So What Do We Do Now?
The McDonald’s massacre is the first one I remember. That was 1984, when James Huberty, a mediocre white man with anger issues, walked into a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California, not far from the Mexican border, and shot twenty-one people to death, several of them children, almost all of them Hispanic. I remember reading an issue of Life featuring an extensive write-up about it, and staring at a photograph of one of the victims, 11 year-old Omarr Hernandez, crumpled on the ground outside the restaurant, next to his bicycle. He was the same age as me. He had gone to McDonald’s with his friends to buy sundaes, and now he was dead. I was fairly into horror movies at that point, and I’m sure I must have had the same sense of not real looking at this magazine article as I did watching The Thing or Alien. Kids didn’t get shot while going to buy a fucking sundae, that was ridiculous.
In what would prove to be a pattern almost laughably predictable in these situations, Huberty was troubled by the direction he thought the country was going in, and believed that he was owed something that society refused to pay up on. The event, during which a nine month old baby was shot in the back, did nothing to change control laws in the United States.
Two years would pass before another shooting of a similar scale occurred, when Patrick Sherrill, a mediocre white man with anger issues, shot and killed fourteen co-workers at an Oklahoma post office. The event, which occurred because Sherrill had been reprimanded by a supervisor, did nothing to change control laws in the United States.
It would be another five years before the next mass shooting took place, when George Hennard, a mediocre white man with anger issues, drove his car into a Texas cafeteria and shot and killed twenty-three people, at the time setting a ghoulish record. The event, likely motivated by Hennard’s hatred of women, did change gun laws in the state of Texas — it became legal for citizens to carry concealed weapons.
The nineties seemed to be oddly free of such incidents, with gun violence largely reserved to urban areas, and then there was Columbine in 1999, which changed everything. I don’t have to explain to you the circumstances of that day, which, much like September 11th, burned itself forever into the fabric of American history, and we no longer remember what life was like before it happened. In addition to it being the first time the NRA became actively involved in roadblocking legislation proposed to stop further incidents like Columbine from occurring, it also marked the beginning of American society’s need to blame mass shootings on absolutely anything else but toxic masculinity and easy access to weapons. In Columbine’s case, it was everything from video games to Natural Born Killers to the music of Marilyn Manson, though a look at Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris’ personal writings and school work suggests that they didn’t need much outside influence to come up with their murderous plan.
Columbine was the first time that some Americans were okay admitting that a few dead kids was a fair price to pay in order to own a personal arsenal. The Sandy Hook shootings, in which twenty first grade students (first grade, so none of them were older than seven, you see) were murdered in their classroom, was the first time we realized that those people’s minds could not be changed.
The number of mass shootings since Sandy Hook in 2012 has tripled. The most recent events, in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio this past weekend, occurred within less than 24 hours of each other. It’s probably safe to say that the more Second Amendment activists (and members of Congress deep in the NRA’s pockets) dig in and insist that the slightest tightening of gun regulations is a grievous offense against their rights, the more empowered mediocre white men feel in taking out their anger on innocent people in public places, doing what being an American is actually supposed to be about — living freely, and going about their everyday lives.
So, what do we do now?
I must admit to being shocked and dismayed at my own inability to do anything more at the moment than offer a weary shrug and an “I don’t know, man.” There’s still a sense of the not real that I felt when reading that article about the McDonald’s shootings, now 35 years ago. I don’t mean not real in the way that people who like to claim every shooting is a false flag operation do, I mean in the impotently helpless “I can’t believe this is happening” way. Less than a decade. It took less than a decade for the rate of mass shootings to triple. for the time passing between each one to narrow from 200 days to 64, and it’s only getting narrower. Just…ponder that for a moment. The chance that each of us will at least know someone touched by gun violence increases every day.
