Tag Archives: gun violence

Another Day, Another Mass Shooting

3 Dec

The other day I was telling this kid about a dream that I have. The dream is to have access to a room with an exposed brick wall, a safety suit (including, but not limited to, safety goggles and heavy duty boots) and shelves full of different types of glass. Nothing too pretty. Bottles, mainly. Oh, and a cleaning crew on call that I would pay very handsomely.* The idea is that when I get really, really angry I can go to this room, put on my safety suit and throw glass forcefully against the wall. I imagine this would be very therapeutic. And then I would call the cleaning crew to clean up. Now, even in my dreams I am aware of the expense of having such a room, and so when I am not using the room (which would be often I hope) I would rent it out to other people. I think I would have to charge them a flat fee for the space itself but also a certain amount of money for each glass broken. Otherwise some asshole with a real rage problem could go in there, run his hand along a shelf and just knock all the glass to the floor, shattering it! And some more conscientious rage-a-holic would throw one or two glasses only more thoughtfully and end up paying the same amount. That would not be fair. And besides, it would not be a good business model to piss off people who get angry enough to hurl things against a wall and watch them shatter. I know. I am one. Anyway I told him this story and instead of getting the giggles that I anticipated (come on, it’s absurd!) I got the following question:

You get angry enough that you want to throw glass against the wall?

I was quiet for a second because, yea, I totally do.  But also,

Yea. You don’t? Do you read the news?

And that brings us here. To today. The day after yet another massacre in the United States, this time at the Inland Regional Center, a state-run facility for individuals with developmental disabilities. Many of us might, with disgust, realize that this is the second such massacre this week, the first one being in Colorado at a Planned Parenthood clinic. That, however, is incorrect. According to the New York Times, on average there is more than one mass shooting every single day.

On average there is more than one mass shooting every day in America.

So far this year, 462 people have died and 1,314 people have been wounded in attacks like the two that were publicized this week alone, attacks that oftentimes take place on streets and in public gathering places and universities. If we look at the number of deaths used by congressional researchers to categorize these events – 4 or more dead – the number of mass shootings does go down. But of course, the killing in Colorado would be left out of that measure because Robert Dear only managed to murder three people. Even without those shootings with less fatalities, the numbers are still harrowing. According to two databases that track all shootings with 4 or more fatalities — shootingtracker.com and gunviolencearchive.org, both unofficial — there have been 354 such shootings in 220 cities in 47 different states since January. According to the Times article,

“In November, six people were killed, five of them shot to death at a campsite in East Texas; 17 were wounded in a shootout as a crowd watched the filming of a music video in New Orleans; and four died, including twin five-month-olds, in an episode of domestic violence in Jacksonville, Fla. So far this week, five people were wounded Sunday morning in a shooting in Kankakee, Ill., and a shooting Wednesday, before the San Bernardino attack, left one woman dead and three men wounded in Savannah, Ga.”

Get ready for it though: it actually gets worse. According to Ted Alcorn who is the research director for Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit that advocates for gun control, we have a much bigger problem. It is, he acknowledges, a horrible tragedy that 14 people were killed in one day in California,

“But likely 88 other people died today from gun violence in the United States.”

Alcorn’s organization has studied shootings occurring between 2009 and mid-2015 that left four or more people dead and found certain patterns.

“In only 11 percent of cases did medical, school or legal authorities note signs of mental illness in the gunmen before the attack… Domestic violence figured strongly: In 57 percent of the cases, the victims included a current or former intimate partner or family member of the attacker. Half of all victims were women. More than two-thirds of the shootings took place in private residences; about 28 percent occurred in public spaces… More than 60 percent of the attackers were not prohibited from possessing guns because of prior felonies or other reasons.”

Looking at that information, this whole thing got a hell of a lot scarier. These mass shootings that are covered extensively by the news, are fucking horrifying and exhausting. But that isn’t even the half of it. If we treated domestic violence with the same disbelief that we react with every time there is one of these seemingly random shootings on a street corner somewhere — no, scratch that, if we acknowledged domestic violence as a huge problem at all — it would probably be hard to even leave the house. Just like date rape and intimate partner rape is not treated with the same seriousness as stranger rape, murder at the hands of an intimate partner or family member is not categorized as a public health crisis, or a violence problem, or as symptomatic of the patriarchy but as a private issue. That the victims are mostly women only makes that case stronger. But that’s not the point. A shooting is a shooting is a shooting, a murder is a murder is a murder. Which brings us to something interesting. Something we should perhaps remind those around us, mostly conservative, who pitch a fit every time we think about increasing gun control measures.

