I don’t have anything profound to add to the national mourning for the dead in Newtown. I’ve been watching and reading all day, compulsively, and finally gave up reapplying my mascara. It’s unthinkable, unbearable, unbelievable. Unbelievable in the truest sense of the word — I think, in part, that is why we watch and watch and click and click, even though it’s so painful. Our minds aren’t wired to accept these things. We can’t take it in. That, at least, is a mark in the plus column for humanity, on a day when there seems to be so little to recommend us as a species, or at least as a society. At least as an American society.
It started, the racing heart and shallow breath and goosebumps blooming up and down my arms and back, about twenty minutes in to my frantic internet trawling. A shooting…in a school…twenty-eight people…oh no, an elementary school; these were babies. I don’t know why it comes and goes like that; sometimes, I hear a tragic news item, or an anecdote about a crime, and I feel the normal levels of sadness and anger that we all feel. Sometimes, I can’t breathe or stay warm and my skin prickles and burns with misfired adrenaline. These days, I don’t see mental images of the shooting that happened at my house the way I used to, but the pure trauma of it is still inside me, and it leaks out, poison, on days like this.
I have been, in the most literal sense, terrorized by gun violence. I cleaned blood and brains off my front porch and didn’t sleep through the night for three years afterwards. Just typing that sentence, nine years later, yields uncontrollable tears. It was the worst thing that has ever happened in my life. And, my god, I’m not even the actual victim, who lost his eye and part of his brain. His key was in the lock — the lock to my house, where my sister and I were sleeping. Nothing — NOTHING — was between that armed, amoral boy and me.
E. was not the first person this 19-year-old shot. The shooter was wanted for another unprovoked attack, where he shot someone else, also in the face. Before the police could question him about either case, he was shot and killed. He lived a block away from us.
This gun violence is happening all over, all the time, to the point that none of these shootings ever became even a local news story.
There have been 31 school shootings since Columbine. That doesn’t include the other recent mass shootings, at an army base, in Aurora, Gabrielle Giffords.
Yet somehow the conversation about gun control has been so thoroughly co-opted and politicized that even I — liberal, loudmouth, political me, who knows the mingled odor of gunpowder and blood — don’t speak up about this issue. I’ve internalized the idea that gun control is a hippy-dippy fantasy on par with raising genderless kids and living off the grid dressed in homespun hempen clothing.
I like and respect Obama, but when I saw him weeping as he spoke today I thought: Buddy, you SHOULD be crying. If I were president of a nation where 17,000 people were killed by guns each year and I had done nothing to stem the tide, I’d be crying too, out of remorse.
But the time when we can be comforted merely by grieving and “processing” has passed.
I will no longer stay silent out of misguided respect for my friends and family who own weapons for hunting or personal protection. I don’t care about anyone’s attachment to a 200+ year old amendment that has clearly outlived its usefulness. I don’t subscribe to the paranoid notion that our government will don jackboots for the pleasure of stomping us all if we’re not armed to the teeth. I don’t think you should be allowed to own a gun the same way I think you’re a bigot if you don’t support marriage equality. For me, these things are incontrovertibly true, not matters where every opinion must be equally weighed and polite people can agree to disagree and move on to discussing the weather.
Today, I watched and read and cried. I despaired – and prayed, in my secular way — for the families of those babies and school staff at Sandy Hook Elementary. I donated to the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence and blew up my Facebook wall with a barrage of posts I know pissed off some of my loved ones. I reclaimed my voice, in honor of the dead in Newtown, and Aurora, and on the streets of DC. In honor of the wounded man on my front porch, and even of the dead 19 year old who has haunted me for the past nine years. It may not elevate the national discourse or comfort the bereft, but it’s something to hold on to on the next time I unexpectedly lose my breath.
“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” –Mahatma Ghandi