And so we’re here again. It hasn’t even been five full months since we last met under these circumstances. When a gunman walked into a Colorado movie theater, shot and killed 12 people and injured many more.
We haven’t even had a chance to convene and commiserate since another seemingly safe space was terrorized post-Aurora. It was just this past Tuesday that another gunman opened fire inside an Oregon mall, shot a 15-year-old girl in the chest and ended two other lives in the blink of an eye.
We’ve lost mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers in 61 mass shootings over the last two decades. All the lives were precious, all were lost in unimaginable violence. And with the alarming, increasing frequency of these senseless acts, we’ve stopped taking the time to talk about each one. They’re happening so often, so fast, we pause in horror and then quickly move on. It’s not because we’re insensitive or cruel. It’s just paralyzing to dwell in despair.
But something different happened today. Twenty of the victims in this morning’s Connecticut shooting were children. And many of us who couldn’t tear ourselves away from ongoing news coverage heard many a reporter repeat the gut-wrenching reality that these children were taken from their families during a season of celebration. They were murdered in a small town elementary school. None of the facts align with our sense of reason or logic.
But tragedies seldom do. And your Facebook feed might already be flooded with friends reminding you that children die every day. Young lives are lost all around the world, wars rage on, violence is ubiquitous. And they’re right. But do we mourn this tragedy any less because of those realities? Hardly. The agony we’re experiencing isn’t because the twenty children killed don’t demographically fit our concept of violence victims. It’s because they were human beings assaulted in what was one of the last remaining safe havens. And because this. Keeps. Happening.
It’s been unbelievably devastating to watch supposedly secure spaces desecrated by violence, one by one. High schools, movie theaters, malls, workplaces, temples, college campuses. And now we add elementary schools trimmed in holiday cheer to the list. It’s unreal. And it conjures up the familiar feelings of helplessness.
But something different did happen today. Fewer people seemed to fall into despair-induced paralysis. We all felt unimaginable sadness, of course. But the hopeless sorrow seemed quickly overshadowed by overwhelming outrage. Anger. Action. This can’t keep happening. And it shouldn’t.
Gun control is a taboo topic in this country. It’s at the center of a polarizing debate that no one has managed to settle. And this isn’t the place to argue over the issue or tear anyone apart based on their beliefs. But we’re all dumbfounded and angry and want to point fingers. We want someone and something to blame.
And yet no matter who or what we hold accountable for this and all the other travesties we’ve seen, we have to acknowledge one undeniable, apolitical truth: whatever we’re doing isn’t working.
Do we need better access to mental health care? Absolutely. But it’s not an either/or issue—improved psychological services and reassessed gun regulations are in no way mutually exclusive. Maybe we need both and a host of other things to keep this from happening again.
Without collapsing into cliches or playing on already-exhausted emotions, I just have to share what I witnessed earlier this evening. Walking through a popular tourist spot, crowded with locals and out-of-towners admiring the twinkling lights and cheerful ornaments adorning city streets, I saw dozens of elementary school-aged children. They were running, screaming, laughing, being alternately adorable and annoying, as little kids excel at being. But above all, they were somehow still innocent. They were blissfully unaware of the day’s gruesome details. They felt safe. And until we figure out how to agree on what to change in this country (because something has to change), those kids will quickly grow detached and jaded and childhood innocence really will be just another cliche. So once we’ve grieved this horrific outcome, let’s go back and fix the problem. And let’s hope we don’t meet here again soon.