There was another mass shooting in the U.S. yesterday—14 dead and 17 wounded in San Bernardino, California—by a man and a woman, now also dead.
But that’s not news.
News is something new. Mass shootings happen every day in America.
I don’t mean ‘every day’ in the figurative sense. I mean literally every day. In fact, according to yesterday’s article in the New York Times, titled ‘How Often Do Mass Shootings Occur?”:
“More than one a day. That is how often, on average, shootings that left four or more people wounded or dead occurred in the United States this year, according to compilations of episodes derived from news reports. . . . a total of 462 people have died and 1,314 have been wounded in such attacks this year, many of which occurred on streets or in public settings.”
When I moved to Portland three years ago, at the forefront of my mind was creating a life here with my then-fiance (now husband) Joe, who happens to be American. I knew that a gun culture existed in this country, that many Americans owned guns, but I didn’t imagine them being used to kill multiple people on a daily basis.
Joe and I moved to a neighbourhood with beautiful old character houses, cafes, restaurants, and people walking their dogs. I walk often through its streets, taking one of my routes to Wallace Park, which borders an elementary school, or past the Legacy Good Samaritan hospital on 22nd Ave., looping around at New Seasons before turning back to come home, to my desk in my bedroom, to my work.
In early November this year, the day before Joe’s birthday, a man wielding a gun was shot and killed by police at that hospital. That particular man on that particular day didn’t kill anyone. (He was suicidal, apparently, rather than on a rampage.) But the fact remains, he was on hospital grounds, armed with a gun. I didn’t walk by the hospital on that day. But the story shook me regardless. That night we met for a drink with friends. They are expecting their first baby later this month. Our conversation included excited talk of the baby’s arrival and how soon we could visit after he or she was born. Our server brought an extra chair over, so my friend didn’t have to squeeze her pregnant belly into the booth. We also talked about the gunman at the Legacy Good Samaritan, just blocks from the bar we were sitting at, just blocks from my home.
In San Bernardino, the shooting happened at a center for people with developmental disabilities. Based on that fact, it would seem that the people who lost their lives, staff at this center, had dedicated their lives to helping others. Immediately following news of the shooting, the three Democratic presidential primary candidates wrote tweets calling (again) for action on gun laws.
Of the 10 Republican candidates whose tweets I read, not one mentioned gun reform. Not one! What did each of them mention? Prayers. Prayers for San Bernardino.
It’s legal to carry a concealed gun around in America. Sometime in the days after the college shooting in Roseburg, Oregon in October—where a lone gunman killed nine people—I went downtown to shop for a new pair of boots. For the first time, as I neared the department store, I found myself scanning the people walking past. How many, I wondered, were carrying guns? In my mind flashed a scene: me in the shoe section of the department store; the sound of gunshots; people laying on the floor; a gunman holding an assault weapon.
This was a fear I hadn’t felt before, not in any of the countries I’ve lived or travelled. I put the vision out of my mind and went shoe shopping anyway. But the fact that it was there, that my consciousness was starting to include the very real possibility of witnessing (or being a target of) gunfire, in the city that’s become my home, began to gnaw at me. And every time another shooting in the U.S. occurs—which is pretty much daily—that gnawing grows.
When I was a kid at Saanichton Elementary school on Vancouver Island, B.C., we had earthquake drills. The ‘big one’ was due, and we were taught to crouch under our desks or in a doorway, hands covering heads. If you were outside, your best bet was to run to the far end of the field, as far from the building as you could get.
Kids in American schools have active shooter drills. An actor dressed as a gunman roams the halls and kids learn to lock classroom doors and hide.
This is the new normal here. And it’s not a normal I want to raise a kid in.
When the Sandy Hook School shooting happened in 2012—leaving 20 children and six faculty members dead—I was living in Korea, teaching English to six-year-old Korean kids. Surely, I thought, the U.S. government will change gun laws now. These victims were children.
No gun laws were changed.
So when massacres happen now, when large numbers of innocent people are killed by shooters who own not just handguns but multiple assault weapons, I find myself first thinking, surely this will make the government change gun laws. But then I remember Sandy Hook.
If 20 dead kids under the age of eight didn’t incite reform, what possibly will?
It’s at this point in my cycle of thought that I begin to feel very, very depressed. And my mind turns to the future. If gun violence continues at this rate , do I want to live in America? If and when Joe and I have a child, do we want to raise it in a country where mass shootings are a daily occurrence? My mind turns to Canada—where would we live? I would want to be near friends and family, but Victoria, where I grew up, feels like a leap into the past. Vancouver is so expensive we could likely never afford to buy a home there.
Then I think, what’s worse, living in a place where you can’t afford your own home, or living in a place where anyone you pass on the street could be packing a gun?
Joe works in diabetes research at a hospital in Portland. Every day he commutes there by bike, and every day before he leaves I say, “Ride safe.” My biggest fear is that he will have an accident while riding. But news of the gunman at our neighbourhood hospital, combined with the shooting in California, which, again, took place at a center for people with developmental disabilities, has brought on a new fear: the potential for gunfire at Joe’s workplace.
I don’t think these fears make me a paranoid or overly anxious person. I think they make me tuned into the reality of the society I live in. A popular notion surrounding violence these days is to ‘not let it make you fearful’. I understand the perspective that living in fear is ‘giving in’ to perpetrators of violence, but I don’t really agree with it.
Mass shootings happen daily in America. I think we should be afraid.
I think we should be afraid and we should be outraged. And we should use that fear and that outrage to make ourselves heard by the people who change laws.
Sometimes on my daily strolls I walk past an abortion clinic in the neighbourhood. There’s usually at least one person standing outside it, protesting. The other day a man stood in from with a sign that said ‘Save the Children’. I wanted to stop and ask, if you’re concerned about children, why don’t you change locations and picket the stores selling guns and ammunition?
Prayers don’t stop gun violence. Thoughts for the family members of victims isn’t going to bring their loved ones back. And praying and thinking hasn’t done anything to stop mass shootings from occurring.
The only thing that will reduce gun violence is less guns. Less people owning guns.
What do we need to do? Walk out of our jobs and homes and collectively march in the streets? Can we come together and say to the leaders in this country who make and reform laws that enough is enough is enough is enough?