“So, you were on the stage when the shooting started? Can you describe for us what happened?”
As he listened to the news anchor’s question, the young man’s gaze was averted. He was seeing something else, something off-camera, something that left him pale and haunted. In his blue flannel shirt and jeans, this kid had just spent the evening at a country western festival… and been sprayed with gunshots from a window on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Hotel. The silence seemed long… painful… between the anchor’s question and the boy’s ability to find his voice. He glanced into the camera and quickly away.
“I was with my sister,” he began, and immediately, I worried about his sister. “We heard this popping noise. Pop, pop, pop. At first we thought it was, like, firecrackers or something, you know? But then, this guy next to us was shot…” The boy angled his head and placed a finger where his neck met his jaw, “here. In the head.”
He went on, his voice flat, his gaze still fixed elsewhere, back in time. “The shooting stopped, then started again. There were three volleys. Each time, my sister threw her body over mine and told me she loved me.”
With tears running down my face, I imagined being there. Out on a glorious night, enjoying the music and festivity, and then, the fatal shift wrought by that popping sound. Those desperately whispered, possibly last, loving words as Dave leapt to cover me, or as I leapt to protect my children. The futility of flesh as a shield when hatred has access to an automatic weapon.
Who would continue to allow that access after the deaths of 20 first graders and six of their teachers in Sandy Hook? Who would allow that after the deaths of theater-goers watching a movie in Aurora? Who would allow that after the deaths of young people dancing at a club in Orlando? Who would continue to do nothing as guns in the hands of the mentally ill or hate-consumed continue to kill Americans gathered peacefully together?
Statistics vary depending on the source and definition of a mass shooting. Gun Violence Archive counts 1500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook. These include incidents where four or more people were shot, not necessarily killed, and not including the shooter. So if three people were shot and killed, they’d not be counted in that statistic. In terms of individual gun deaths, the average is 12,000 homicides a year. If suicide by gun is included, the number skyrockets, as if 12,000 weren’t skyrocket enough.
So, how is Congress responding to these tragedies? What steps are they taking to keep guns out of the wrong hands? Oh, wait. No. Their response, no doubt prodded by the NRA and gun manufacturers, is to pursue ways to make it easier. In Connecticut, we are blessed by Senators Murphy and Blumenthal, and Representative Jim Himes who are seeking to close loopholes in existing legislation. But a few months ago, enough members of Congress voted “aye” to pass a law that allows those with mental illness easier access to guns. Not only that, there are bills currently under consideration to legalize silencers and give concealed-carry permits validity even in states that don’t allow them.
WHAT? Why is the agony and outrage most Americans feel not reflected in the votes and actions of Congress?
“The second amendment demands we protect gun ownership!” might be the response. But it’s lunacy or willful ignorance to think the founding fathers envisioned automatic weapons, or would wish to protect the right to spray death on innocent citizens with a weapon designed to kill many in a short time.
Over the past year, my husband and I saw Zac Brown in concert at Citifield and James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt at Fenway Park. The stands were packed to capacity at both venues, with roughly 35,000 eager fans in attendance at each. Despite the happy crowds and great vibe, it crossed my mind, just a quiet flitter, that a shooter with an automatic weapon could do a lot of damage if that were the goal.
Instead, people danced, just as the concert-goers in Las Vegas did. Everyone smiled, and some linked arms, as 35,000 people sang along with James Taylor to “You’ve got a Friend.”
That is who we are, isn’t it?
In the names of those dead by gun violence, and to prevent adding the names of our loved ones to that list, I pray that Congress, those entrusted with the well-being of the nation and its people, will be moved by these deaths to enact common sense gun control and start, at the very least, with re-instating the ban on semi-automatic weapons.