14 of America’s Worst 25 Mass Shootings Have Happened Since I Became a Mother in 2005

You lose sight of these kind of things in the day-to-day, but this morning I opened up Google to research the worst mass shootings in America’s history.  You know, as one does on a Monday morning.  Two of them have happened in the past six weeks.  How’s that for sobering?

I found this list that catalogued the deadliest mass shootings in America’s modern history.  Full disclosure, I have no idea what qualifies as “modern history” or when it began.  Per the list, sometime after World War II.  Also, this list is generated by CNN, so perhaps a few of you might believe it to be fake news.  Alas, it is not.  Mass killings are now becoming commonplace. We barely have time to wrap up sending our thoughts and prayers from one carnage before another one has occurred.

Art installation done by Michael Murphy at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Art installation, “Gun Country,” done by Michael Murphy at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2014.

I sat down at the computer to write about a different aspect of this new culture of mass shootings (I will save that angle for another day, and, sadly, my guess is that I will not be waiting that long) when I went to Google.  Once there, I was sickened to realize that 56% of America’s worst mass shootings have happened in the twelve years since I have been a mom.

That means that my kids have only known an America where mass shootings are commonplace.  There have been seven in my young son’s life (he is 4) and twelve in my older son’s life (he is 8).  Even my daughter’s abbreviated life of just four years logged four mass shootings.

Just six weeks ago I was careful to keep the radio turned off so the boys would not hear the news out of Las Vegas before they started their day.  This morning, I kept the news on, the voices calmly relaying the details of our new normal — traffic, weather, body count.

In my own childhood, my mother never once had to turn the radio down for a report of mass carnage caused by guns in America.  The first mass shooting in my life happened in 1982 when I was 12 years old.  I had a childhood free of mass shootings.  Today’s children, mine included, cannot say the same.

I remember hearing stories from my parents about the man at the top of the tower at the University of Texas.  He killed 18 people and wounded dozens more on a summer day in 1966.  My Mom would never fail to remark that the shooter was diagnosed with a brain tumor during his autopsy, which somehow helped a traumatized nation make sense of the shooting spree.

Seeing the information, this landscape of our “Top 25” shootings, mapped out in my tidy handwriting on a notebook beside my computer, puts America’s problem with gun violence in stark focus.  Media outlets are now categorizing things like “worst church shooting,” “worst workplace shooting,” “worst school shooting.”  It is utter madness, lunacy, one of our great national sins.

To see and acknowledge the difference between the America I grew up in and the one my boys have inherited kind of, sort of makes me want to throw up.  Part of that is because I have little to no hope that things will change.  We are simply making room for these shootings in our lives rather than doing anything to stop them.

Just last week, which marked the one month anniversary of the Las Vegas shooting, I thought to myself that it felt like the violence had happened months and months earlier, not just a few weeks prior.  I wondered why there had been no follow-up coverage of what the motivation was behind the worst rampage on American soil.  I shuddered to realize that folks had just stopped caring.

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There was an article I saw over the weekend, even before news of this latest shooting broke yesterday morning, that talked about efforts underway to educate Americans about “situational defense.”  There is a growing movement that is trying to convince us that if this is the America we live in, we should learn how to get used to it as best we can — remain vigilant in all places, know where the exits are at all times, learn to stop blood flow if someone next to you gets shot, get our children comfortable with live shooter drills.

Actually, as every other developed nation in the world demonstrates, there are ways to curtail senseless episodes of mass shootings.  Enacting common sense gun laws would require a collective American wail of, “Enough.”  We are not there.  Instead, we bicker about politics and 2A rights and libtards and snowflakes and doomsday scenarios of government tyranny.

My children deserve better.  Your children deserve better.  All children deserve better than the adults who surround them, including me and you, who have become so inured to the senseless violence that nothing changes.  I hold myself accountable.  And you.  And those elected officials bought and paid for by the NRA that represent us in DC.

Stand up.  Vote.  Demand better for your children than a country where mass shootings are as commonplace and mundane as folding laundry or grocery shopping.

Late Night Comedians Get Serious About Gun Violence and Our Cowardly Congress

As America wound down after another day of trying to recover from the current worst mass shooting in modern American history (I see you, Wounded Knee), late night comedians and hosts had something to say about it.  Well, except Jimmy Fallon.  Pffft.

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The message was universal and clear — we need greater gun control laws to combat worsening gun violence, which has become devastatingly normalized in America, but our elected officials, and let’s be honest here, the Republicans in the House and Senate reliant on financial contributions from the NRA, are too cowardly to do anything about it, regardless of what their constituents want.

The vast majority of Americans agree, as evidenced by polls and research. The Pew Research Center polled both gun owning and non-gun owning Americans in March and April of this year.  This is what they found:  89% of Americans endorse a ban on allowing people with a diagnosed mental illness from gun ownership.  84% of Americans are in favor of background checks for gun sales at gun shows and between two private parties.  83% of Americans support banning individuals that appear on the no-fly or watch lists from purchasing guns.  71% of Americans support creating a federal database tracking gun sales.  68% of Americans favor banning the sale of assault-style weapons.  And 65% of Americans are against the sale of high capacity magazines.

