On Friday, November 27, 2015 a man with a gun decided that he had the right to take the lives of others in order to make a political statement. And, as I repeat those words in my head, I want to believe that this will be the one. This will be the shooting that sparks a real conversation about comprehensive solutions to the violence that runs rampant in the land of the free.
I am not a stranger to these conversations. I have surrounded myself with incredible advocates for womens' rights and for gun sense, so these topics are not new to me. We discuss them over coffee and Skype calls while we swap data and exchange advice on organizing new campaigns. I have been having these conversations for a long time. And I am tired. I am tired of being told to not politicize shootings, even though I know I'll have barely recovered from this one when I hear of more. I'm tired of seeing reporters and politicians openly wonder how this could have happened. I am tired of hearing the same sound bites on tv. I wonder if President Obama just copies and pastes his remarks from the time before, praying this time Congress will hear them.
The shooting at Planned Parenthood is an act of domestic terrorism with a very specific target. And it's impossible to separate the shooting, and many others, from the abortion comments made by the shooter, because the truth is that gun violence and the basic rights of women have a long and complex history. And, in light of the shooting, it would be almost impossible to discuss one without addressing the other.
In the United States of America, 98% of mass murderers are male. Women only make up 13% of gun violence victims, but 51% of victims of mass shootings. Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries and, although domestic violence is a leading factor in mass shootings, loopholes in gun laws doesn't prohibit abusers and/or stalkers from legally purchasing a gun. One would think that we, as a society, would take common sense steps to address these issues, such as barring anyone with a record of domestic abuse from purchasing a gun, require background checks on all gun sales, and close loopholes that make it easier for criminals and people with mental health issues to purchase a gun. But one could also be considered optimistic in that sense. Women should not be in danger when they seek healthcare. Or speak out about an abusive partner. Or exist in public. But that is becoming our reality. And we have representatives and candidates who care more about scoring political points by talking about personal freedom than taking steps to ensure public safety.
It would be a mistake to write about the shooting at Planned Parenthood without discussing the disgusting attacks this organization itself has faced over the last few months by our elected officials, most of them male. There is a lot of discussion over who wants to defund Planned Parenthood the most, but very little about how we can protect the women, from all backgrounds, who depend on Planned Parenthood for basic healthcare. For birth control. For mammograms. From life saving screenings. And, yes, for abortion. The patterns of violence towards Planned Parenthood volunteers, patients, and supporters is deeply rooted in our opposition to womens' rights in the United States. Between July and October 2015, four Planned Parenthood clinics were the targets of arson. Patients, volunteers and staff are often subject to verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse from protesters. Yet, Planned Parenthood continues to open their doors for the women who need access to the services they provide. I find it very hard to believe that the same people who seek to defund an organization that exists solely to serve women in the areas where our society is lacking really have the interests of women at heart. Especially when many of these people are the same ones who work so hard to defend the personal freedom and liberties of the gun owner who shot up Planned Parenthood and left three people dead.
I am tired of the rhetoric. I am tired of the stories. But mostly, I'm scared. I'm scared that we've reached the point where we just don't care anymore. And that, as long as it isn't happening to us, there's no reason why we should fight to change the circumstances that make these events more likely to happen. It's not enough to feel bad and move on when there are steps that could be taken to potentially address these issues. Not taking them is an act of complacency.
Apathy is easy. Caring is difficult. Caring is brave. It takes nothing less than an act of courage to open yourself up to the hurt that the world produces. Often times, it's these acts of caring that force us to have the hard conversations. To really dissect the world around us and explore our place in it. But this can be difficult to accomplish when apathy has become the norm. Perhaps the biggest challenge in addressing these issues is not fighting the opposition, but fighting the urge to remain silent.