’s bothered me since.
Gun violence in this country is horrific and it’s entrenched in our poisoned politics and a culture that privileges (certain) rights over responsibility. If we can’t set aside our idolatries to walk with one another through grief and lament and fear and anger as we grope for solutions, what are we even doing here?