Our Dissociative Relationship With Gun Violence

We the people of the United States have become quite adept at making gun violence irrelevant to our own lives. Gun violence does not happen in our community. We do not know perpetrators of gun violence. Gun violence is not about murder or suicide. Gun violence happens to other people in other places for crazy reasons that we do not confront in our daily life.

Today, of course, we notice gun violence because of the terrible murders in Newtown, Connecticut. We don't know enough about the killer for me to have much to say yet about what happened there.

Let's talk about language instead. Did I say murders? Did I say killer? Mostly we don't use those words. Mostly we say "shootings" by "shooters." Perhaps using those words is more technically correct because often not all the people who are shot in these incidents are dead. Did I say dead? Mostly we say "lost" or perhaps "deceased."

One thing I am rather sure of is that we will hear words like "nothing like this ever happened in this community before." They said that after Columbine. They said that after Virginia Tech. They said that after Tuscon. They said that after Aurora. They always say that. They are right in one respect and horribly wrong in another. If we consider our community to be the enclave with which we personally identify, be it a town, a city, a bunch of houses behind locked gates, the statement is true. If we were able to consider the United States our community the statement is woefully incorrect. The random occurrence in any given town is an entirely predictable occurrence in our country.

Tragic and stunning as they are, mass murders are a very small part of the problem. They constitute a small percentage of the deaths by guns in this country. They are typically hard to fathom, the result of mentally unstable people getting guns in ways laws often could not have prevented. Most victims of gun violence, the 11,000+ people who are killed by other people, the 20,000+ who are killed by themselves or by accident, and the 70,000+ people who are injured are statistics. Statistics of things that don't happen in our communities or to the kinds of people we know. Until they do.

The facts about what happened in Newtown will emerge in due course. I don't need to know anything more to predict this: between the time of the murders in Newtown and the end of this weekend two to three times as many people in this country will be killed by other people with guns. Killed dead. Not shot and lost.