Earlier this week America experienced its most lethal mass shooting in history. Fifty people dead, including the shooter, fifty-three more injured. These mass shootings feel almost inevitable to me now, part of our culture. I feel myself numbing to them, this despite two acquaintances of acquaintances being among the victims in Orlando. I am shamed to admit that, my numbness, to the violent loss of life.
I’ve written about gun violence before, so my stance is well known. My earnest arguments in favor of common sense gun laws are received well by those who hold similar views and I am torn to shreds by those who disagree. The futility does not escape me. But on Monday morning, I found myself drawn to the Internet, reading articles, watching some news footage, quickly closing my laptop at times, lest my toddler be exposed to something no kid should should have to consider.
What I found, in researching the AR-15 gun that was used by the shooter, was what led to this gallery. It’s a collection of t-shirt graphics, of all things, that pretty much captures how and why the AR-15 is, as the NRA calls it, “America’s Rifle.” The sentiments on the shirts are evidence of a nation greatly divided. Rather than talk with those who disagree with us, we shout, we demean, we name call, we seek to silence them, we threaten.
Today, I will devote my blog to better understanding why it is the AR-15 is the most popular rifle sold on American soil, it’s purchases reaching an all time high in the days after the Orlando massacre. I am holding up a mirror to ourselves, our division, our passion and obsession with guns, our beliefs. And I will let the t-shirts speak for themselves, but not without a wee bit of commentary.
Three years ago this afternoon I was driving with my then three year old in the back seat. We were stuck in traffic coming home from Milwaukee. My husband called me wondering if I had heard the news. What news?, I asked. I was grateful the boy was sleeping, as I listened to the reports about a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut most of the way home.
Something changed for me that day.
There was a convergence of my own grief from having lost a child, living in a city where gun violence is rampant, and the idea of someone holding an arsenal targeting a school of defenseless children. Like many mothers, that day wrecked me. My boy was only in pre-school at the time and I was able to shelter him from news about schools not being a safe place, but I wept at the idea of young children being murdered, shot, dying through random gun violence.
Now, with my boy being in first grade himself, I can’t help but think of an armed intruder targeting his school, walking his halls, methodically shooting and killing twenty first grade classmates and six teachers and administrators. Now I know the names and faces.
America changed that day. I changed that day. Maybe you did, too. Certainly every parent who lost a child that day now lives a life that is unrecognizable to the lives they enjoyed on December 13, 2012.
My boy attends a Chicago public school. He stands in a long, snaking line every morning waiting his turn to walk through a metal detector. His teachers run “intruder drills” every fall. These practices are common place to him and don’t appear to cause him great distress. He knows no different. The principal of his school made a passing reference earlier this fall how lucky the students in Kindergarten and first grade are, as they have a storage room inside their classrooms — something the older grades don’t have access to. Her point was that they would have an extra layer of safety in the case of a deranged, gun wielding monster who intended to shoot rooms full of school children.
This is the world we live in now, folks.
The truth is that life moves on and routine takes over. Politics and personal feelings about rights have become more important than the shock and fear and outrage that was almost universally felt in those hours and days after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary. Conspiracy theories abound suggesting that these children and teachers never lived, their existence something of a hoax, the broken lives of their families invalidated to prove a point.
I make no bones about where I stand on gun violence. Some of you agree with me, some of you do not. I am past the point of thinking that my words about this subject make a difference. One mom at a keyboard in her living room is no match for the endless resources of the NRA. I get it.
But wherever you stand on the matter of guns, please take a moment to remember these children today. Think about the holes in their bodies, the blood on their clothing, the procession of tiny, little caskets being lowered into the ground. Think about their surviving parents, older and younger brothers and sisters, grandparents who wonder how they can still be alive when their grandchild is dead. Say their names, even if only a whisper.
Remember the fear and anger and horror you felt that day three years ago before life became routine again.
It’s been ten months since I have written about gun violence in America. Nothing has changed. There are still shootings, still deaths, still indignation about freedom and rights, still dithering, cowardly politicians. The numbers are staggering.
STAGGERING, people. 265 mass shootings in 2015. 559 children under the age of eleven killed by guns in the past 279 days of 2015 — that is two children a day. Over 10,000 deaths in 2015 alone. More people have died from gun shot wounds in America since 1968 than in every American war casualty to date. Truth.
Let those numbers just sink in and stagger you for a moment.
I am at a loss. I sit here, behind a keyboard, watching neighbors go about their day from my front window, listening to my toddler play in the background. I should feel safe, and yet, I don’t. The NRA would have me go buy myself a pretty little pistol to increase my (false) sense of security. They trade on our fear and are profiting quite nicely from it right now.
The situation feels surreal to me. I can’t grasp or understand it anymore. It was not like this when I was a child. It was not like this when I was a teen. A teacher was shot at my high school when I was a student there, and I did not feel this level of fear or concern.
When that shooting occurred in March, 1986 I was a junior at Thornridge High School in Chicago’s south suburbs. A freshman, a boy I did not know, shot my former math teacher, Miss Norma Cooper. I read the archived AP account of the event and my jaw drops.
After the shooting, Miss Cooper ”left the room, went across the hall to another room and called our youth officer, Jack Thomsen,” who works at the school, [Dolton Police Chief] Pfotenhauer said.
Meanwhile, a math teacher in an adjoining room, who heard the shot, rushed to Miss Cooper’s room and led the 22 other students into another room, said District 205 School Superintendent Jack Curless.
When Thomsen arrived, the boy ”had the gun in his hand at the back of the room,” Pfotenhauer said.
Thomsen then persuaded him to surrender.
The boy was taken into custody and charged, and was to be held in a youth home in Chicago, Pfotenhauer said.
”It was a little bit of a drama at first,” but teachers were able to calm the students and classes returned to normal shortly after the shooting, the police chief said.
“Classes returned to normal shortly after the shooting.” “It was a little bit of a drama at first.”
I know those sentences to be accurate because I was there. Truth be told, I barely remember the incident. As students we were encouraged not to speak to the press. We were assured that our teacher survived and was safe, then, in all honesty, we just went on with our day.
In 1986, there was no protocol to address a school shooting. There was no culture that normalized school shootings, indicating just how to respond. There were no lock down drills. There were no statistics to update. The shooter did not have a manifesto to ensure his notoriety. He did not martyr himself or attempt to take out as many people as he could.
In 1986 you had a very, very disturbed kid mad about being suspended and taking his security officer father’s gun to school in his backpack to shoot a teacher. He surrendered his gun and was tried as a juvenile.
Those were, apparently, the salad days of school shootings.
And that is the reality we exist in as Americans today. I can now wax poetic and tell my children that when I was a kid I didn’t need to walk through a metal detector in my school lobby. When I was a kid and a fellow student shot their teacher, the teacher lived and I went on to my next class. When I was a kid we had tornado drills, not intruder drills.
It turns my stomach.
The shooting of my math teach, Miss Cooper, happened just a few months shy of thirty years ago now. America’s dangerous and growing obsession with guns has occurred during that time. I don’t know exactly how or when, but the unholy obsession is now palpable.
We are sick, America, dying from indifference and pride and irrationality. Guns are acting as a cancer that is not responding to the weak chemotherapy of public outcry that sprouts up with every new mass shooting. We tell ourselves it is them, the black or the poor or the mentally ill or the criminal, that have the problem. We cling to the idea of a constitutional right being more important than life and liberty. We argue that there is nothing to be done, no way to solve this dilemma. Stuff happens, right?
We have lost our way and we are dying because of it. Our consternation is pathetic. I am ashamed of some of us. I fear for all of us.