In January, I learned through a Washington Post essay that Norah, a woman I shared several classes with in grad school, had a secret life. When she was four years old, she and her mother were shot. Norah recovered. Her mother didn't die right away...she lingered for 20 years, paralyzed, before finally dying from complications of her injuries.
This reminded me of an incident from Lucille Ball's memoir, Love, Lucy. When Lucille was young, her little brother was given a gun as a gift, and he accidentally shot the little boy next door. The boy didn't die. Like Norah's mother, he was paralyzed for life. His family sued the Ball family into bankruptcy, ruining the until-then happy childhood of history's favorite comedienne.
I wrote this essay simply because I had never really thought before about the non-fatal effects of shootings. It was kind of a revelation. We hear about mass shootings more and more all the time. They've become so commonplace that we have established protocols for reacting nowadays: Right now #Orlando and #OrlandoShooting are trending. That's doing something.
We don't know all the facts about the shooting at a gay nightclub during LGBT Pride week yet, but we do know this: there will be vigils.
The news media will detail every increasingly gruesome and anxiety-inducing aspect for weeks to come--the bloodier the photos the better, it seems. We will assume terrorism has something to do with it. And by terrorism, we mean fundamentalist Islam because today, on our televisions, terrorism has no other meaning. If this shooting is related to the Islamic State, then it's "that" terrorism. But most of the mass shootings in this country have nothing to do with "that." As I write this, the president of our nation is speaking about the shooting. "This could have been anyone of our communities," he just said. I've seen this speech before, many times, most memorably after the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school. I think President Obama meant what he said.
The individuals who do the shootings change, and so do the locations, and so do the victims. And also the numbers: those keep going up. "Biggest mass shooting in history" is an undeniably powerful headline, isn't it?
What really changes? Nothing but our indifference. A hashtag is sentiment, not action, and a trending hashtag does not constitute success when it comes to doing something to bring an end to this bizarre and particularly American brand of domestic terrorism.
Until today, we could count on celebrities and especially politicians expressing dismay and sympathy for shooting victims. We did get plenty of that, and plenty of websites are already at work collecting such pronouncements as Hillary Clinton's:
Measured and appropriately sympathetic. To my great relief, Clinton's statement in no way takes advantage of the tragic circumstance to stump for more votes.
But we have something new now. We have a politician who had this to say:
If you can find a modicum of sympathy here, much less any suggestion of how this is a problem in the United States and how a "Make America Great Again" platform can change this, then you must contact me immediately and tell me what I've missed.
What is it about America that's not great right now? If you asked me, "mass shootings" would top the list. So would "an increasingly inhumane culture of disrespect." Trump is not referring to these things.
It's troubling, to write perhaps the greatest understatement I've uttered in my lifetime, that what has been widely reported as "the biggest mass shooting in U.S. history" elicits zero emotional reaction whatsoever from one of our two presidential contenders.
This is striking.
It is a remarkable change in our national values and standards. Once upon a time, if you asked any given American citizen whether this country would do nothing about frequent and consistent mass killings of people on the streets and children in their schools, just about everyone would have said, "not in this country." We now live in a country in which this is the norm. We are accustomed to it. We hold vigils, and we discuss it in the office, and the news keeps up updated with shooters' selfies and tales of people cowering and screaming and being splattered with blood. We tolerate it.
When I wrote an article about nonfatal gun violence injuries, I frankly didn't think anyone would read it. I admit it wasn't the greatest thing I have ever written--heartfelt, but hardly "writerly." Yet it was read, and by far received the greatest number of comments of anything I have ever written, at over 900.
These comments included:
"This is in violation of our 2nd. Commandment. Washington wrote that we Americans have the right to have guns to protect our family and friends."
That one made me do a double take, and made me double check some things I've been taught. For example, I thought that the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution dealt with gun laws, not the Old Testament's wrathful God's second commandment. Having attended a university named for George Mason, I also picked up somewhere that George Mason and James Madison drafted the Bill of Rights, not George Washington. (The "Bill of Rights" is the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution--unless I am wrong about this, too.) It is possible that my elementary, middle and high school teachers and textbooks indoctrinated me into a far-left world view, although Virginia isn't exactly known for its far-left tendencies.
Aside from the blatantly (in my opinion) ignorant comments were others that were striking in the same way Donald Trump's is:
"Here is a news flash: The biggest cause of death is dying, most of which is not gun related. You will die too, because no one gets out of here alive. Hard to believe huh?"
"The liberals have NO sense of humor. They are forever miserable unhappy people. Levity will not sway them. They are hopeless."
I am liberal--though more of a centrist than my mother would like me to be, and certainly not a card-carrying member of either party due to my preference for independent thought rather than dependent following--but I really hope that is why I don't have any sense of humor about mass killings. Or why I feel as if there is an extreme and obvious logical flaw in drawing the conclusion that gun violence is not a problem because "the biggest cause of death is dying, most of which is not gun related."
The 900-plus comments, which mostly read this way certainly made me question how I came to feel so strongly that whenever possible, human lives should be protected from mass executions when so many are so unconcerned with this.
The most disturbing thing about those comments, and now Trump's, isn't illogic, though. It's a lack of humanity. Yes, it's disturbing that Congress bans the CDC from collecting data about the prevalence of gun violence. But to me--call me crazy--even though this is the era of big data, microdata, and All Things Data, I can't understand why it takes a ton of research for people to take action to stop these shootings from repeating. Every time there's a mass shooting, it makes headlines for weeks or months. Every time it makes headlines, copycat shooters repeat the crimes, and the cycle continues. This happened in the era of "going postal," and then following Columbine, school shootings became a fad as American as the pet rock. Now I fear LGBT people will be the next regular target. And then who will be after that? This is what I always wonder. I don't have children. People who do have children, aren't you scared sh!tless that yours will be mown down by bullets at school? Yes? Well, then what are you doing about it? Or does the Russian roulette wheel hold enough rounds of bullets for you to be a little concerned, but not so much as to do anything to keep them from spinning it?
I just can't understand it. Call me gay; I am. Call me liberal; I am, to an extent. Call me crazy...as am able to make less and less sense of the inhumanity of our country, I am starting to wonder if perhaps I am crazy for thinking that mass murders should be prevented when possible.
Still, sane or not, crazy or not, I am certain of certain things: There will be candlelight vigils. All the news, and particularly the cable news networks, will invent slick graphics about "Orlando 2016: An American Tragedy" or something like that, and they will relay every horrifying, trauma-inducing detail they can get on camera or audio. Politicians--some politicians--will publicly mourn the loss with platitudes that "we musts" that to date have accomplished nothing and likely never will accomplish anything.
And I am certain that this is one of those conversations that is not a conversation. Trump wants to build a great wall: there is already a great wall built between the two parties in this country, one that prevents any sane discourse about issues such as abortion rights, LGBT civil rights, institutionalized abuses against darker-skinned people, and gun violence. You're on your side, I am on mine. That's a tragedy, because when legislators won't do anything to change things, the news media has control over national conversations, and this conversation has become nightmarishly pre-ordained. Selfies of the shooting suspects will be flashed. Victims lying on the ground in body bags will be shown. Police lights, crowds of onlookers, hysterically mournful loved ones will lament the violence, lawyers, judges, police officers and other shooting victims' relatives will chatter about the tragedy.
And nothing will change. I wonder if anyone actually wants it to.
On my TV right now, ABC News is showing a group of young people carrying shooting victims down the street, illuminated by alternating red and blue lights. Lately it seems like this scene is playing every time I turn on my television.