Your hero, the man you herald as the Conservative of all Conservatives, was a supporter of gun control. That’s right. The one and only Ronald Reagan, in an op-ed for the New York Times in 1991, said,

“Every year, an average of 9,200 Americans are murdered by handguns. This level of violence must be stopped.”

This, of course, was because Ronald Reagan, along with his press secretary Jim Brady, Washington police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, was the victim of a shooting. Reagan was convinced that this event — a mentally unstable young man opening fire with a .22 calibre that he obtained at a pawn shop — never would have happened had the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (AKA the Brady Bill), named for Jim Brady, been law back in 1981 when the shooting occurred. The Brady Bill, signed into law by Bill Clinton on November 30, 1993, mandated federal background checks on gun purchasers in the United States and imposed a 5-day waiting period on purchases until the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was started in 1998.

Obviously, the Brady Bill and NICS falls extremely short of actually limiting access of fire arms to people just in general. The proof, unfortunately, is in the pudding. And it doesn’t help that the National Rifle Association is run by money grubbing nutjobs who somehow manage to convince people they are fighting for the Second Amendment when in reality they are a lobby run by extremists who block safety measures in order to continue to line their own pockets with all the blood money that rockets in their direction. (It is worth noting, by the way, that the NRA was not always so fucking insane. It supported the first major federal gun law back in 1934 and backed the 1968 Gun Control Act. Oh, how far they’ve fallen.) But like, the fuck? When does it end? When do we take the power back? When do we say enough is enough? And when did Ronald Reagan seem like the only reasonable Republican out there?

So, yea, I am mad enough I could throw shit. Often. The question is: why aren’t you? And what the fuck are we going to do about it?

*This word is spelled so weird! It goes from hansom to handsomely! Two extra letters. Both silent!

A Response to Newtown

17 Dec

I have really been trying to avoid writing about this because, honestly, what can I say about it that hasn’t already been said and thought about countless times over.  But after spending yet another hour in front of my computer, reading article upon article about the horrible tragedy that occurred in Connecticut this past Friday, I just can’t help myself.  Personally, I am not really sure how to deal with all the feelings I have been having over the past few days (including crying myself to sleep two nights in a row) so I figure I will work it out here.  You can either choose to go ahead and read or spare yourself…the latter would be beyond justified.

I found out about the event via a New York Times emergency update on my phone.  Pretty much nothing good ever comes from seeing that little script “T” appear on the top right hand side of my screen.  I opened it and read the headline and my immediate response was

What the fuck is wrong with people?!

I realized the carnage had happened in an elementary school.  I logically understood that many of the victims were children.  I just think my brain was literally incapable of understanding it.  My brain just rejected the information.  I ate lunch.  I drank some more coffee.  I took a shower.  I got the laundry together.  I went down to the Clean Rite to throw the pounds and pounds of dirty clothes, sheets and towels in the wash and was surrounded, literally surrounded, by televisions on different news stations – 2, 4, 5, 7 — all reporting on the events in Newtown.  My boyfriend was there and so, to avoid allowing the reality of it all to crash down on us, we chatted, joked, and divvied our laundry into three different washers.  While the clothes were washing, we ran some errands and then, while he showered, I went down to change the laundry into the dryers.  I couldn’t avoid listening to the news, the interviews with children as they left the scene, with parents who’s kids were spared, to newscasters who were literally unable to keep it together (and who can blame them?).  I got teared-up in the Clean Rite.  My eyes and my lower lip burned.  I kept it, at least right then, to a minimum of tears.  The rest of the evening, spent largely alone with my cats, was spent trying as hard as possible to avoid the news.  I knew what I would find there and I know myself.  I would spend all night, into the wee hours, scouring every news site in an effort to understand something, anything.  I did a relatively good job but still, lying in bed by myself, I couldn’t help but think about the parents who were missing children for the first night, families who were missing those who worked at the school.

