An Open Letter of Helplessness To President Barack Obama: What Can We Do Now?

Change begins from within the home, and this country is our home. We must set a precedent.

Dear President Obama,

I know you have remorse for those who’ve lost their lives at the hands of gunmen and gun violence. I know you’re sorry for the victims, their families, and loved ones. I know you’ve had to make 18 speeches about those sorrows during your presidency as a result of gun violence. I’m sick of sorry and I know you are too. Sorry only extends so far when the lapses that warrant the preliminary apologies are repeated. These incidents no longer require apologies, they warrant a movement. 

I know we are both physically nauseous about the people who were innocently murdered or shot for no reason, not just in Orlando, but also in Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Newtown, Aurora, Roanoke, and my hometown of Santa Monica. Perhaps you didn’t hear about that last one. There are several shootings that don’t quite make the news because only one life was taken. Only four were murdered in Chicago. We treat these heartbeats like dust, as if they don’t amount to much unless in numbers, and then brush them off accordingly. They matter. Just one day after the Orlando shooting, there was another shooting in Brooklyn, where I currently reside, on a school playground in Flatbush. Out of desperation, out of a desire to find logic in the illogical, we as a nation incessantly ask, What was it about? Was this a terrorist attack? Was it a hate crime? Was the FBI really tracking him beforehand? Did you know that he frequented the venue? Was it to plan the attack? What was his motive?

But I don’t care about his rationale. I don’t care to piece together the gunmen’s stories. I don’t care that I don’t understand these gunmen’s motives. In fact, I’m relieved that I don’t understand and cannot relate to the gunmen at all. Who would want to comprehend such a vindictive mind? There is no sense or pardon for what these gunmen have executed, regardless of any alleged reasoning. I don’t care if it was over a stolen designer handbag or if it was a malicious hate crime. The manifesto doesn’t matter. The killers’ identity and pictures don’t matter. I am exhausted from making this fight about my personal beliefs or theirs when the welfare of our country and its people remain at risk. We need to once more become the United States of America in agreeing that what matters are innocent lives lost. What matters are the unknowing people who went to see a movie or to school or to a nightclub and became headline news. What matters is their stories, told posthumously, which I would’ve rather heard from their lips. What matters is that even Anderson Cooper, a valiant reporter who’s covered unfathomable atrocities from the Rwandan genocide to the Aurora killings to the riots in Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown, is at a loss for words. Watching Mr. Cooper's courageous reporting in Orlando, I could see the plea in his eyes. He cannot bear to read any more names of the deceased. You cannot bear to issue any more apologies. We cannot bear this anymore. This repetitiveness is the worst of the worst. We cannot let it get worse than this.

These shootings are still happening, over and over and over again, like a recurring nightmare we keep waiting to wake up from. Yet, when we do awake, it’s to see another picture of another deranged man on the news next to a knot-inducing, stomach-churning number declaring the body count, next to pictures of the murder weapons, next to a seemingly harmless setting, where the last incident people expected to witness upon arrival was a massacre. Here were people living their lives, the story always says, here were lives cut too short. Here are the family members weeping. Here are some ordinary people who have instinctively become extraordinary heroes in creating tourniquets and taking their shirts off to plug and stop bullet wounds from completely bleeding out. While watching CNN the other day, one of my friends said to me, “Seeing these shootings on TV doesn’t phase me anymore. It has become as everyday as hearing there’s a snowstorm coming. I’m completely desensitized to the inevitability of this happening here.”

I know it’s not just here in America, and that shootings have happened in Paris and Israel and other countries. But change begins from within the home, and this country is our home. We must set a precedent. I know that though there is evil – and there will continue to be evil – there are far more people on this planet, and within our country, who are inherently good. I’m tired of having civil dialogues and feeling like we’re making advancements, as though the problem has dissipated, and then like clockwork the horror rushes through the floodgates on a dam we thought was sealed, and we’re hit with the next shooting incident. There cannot be another shooting incident. How are we, as a nation, going to act, already far too late? How do citizens counter an endemic effect that has continuously taken our fellow Americans’ lives while the legislature’s reaction is, apparently, to wait for countdowns on devices that are unmistakably set to detonate?

American citizens are currently in various stages of grief. We’ve been in denial for a long time. After denial came the next few shootings, along with anger. Then once we were done being angry we began blaming terrorists and mental health and bargaining to take away guns without tarnishing our second amendment. Once we learned about the victims and the reality set in that these shootings have indeed happened and have taken and ruined lives, we have sunk into an outwardly irrevocable depression. I think we’ve even seen acceptance. I think we’ve accepted that this has become a certainty for our nation. I think that we’ve accepted that weapons of mass destruction are indeed weapons that have the capability to destroy the masses.

So now we’re at the sixth stage of grief. The Kübler-Ross model doesn’t mention this stage because the hypothesis of that theorem deals with terminal illness, and I don’t believe our nation is terminally ill; I think we’re still hopeful to make a recovery. I think people have begun to evoke the sixth stage of grief, which I believe is action. Paradoxically, I believe we’re all waiting for a call to arms. I believe all these inherently good people are waiting to be told what to do, are waiting to be told what needs to be done in order to stop this cycle of bloodshed. Today, one of my friends said to me, “I’d like to get involved and help out in the wake of events like these, but I never really know what to do…”

Sixty-four people were shot within the three days that constitute Memorial Day weekend in 2016 near your home in Chicago; this is a reality. This is happening. Now what do we do? Besides attending vigils and sending our condolences and donating blood and donating funds, which are all important but, respectfully, not entirely progressive, what do we do to prevent gun violence and mass shootings from happening? Despite these select monstrous individuals, I reiterate my belief that the majority of the people in this country collectively are ready to combat violence with words, or votes, or peaceful protests, or a solution we’ve yet to articulate, but we need directions. We need you to tell us: how do we make shootings become horrific instances of the past? How do we etch this into our history books so that we can one day say to our children that this was a trying time for America, but we endured and overcame? We have overcome adversity before. We shall overcome once more.

I do not stand in front of you, challenging you. I stand behind you as someone from a military family. I stand behind you as someone who understands that this will not be solved overnight, but that it still must be urgently solved, beginning now. I stand behind you as a lost citizen relying on your knowledge to guide the way forth so that we can return – not to the past to relive more copycats of these gruesome occurrences – but to reclaim the country we so fondly call home. I stand behind you as someone who’s watched you time and time again articulate your grievances. You're a father who’s had to say to other fathers that you’re sorry their children were slain for no reason. Not for protecting this country’s freedom, but for being caught in the crossfire of a war they did not sign up to fight in. I stand behind you as someone who’s elected you as the commander-in-chief.

I need you to tell all of the people in this country, our allies, and me: what do we do? What can we do now? How do we make sure all of these people who have been murdered are remembered and that they have not died only for more people to die in a tragically similar circumstance? How do we walk into movie theatres without wearily noting where the exits are? How do we attend school without worrying about what each of us may be carrying in our backpacks? Please, how do we stop this? How do we take action? We are all standing behind you with so many unanswered questions. Please lead us to the answers.

With Resilience,

Julia Gari Weiss

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