It’s my favorite ridiculous counter-argument to the idea of gun control; “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Let’s apply the same logic to something else. "Cars driven by drunk people don’t kill people. Drunk people who drive cars kill people." That sounds ridiculous, right? And, fairly universally, we, as a society, have tried to take cars out of the equation when people drink too much. We don’t always succeed, but at least we are trying. In 1982, there were over 26,000 drunk driving fatalities. In 2013, there were just over 10,000. We’ve made progress. We haven’t eliminated drunk driving fatalities but we’ve made giant strides. And it helps that there’s not a high-powered, impressively-financed lobby group dedicated to citing driving drunk as one of their constitutional freedoms and fighting like hell to keep allowing people to kill people due to their skewed perception of what freedom is.
- (addendum - 5 October 2015 - it has been pointed out that the paragraph above is unfair. Agreed. It would have been a better analogy had I written "And it helps that there's not a high-powered, impressively-financed lobby group dedicated to citing driving as one of our constitutional freedoms and fighting like hell to keep that right, to the point of patently ignoring that drunk driving is a problem." I don't think it's an unfair analogy to imply that the tactics and views of the NRA often seem outrageous to those of us who advocate for better laws and procedures governing access and control; just as a lobbying group designed to protect our right to drive, regardless of whether we are fit to drive, would seem outrageous.)
There was another mass shooting today. I don’t know anything about it because I try to keep myself on news blackout where mass shootings are concerned. But I can only assume that some messed up kid took his gun to campus and opened fire. The Onion lampooned shootings like this in May of 2014; “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens” reads the headline. “At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past five years were referring to themselves and their situation as ‘helpless.’” Helpless. I’ve remained quasi-underground since my own experience with a mass shooting. I haven’t told very many people my story. Nor have I been open about the toll it’s had on my own life. But if I could describe my overall angst in the aftermath of the shooting, “helpless” might be the word I’d choose. Or impotent. I feel impotent. I felt impotent on April 13. Even as I ran through the building doing things to try to keep hundreds of people safe, I felt impotent. It’s a feeling that haunts me. Nothing I did that day changed the outcome for anyone who was there. Nothing I can do now will change what happened then. Nothing I can do will prevent it from happening again. And it seems nothing we can do will prevent it from happening again. But we have to stop it from happening. Or at least take steps to reduce the frequency. Because each mass shooting has more victims than you hear about in the news. You know what goes through my mind when there's a mass shooting? I certainly don’t think about the shooter. I don’t even think about the victims. Or their families. Sound callous? Maybe. Yet I am not invalidating the horror that sits on the top layer of tragedies like this. Not at all. But I know, all too well, that the horror goes so much deeper than that top layer. Layers upon layers of secondary, indirect victims. Layers upon layers. We will never really know how many lives change each time a person uses a gun to make a point. My life changed. I have spent a year-and-a-half struggling with what I went through that day and the ongoing aftermath. And “struggle” is a term I’ve chosen deliberately. I once had a boss who told me that he didn’t struggle, he “engaged challenges.” "Engaging a challenge" makes it seem like you have a choice in the matter. I didn’t have a choice. So I "struggle." Mightily. It could be said that nothing really happened to me. I was not hurt. No one I’m close to was physically injured. I didn’t know the victims or their families personally. I just happened to be there that day. At work. Like I was most days. Read all the coverage of the April 13 shooting. You’ll never see my name. Or the names of the hundreds of other people who were unwilling witnesses to that horrendous moment in time. But I struggle. They struggle. In our own ways and at many different levels, we all struggle. Our lives were changed. From now on, when you read about a shooting, imagine the layers. For every victim who makes the news, there are tens or hundreds of people who witnessed, feared, panicked, cried, helped, cared, and responded. Their lives were changed. Knowing that more American die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined should be enough to get us off our collective asses and do something about it. But it's not, apparently. So think of the layers; the silent victims. We need to do something. We shouldn’t be able to buy our ammunition at Wal-Mart, along with our Cheetos and our super-sized packs of toilet paper. We regulate toys, food, TV, radio, mutual funds, school lunch, fuel economy and how big your Coke can be. Shouldn’t we regulate guns? We shouldn’t be in love with an antiquated version of the right to bear arms that was developed when guns were not the weapons they are now. If we see someone descend into the darkness, we should be able to help them find help. Or, at the very least, take away their ability to hurt others. What? Am I threatening to take your guns away? Damn right I am. I’m going to take your gun if I am worried you’re going to hurt someone with it. Just like I’d take your car keys if you were drunk. When I was in high school, I was at a party where everyone but me was three sheets to the wind. I took all the keys. Every set. One of my more strident friends yelled at me. He sloppily accused me of turning a fun party into an after-school special. He slurred that I should just leave him alone, for fuck’s sake. But I didn’t leave him alone. I took his keys and drove him home. For fuck's sake. And maybe he’s alive today because I did that. Because I did something. For fuck's sake. Now we, the collective we in this great United States of America, need to do something. For fuck’s sake. You can love your guns and still see the need to do something to stop this. Just like you can love drinking at the bar but know that there’s a sense of societal responsibility that comes with your freedom to drink yourself into oblivion. We need to do something. And the first thing we need to do is be able to have a conversation about gun control without it degenerating into a tug-of-war about rights and freedoms. Because freedom won’t do you a damn bit of good if you’re dead. For fuck’s sake.