I am not yet at the point where I feel afraid to be out in public (well, no more afraid than I usually am). I live in a part of the country curiously untouched by mass shootings — we only get the occasional pipe bombing, and it’s interesting to note how quickly those same individuals in Congress who refuse to act when children are murdered demand swift retribution against an entire population for the actions of a few. I don’t live in a place where open carry is legal, so I never see out of shape men who look like they couldn’t run the length of a parking lot walking into a Starbucks with a rifle casually slung over their backs. These, of course, are the fabled “good guys with a gun,” who are sure that they’re capable — hell, they dream about it — of stopping crime. These good guys with guns always seem to be curiously absent when mass shootings occur. I guess they’re at home commenting on a Breitbart article or jerking off to a picture in Guns & Ammo.
So no, although I am, in general, a very anxious person, getting caught in a mass shooting while out in public is not a specific fear. It should be, though, I guess, because we’re currently governed, at a federal level, by an Administration whose motto should be pedicabo ego vos erant 'non faciens stercore: “fuck you, we’re not doing shit.” Just put it right on our money at this point. They’re not doing anything about the climate crisis, they’re not doing anything about a race-baiting President who’s buying and selling the country like a cheap piece of real estate, and they’re damn well not doing anything about gun control. Members of Congress who are either unaware of or ignore the middle school science class concept of correlation and causation refuse to even consider reviewing current gun laws, but will enthusiastically support and throw money at yet more studies attempting to connect violent video games to mass shootings, which will result in the same conclusions every other similar study found.
Oh, some people have a solution, and that solution is, of course, "more guns." Sean Hannity wants armed guards in every school, even though there was one present at the Parkland high school shootings last year, and he ran for his life. Geraldo Rivera suggests going even a step further than that and putting armed guards anywhere that innocent people might be vulnerable, so, everywhere. Grocery stores, movie theaters, outdoor festivals, schools, concerts. Make no mistake, these are not the suggestions of men who have accepted that their government will do nothing to make the public safer from guns. They're excited about the idea of America turning into a war zone. Rivera is looking forward to getting to be a real boy journalist again, instead of a rapidly irrelevant Twitter pundit, and Hannity wants to be able to smugly proclaim that the civil war he's been predicting since Obama was elected has finally come to pass. They don't lament that it's coming to this, they want it. After all, they're safe, who cares if a couple of hayseeds at a garlic festival die, the world is an unfair place.
More guns. It's a little like telling someone with lung cancer that they should try eating a big bowl of asbestos for breakfast.
So we do active shooter drills now. A retired cop indifferently reading from an index card tells us to remember "ABC." The "C" stands for "confront," as in run at the shooter if you can't run away or hide. This is something I feel fairly confident in saying almost no one is prepared to do, and the fact that this is the alternative to simply making it harder for people to buy a certain kind of gun is disgusting. No, it's obscene. The only thing more obscene is that stores now sell bulletproof backpacks, right along with the rest of the "back to school" supplies. Dig on that for a minute. We're sending our children out in the world with a strong and clear message: protect yourself, because no one else will. Maybe, if they're lucky, a teacher or janitor will shield them from gunfire, they'll be hailed as tragic heroes who had so much to live for, and then they'll be forgotten upon the next shooting.
So. What do we do now?
I'd say it would take gun violence touching the lives of Marco Rubio or Richard Burr, two of the NRA's favorite sons, for any real change to occur, but I think we also know that we're dealing with a level of craven disregard for anything but money never before seen in Congress -- at least, not this openly. They've already all but said that nothing will change. The problem isn't guns, it's video games. The problem isn't guns, it's mental illness. The problem isn't guns, it's that we're not praying enough. The problem is never guns, so why fix what isn't broken?
I guess we wait. Wait for this stain of a Presidential Administration to be behind us (if we live that long). Wait for Rubio, Burr, Roy Blunt, Thom Tillis and every other Congressman whose wallets are filled with blood money to either retire or be voted out of office. Wait for Democrats in Congress to grow a fucking spine and do something, anything other than tiptoe around their Republican counterparts like they're trying to avoid a pack of schoolyard bullies.
Or we wait until this just feels normal, like with Columbine and 9/11. We simply stop remembering what life used to be like before, then the not real becomes very real, and oh well, that's just the way things are now. Always know where the emergency exits are. Remember when you make a tourniquet, place it two inches above the wound, and tie it tight. When the police come, show your hands so they won’t confuse you for the gunman. I love you, please come home.