After a while, it feels like they just become the names of towns. Columbine first, of course: the day we saw cameras hovering over a high school in Colorado with active shooters inside. That was 1999, but the shootings continued. They canceled my college classes for Virginia Tech in 2007, which saw 32 dead. In 2012, Sandy Hook, a name forever associated with the slaughter of kindergarteners, ended with 27 killed. Most of them were small children. Charleston, which South Carolinians like myself call the Holy City, became synonymous with slaughter when nine churchgoers were killed at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the summer of 2015. And now the Orlando Terror Attack at Pulse nightclub, the senseless slaughter of 50 people, and the injury of at least 53 others.
(Update: The FBI has updated the death toll to 49 victims. The shooter was also killed.)
I could go on. And on. And on. We all feel a sense of terror — that's the very definition of terrorism. But what happened in Orlando on the morning of June 12 was about something else, too. Though the senseless murder of individuals inside Pulse nightclub was meant to send a message that homophobia is alive and well, it also sent another — one we've long avoided hearing. The Orlando attacks remind us all that as a nation, we've failed when it comes to gun violence prevention. We've failed when it comes to gun control. If the shooting could happen at Pulse, in Orlando, it could happen anywhere. It never gets old, these sucker punches to the American gut. These massacres, they never get old. We channel our fear into a desperate need to know, the need to know how, who, why. Why.
And it never gets solved.
In Colorado, in Virginia, in Connecticut, in South Carolina, in countless other cities and states and towns, and now in Florida, each of these gunmen attained handguns or semiautomatic weapons in line with the law. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Columbine were minors, and could have purchased their guns legally, but used a proxy to buy them instead. Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter of the VA Tech massacre, perpetrator of the largest mass shooting in American history — until the Pulse shooting — had a severe anxiety disorder, but since he had never been institutionalized, though he'd been urged to seek treatment for suicidal thoughts and evaluated at a mental institution, was able to buy his guns legally. The shooter at Sandy Hook, Adam Lanza, had an unspecified developmental disorder, and had resorted to communicating with his mother, according to ABC News, who lived in the same house, via email. He stole his mother’s guns, which were purchased legally and not locked up. Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter, a minor and a convicted drug offender, was able to buy his weapon at Shooter's Choice in West Columbia due to a background check flaw. He bought the Glock with his birthday money.
We’ve failed. Not solely the victims, but ourselves. We've failed generations of children growing up where violence has become the norm. We've failed the world and those we'll leave to take care of it.
The Pulse shooter, Omar Mateen, like the shooter at Sandy Hook, used an AR-15 type assault rifle. That same gun was used by the shooter in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre in 2012, which killed 12.
All of this is to outline our greatest flaw as a country. We’ve failed. Not solely the victims, but ourselves. We've failed generations of children growing up where violence has become the norm. We've failed the world and those we'll leave to take care of it.
The political Left will yell about the need for gun control, the Right will shout about the Second Amendment, and nothing will change. And we will ignore the most important question of all, one that's plagued our country for more than two decades.
We kept this type of gun legal, and 26 people died at Sandy Hook, 20 of them elementary school-aged children. We didn’t ban it after Sandy Hook, and 12 more people died at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. We kept the AR-15 legal, and now 50 people have died at a nightclub in Florida, not to mention the estimated 53 injured.
Our thoughts and prayers will be with the victims and their families. We will hold memorials and dissect the case from every angle. We will (wrongly) blame Muslims, blame extremist Muslims, call for immigration caps, more surveillance, and more data collection. The political Left will yell about the need for gun control, the Right will shout about the Second Amendment, and nothing will change. And we will ignore the most important question of all, one that's plagued our country for more than two decades: What will we do to save our children?
I looked up these specifics of this gun online, where I could also have bought one, even thought no one would have asked me, "Do you have small children in the home?" or "Do you have plans to take innocent lives?"
Pulse happened because the semiautomatic AR-15 type assault rifle was legal. The military calls this type of gun, when fully automatic, an M-16, though people usually reserve the term AR-15 strictly for civilian use. They’re popular among cops for their accuracy and modularity: how much you can add accessories to it, like night scopes, grips, laser targets, etc. The magazine ranges from 10 to 30 rounds, and it’s easy to change.
Basically, if you want to mow down a lot of people, this is the gun for you. It has no utility for hunting. I looked up these specifics of this gun online, where I could also have bought one, even thought no one would have asked me, "Do you have small children in the home?" or "Do you have plans to take innocent lives?"
This is a gun made originally for killing people — it's ineffective for hunting. And you can buy it almost anywhere, with only a cursory background check. You can buy it from a private citizen, or at a gun show, sometimes without a background check at all.
We enabled Pulse. The NRA, the politicians in their pocket, and those who cling to their deranged interpretations of the Second Amendment bear responsibility for this. As much as Mateen, the deaths of 50 people lie on their heads.
I'm worried to tell my 6 year old, who's already been showing signs of anxiety — the same anxiety I have, the anxiety that leads me to wonder if a mall car cart is strong enough to stop bullets — that some day someone could hurt him or the people he loves, and all we'll have to offer in response will be more fleeting thoughts and prayers.
As a mother and a Southerner, this has all changed how I raise my children. We have to talk about guns now. My husband and I have to talk to our kids about how guns kill people, and how sometimes bad people get guns and kill lots of people. I'm worried to tell my 6 year old, who's already been showing signs of anxiety — the same anxiety I have, the anxiety that leads me to wonder if a mall car cart is strong enough to stop bullets — that some day someone could hurt him or the people he loves, and all we'll have to offer in response will be more fleeting thoughts and prayers. The people in Pulse were once someone's children. They could have been mine.
My family hunts, but we don't keep guns in the house and never will. We teach our sons that guns aren't necessary, and if they want to hunt, they can damn well use a bow and arrow they've been carefully trained and taught to use. We teach them that no, we don't need guns, not now, not ever. I wish America would do the same.