When is enough enough?
On Monday morning, I woke up and immediately did the thing that our brains have been conditioned to do, thanks to some combination of dopamine and neurosis: checked my phone. My Twitter feed was not filled with the usual stream of linkbait, snark, and self-absorption, much to my initial confusion. Instead, the links all pointed to one story, developing very quickly in real time: the shooting spree at the Navy Yard in Washington.
Over the course of the day, I refreshed Twitter and the Washington Post and NBC and Facebook, attempting to decipher what had gone so horribly awry on this Monday morning in September. By the evening, the media reported that there were twelve people who had lost their lives, in addition to the gun man, Aaron Alexis, a former Naval Reservist. Living in the outer suburbs of Washington means that many of my neighbors, friend’s parents, teacher’s spouses, and the like work in the city, including at the Navy Yard. I feared looking through a list of those who were lost and finding a familiar name.
I had been surprised by the reports of an incident of massive gun violence, but to be quite honest, I cannot say that I was truly shocked. But really, is it possible to be truly shocked anymore? After Columbine and Aurora and Newtown and Virginia Tech and Oak Creek and Gabrielle Giffords and the other tragedies that have been reduced to one word summaries, I, and likely many others, have become much too desensitized to gun violence. And the more desensitized we become, the less urgency there is in our discussion about gun policy.
Of course, as always, there will be those who steadfastly decry any changes to gun laws as an anti-second amendment encroachment on their fundamental rights as Americans. But say that in 2004 a man is arrested in Seattle for shooting at a parked vehicle after a dispute. Say that in 2010 that man is arrested in Texas for firing a bullet through his neighbor’s floor after an argument. Say that he put a bullet through a wall in the home he was staying in two years after that. Say that this man has a history of mental illness, including bouts of paranoia. Should this man have the ability to waltz into a gun store in Virginia and buy a shotgun (plus two boxes of shells?) Aaron Alexis did. On Sunday. And on Monday, his bullets stopped twelve hearts.
Yet another community is facing the consequence of gun violence in this country. We will have our vigils and our prayers and our speeches and our reflective posts on Twitter and Facebook. But will we actually change our public policy? Will the Senate re-examine the background check legislation it unceremoniously abandoned in April? Or are we doomed to repeat this process in a different city, on a different day, but with the same outcome?