So why the disconnect?  How are these mass shootings allowed to continue?  Why do Americans keep voting in elected officials that cower to the gun lobby?  How is it even possible that just this week, Congress may vote on several measures that will roll back current gun legislation, including legalizing silencers and the sale of armor piercing bullets, via the SHARE Act, legislation the NRA supports.   What is it about America that we are unable to address something every other developed nation in the world has addressed with great effectiveness?

Something is amiss when our late night comedians demonstrate more humanity, decency, and courage than the men and women we elect to represent us.  We are told by the White House and Fox News that now is not the time to discuss such matters.  We are told that politicizing tragedy is shameful.  We are told that bad people will always find a way to circumvent the laws.  Fuck.  That.  Noise.

Watch these monologues (primary sources, yo), call your representatives, and demand better.

Trevor Noah:

Jimmy Kimmel:

Stephen Colbert:

Conan O’Brien:

Seth Myers:

James Corden:

Fireworks and Guns and Empathy in Chicago

My Facebook feed has been chock full these past few days with angry friends and family who live in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.  Are they angry about the 101 shootings that occurred in Chicago over the long 4th of July weekend?  Probably, but that’s not what they’re talking about on Facebook.  They are annoyed at the loud and booming fireworks that have disturbed their peace over the past few days.

Officially, fireworks are illegal in Illinois.  Just like guns.  Officially, lots and lots of people don’t care.  As easy as it is to cross the border into Hammond or East Chicago or Munster and load up your trunk with fireworks before crossing back into Illinois is about as easy as it is to purchase guns and cross that same border.

Let that sink in for a moment.

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There is no question that the noise from fireworks is out of control in the days leading up to America’s birthday.  And there is no question that the loud booms from firecrackers and Roman candles and other fireworks can be harmful to pets, young children, veterans, and others who may experience the loudness as a trigger.  I am sensitive to that and appreciate it is a real problem for a great many people.

But those loud noises are a passing nuisance that can be expected.  Every year around the end of June, we know that we will be startled by the explosive noises.  As I’m typing this, one just went off, and it’s 10:24 a.m. on July 5.  It sucks.  Last night felt especially out of control, as a few friends posted live video of how bad it was in their neck of the woods, and there is no question, it was pretty dang bad. The sounds mimic a war zone, without exaggeration, and go on for long hours late into the night.

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These fireworks were shot off by my neighbors across the alley last night. They were “BALLS TO THE WALLS” loud.  The logo tells me they came from Krazy Kaplan’s in LaPorte, Indiana.  It is illegal to use or be in possession of these in Illinois.  It is illegal to purchase them and cross state lines, but, sure enough, thousands of nice and respectable folks, just like my neighbors, were shooting off these illegally obtained and transported fireworks across the city and suburbs.

This morning, I connected the dots between the local news about gun violence and my annoyed friends and family upset over fireworks.  This is an opportunity to practice empathy.  Those same folks whose lives have been disrupted in tangible ways these past few days can use that disruption as a way to better understand what it feels like for those other folks who live in Chicago neighborhoods where gun violence is rampant and disruptive, the difference being that the loud noises are more than a nuisance for some.  Those loud noises are attached to bullets instead of firecrackers.

Actual people in actual neighborhoods not five or ten or twenty-five miles away know to duck for cover while sitting outside or in their living rooms when they hear the loud bang of a gun being shot.  Those loud noises are business as usual in Chicago neighborhoods that are being decimated by gun violence that now garners international news reports and more than occasional tweets from our POTUS.

But that’s the small picture (micro system is what we used to call it in grad school).  The big picture (macro system, for those who like jargon) involves how easy it is to get guns into a city and state that until recently had very strict laws against gun ownership and use.  Because I write about gun violence on the ChicagoNow platform, an almost immediate response to anything I post about guns is, “Yeah, and you live in Chicago that had the strongest gun legislation in America, which just proves that laws don’t work!”

My response has always been the same — the guns are coming from outside Chicago and outside Illinois.  Chicago could have a wall around it and guns would still permeate it easily, given Indiana’s lax gun laws.

It was a gut check this morning to realize that as easy as it was for me to go into a gas station last weekend and purchase a few dollars worth of sparklers, that same ease applies to gun purchases.  And I can pretty much guarantee that those same suburban men who yell the loudest about Chicago gun violence drove their mini-vans across the border to stock up on illegal fireworks to impress the other dads in the sub-division.

We all have to start connecting the dots.  We all have to start taking ownership of the problem of gun violence.  We all have to understand how this isn’t strictly a Chicago problem or, as POTUS’ spokesperson suggested last week, a morality problem.  We all have to better empathize with the folks who live in these Chicago neighborhoods that are plagued with gun and gang violence.

The problems are clear.  Fixing them will be a lot harder than crossing that Indiana border.