I woke up the next morning and walked to work.  I wrote a message on the outside board about the need to discuss gun violence in wake of this most recent tragedy.  There were a few conversations about it during the day but I think, mostly, people just couldn’t deal.  I think they went to the bar to get away from the news and the wondering and the thoughts and the tears and I certainly wasn’t going to take that away from them.  When work ended and I arrived back home I, stupidly perhaps, turned my computer on and there was the New York Times website, my home page.  And there on the first page was an article that revealed that the shooter’s mother didn’t even work at the school.  I had been sad and confused about this event before but for some reason this made it all worse.

But why?

The result was the same.  The kids and the educators were dead.  I guess there was some part of my brain that had previously believed, taken some weird form of comfort in, the fact that maybe this guy went to kill his mother and got carried away.  That despite the incredible amount of fire power he brought with him that maybe he snapped in that moment, that people got in the way, that he got scared.  Something.  Anything.  I wanted to believe, even though I think logically I knew it wasn’t true, that it was an accident.  That he didn’t mean to kill all those kids.  To think that he killed his mother at home and then drove to an elementary school and opened fire on a group of mostly first graders just…I don’t know.  To think of walking into a school full of young people who are still more or less unaffected by horror and tragedy and to massacre them is just unfathomable.  To think that that was the point of his journey there.  The point was to go in and destroy the lives of countless people.  The point was to look at these little guys that weight 40?  50? pounds and rip their bodies apart with not 1, not 2, but up to 11 bullets.  The point was, what?   I doubt we’ll ever have an answer to that.

In the aftermath of all this I have seen a lot of people talking about gun control.  A lot of people talking about better care for the mentally ill.  A better infrastructure to identify and treat, or at least help, those who are risks to themselves and others.  I’ve seen people warn that by focusing on the mental state of this particular person risks further stigmatizing a group of people who, for the most part, are not violent.  I think these are all valid points.  I think we need to talk gun control.  I think we need to talk about not shutting mental illness up in a closet because it is too sensitive to talk about.  But I also think we need to address our culture’s ideas about masculinity and power and privilege.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that almost all of the mass shootings that have occurred recently, and in history, have been perpetrated by men.  And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that more often than not those men have been white.  I think we need to talk about how we raise our boys.  We need to talk about the way we advertize and how we define what makes a person “manly.”  We need to realize that the shifting demographics in this country not only make it increasingly difficult for any candidate to run on a ticket geared only to white men, but also represent a challenge to our carefully constructed reality.  We need to shift our norms.  We need to shift our values.  When we spend a good deal of our time – in television shows and movies, in commercials, in conversation, in classrooms – putting white men on a pedestal and then they go out in the world and their privilege is challenged and maybe their opinions don’t matter more than everyone else’s solely because they have a white penis, well, what do we expect?  As a woman, yea, society has told me that I am worth less, that I deserve less, that my body is not mine, that I am the cause of my own abuse.  But also as a woman I was taught to fight back, to answer these attacks with reason and truth, to join together with other women and allies, to not allow words and actions to define my worth.

I guess what I am saying is what if I expected everything?  What if I was born and the world was mine and, although life wasn’t easy, things were designed and created with me in mind?  How might I respond to others questioning my power?

I think our boys lack tools to deal with adversity.  I think we, as a culture, build them up so much and at the same time infuse them with an unattainable, and oftentimes violent, idea of what manhood is.  It’s not sustainable.  It’s like a child whose given everything he asks for, and even things he doesn’t, and all of a sudden hears the word “no” only rather than throwing some toys he shoots some guns.

I am certainly oversimplifying.  I will certainly think more about this in the coming days, weeks, months.  I guess the thing is that I don’t think it’s just access to guns, or lack of access to proper care, although those are certainly part of the problem.  I just really think we need to start talking about how we prepare our boys for the world.  Obviously not all of them go out shooting.  Not even most of them.  But it would be nice if none of them did and I strongly believe that an honest and open dialogue about cultural norms, power, privilege and masculinity is in order.  It might actually help more than a reevaluation of the second amendment or  better and more affordable mental health care.  We need to better prepare our boys for the changing world.  We need to teach them to respond to adversity not with anger and violence but with information.  Just a thought.