I’ve posed this question both to myself and others, usually when harm has been done. It’s important to draw the line and hold it, otherwise we run the risk of allowing others to damage us, entering into a cycle of abuse. Now I’m posing this question to the nation, as we face the worst mass shooting in recent history.
I was certain we were going to do something about gun violence in 1999 when the school shooting in Columbine, Colorado occurred, killing 13. And then I was convinced we were going to do something about gun violence in 2007 when a shooter murdered 37 people on the Virginia Tech campus. For sure we were going to do something when Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in the head during a political rally in 2011. Never did I have more conviction that something had to give, and we were absolutely going to do something about gun violence when in 2012, 20 elementary school children were murdered by a single shooter.
And something did give–our ability to coalesce as a country behind the loss of innocent children and change our archaic gun laws. We discovered we have no center.
Driving home Monday in the wake of the massacre of 49 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, an LGBTQ nightclub, I felt defeated. The road home is lined with big, shining auto dealerships, all of which fly massive, majestic American flags, all of which were at half mast. As I drove into the setting sun, I quietly contemplated the scene. Our country’s flag, lowered, solemn, dare I say, looking defeated? One was wrapped in half width-wise around a pole, fluttering truncated red and white stripes, a quarter of its normal size, struggling against itself. What normally undulates broadly and brightly against the azure Arizona skies, enchanting even me, (who is perpetually disappointed in the color scheme, why no green?) appeared lethargic.
Just a couple of days ago I laughed mirthlessly at a cartoon juxtaposing the progressive hope of last summer’s marriage equality mandate and this summer’s hellacious political campaign, and that was before this recent slaughter. Things can get so much worse in the blink of an eye, lest we forget. And with the absurd ease of access to automatic assault rifles we hold so incredibly dear, they will. We’ve not defined the line, and without knowing where it is, it will be crossed, over and over, until we’re all dead.
Times like these bring out my very darkest feelings, which I shared previously after Eric Garner was murdered by police in 2014. Times like these I truly believe the sooner humanity is wiped off the planet, the better. Times like these I truly believe that is the best case scenario. We do not seem to be capable of the higher thought, the compassion, the empathy, the love, the collectivistic spirit required to make a better world. For all the power our big brains afford us, we continue to act primarily from self-interest, which ultimately ensures our demise. Pretty fatalistically, cynically dumb.
Maybe this is who we are. I see many corrections to the headlines and assertions that this is the worst shooting in our nation’s history, lest we forget the massive, one-day slaughter of Native Americans by the U.S. Cavalry at Wounded Knee in 1890. Nothing is new. We expanded the territory of this country with gun violence. We drove out our English oppressors with gun violence. We are a warlike people, only the wars are usually on someone else’s soil.
According to the New York Times in 2015, mass shootings happen more than once a day in this country. I hear the news, scan the headlines, peruse social media, shake my head at the inefficacy of praying and the inaction of politicians, feel shitty about humanity, and forget. This is my process almost every time it happens, because I am one of the privileged many it hasn’t directly touched. I’m an American, and I have become inured to mass shootings in my own country.
How will anything ever change, if I am numb? It’s so not enough to share an article on social media, update my profile pic with significant colors or imagery, or use a supportive hashtag. In fact, it’s nothing to do those actions. I feel helpless and I acquiesce. This is just the way things are now, and the sooner the human race is wiped off the planet, the better.
I’ve lost faith in our country’s ability to draw the collective line and say, this ends here, now. When the murder of little children at Sandy Hook Elementary changed nothing in our gun laws, I accepted it. I rejected the violence, of course, but by taking no action, I accepted living in a nation where anyone can quickly buy an assault rifle and blow a bunch of kids away.
I’m afraid I don’t know how to draw the line, and it’s not possible to hold it without the participation of others. And if we don’t draw the line, the violence will only ratchet up in severity, duration, and frequency. We’ve lost our center, America. We’re caving in on ourselves, and we’re not doing anything about it!