It’s been five days since a gunman there killed 49 people in a gay nightclub in the deadliest mass shooting in American history. I learned about the massacre early that Sunday morning, it having been my turn to get up with the two-year-old when he made his usual, irritatingly perky appearance at our bedside. I logged into Facebook, wanting to mark the moment somehow, to say to my little corner of the world that I was awake and aware and horrified. I stared at the little status update box while my son ate his whole bowl of oatmeal-peanutbutter-raisins-banana-moreraisinsplease, and half of mine.
In the end, I posted nothing. No words worthy of the tragedy or the anger it inspired in me.
In part, my speechlessness came from having too much to say, from not being able to choose among the themes, most of them all too familiar, that jockeyed for position on the page. Gun violence, again. Homophobia, again. Religion twisted, used to justify insane and evil acts, again. The inevitable backlash that would follow, the vitriol against Muslims, against immigrants (though this gunman was an American citizen, born here, and no Trumpian ban on immigration of Muslims or Syrians or any other group would have prevented this homegrown terror).
In an emergency room, faced with a patient with multiple life-threatening injuries, you treat the most serious one first. The one that will kill you the quickest. Over the last few days, as politicians have made their usual murmurs and then shrugged their collective shoulders, it has become clear to me that the thing that will kill us first is a system in which pretty much anyone–including a man who’s been investigated multiple times by the FBI for terror connections–can buy a weapon capable of killing many people in a matter of minutes. The hatred for LGBTQ folk, the radicalized religion–those are things we need to tackle, but neither of those on its own enables such mass slaughter–and getting rid of them won’t get rid of gun violence. As long as people have access to assault weapons, a small number of those people will use those weapons to perpetrate mass violence.
This comes home to me especially today, on the one-year anniversary of the Mother Emmanuel shootings in South Carolina. That gunman was a white American, who mowed down black Americans in their house of worship. We can’t stop others like him by closing our borders, or shutting all the gay bars, or alienating moderate Muslims. We could, however, make it a little harder for him to acquire a gun.
Would stricter gun laws end gun violence in this country? Probably not. But reduce it? Evidence from around the globe suggests yes. And anyway, isn’t it time we tried to fix the problem, even if our attempts fail, or are only partially successful? Isn’t it time to do more than offer prayers for the victims?