There was another mass shooting last week in Oregon, my home state. That’s number 294 for the country this year. At the time of this blog post, that’s almost one mass shooting for every day of this year. Does that number mean anything? Or is it just a number?
Truthfully, despite being a crime victim—and knowing first-hand the devastating affects of one villain’s evil—at first glance, it’s just a number. I, like you my fellow American, am now completely desensitized to mass murder. Which also means that all those horrific shootings in my state have faded into shadows.
Memories that should be burned into permanent recall. But I turned to the Internet for a mind jog. A brief and incomplete web search reminded that in 1998, Kip Kinkle shot up a Springfield, Oregon high school. (Was that our first mass shooting? I can’t remember.)
I read further and was reminded of the first 2006 shootings in Roseburg. And that in 2012, a gunman shot up the Clackamas Town Center shopping mall—my coworker’s brother among the dead.
Then came the 2014 shootings in Troutdale, Oregon’s Reynolds High School, which hit even closer: a friend occasionally subbed there. Another took her morning jog by to the school. If she’d left any earlier, she could’ve been … That same year, the shootings at Rosemary Anderson School, in Portland, and now, Roseburg again.
You heard about that one, I’m sure. Or maybe it’s already fallen out of your memory. It did happen last week after all. But when it was fresh news whipped around the world. An old German friend texted as soon as the news hit his homeland. “Are you OK?” and “Did it affect you this time?” and “Are your friends alive?” and “When are your hardliners going to let the laws be changed?” A conversation we’ve had since we met in college, 23 years ago, and keep having every time a shooting hits the state.
Twenty-three years ago, I bemusingly watched him and other German friends fall into angst, rip out their hair, after I casually let it drop that I learned to shoot at 11. That classmates drove to school with hunting rifles lodged in gun racks installed in the cabs of their dads’ trucks. Back when I believed that guns were safe—six years before mass shootings hit my state. Before taking guns lightly stopped being funny.
We need more Germans bellowing, “What are you people thinking?!” right now.
My texted response to that old friend attempted to explain why it’s so hard for my countrymen to think clearly when it comes to guns. The culture exchange has been a continued back-and-forth during our twenty-three years friendship, and we easily fall into asking each other tough questions. Me, asking for an explanation of Nazi Germany and now him, reopening the gun question. I explained that my country has a deep cultural blind spot. As we know, culture dictates normalcy. Defines preconceived ideas of what’s right and wrong. Things that keep society afloat. Some parts are good. And other parts …
In my country, we can’t discuss the Second Amendment—the right to bear arms—without verbal violence. It summons a deep, inherited trauma from our colonial forebears. We never forgot British rule. That sense of helplessness from over-taxation. Being expected to house British troops. Which spurred the need for empowering this new nation with the right to self-defense. Which means bearing arms, which is quickly translated to gun ownership.
Challenging that number two rule in our society threatens my people. I explained to my German friend that for the hardliner position, changing that rule threatens the fabric of our society. The thought of taking away our weapons leads to paralyzing irrationality. Without guns … Bam! We’re there, back in the colonies, with King George’s exploitation. Then other dominos will fall. What other rights will be taken away, if we start messing with the right to bear arms? It’ll lead to the complete unraveling of our great society.
We forget that we are now a little too powerful, and need to stop thinking of ourselves as the 90-pound weakling. We have a heavily funded military. An arsenal of nuclear weapons. Those countless wars wars we fund.
We don’t realize our need to start re-interpreting that amendment. We forget that the British are now our friends, and have been for quite some time. That the original intent of the Second Amendment was to draw the line between our ability to defend ourselves from a King-George-saluting-red-coated-single-shooting-musket-toting army. That amendment is now justifying single-shooter madmen (our own countrymen) mowing down innocents—commonly small children and students —with semiautomatics.
Someone is going to smack me upside the head. Do some finger pointing. Say something to the affect that I, as a crime victim, a survivor of stalking, that I of all people would respect the need for guns.
So here’s the deal: I never bought a gun. Or any other kind of weapon. It wasn’t because of a personal pacifistic-leaning, Kumbaya-singing, liberal-hug-and-release policy. It’s because of what you learn in self-defense classes: every weapon has consequences. Choose your mode of protection wisely, because you must feel comfortable with what you’re going to use to defend yourself.
I was completely uncomfortable with a gun. I knew I’d keep a cooler head with planning escape routs and dodging my stalker, than engaging in armed combat. Because shooting classes teach how to fire. Not when it’s appropriate to fire. Even police and military, which are trained in these situations, make mistakes. They don’t tell you what to do if you miss your target.
What if, in a panic-filled, gun-firing, what if I hit an innocent? My stalker threatened me at home, which was in a densely populated neighborhood, with really little kids running around. If I hit one of them … how could to justify my need for self-defense to the grieving survivors?
I couldn’t. That’s why I didn’t get a gun.
I also know if my stalker had continued for one more day, before she was stopped, I would have needed that gun or some sort of weapon. It haunts me.
I also ruminate: what would have happened if my stalker had a gun?
I could lose myself, ruminating both sides of the coin. If you came to this post wanting a clear-headed direction from a stalking survivor—or crime victim in general—you likely won’t leave with one. Because I don’t know the solution.
I know how I’d react if I were German.
But I’m not German.
I do know my musings or recollections or theories can’t change the fact that now more people in my state are dead. That a couple days after the Oregon shooting, another school in Washington, my state's neighbor, went into lockdown from another threat.
In a few weeks or another month, more people will die from another shooting
We need to start taking action, to protect the lives of the innocents. We need to start conversations that lead to results. Since these conversations mean upending our cultural norms, they are going to be incredibly uncomfortable in the process.
Can we start by acknowledging that our right to bear arms is hurting our nation, while we acknowledge that as a society we just might never completely stop carrying guns?
Can we stop bellowing about our rights as individuals and ask what will benefit society as a whole?
Can we continue by stating that we need more laws that prohibit the casual sale of the deadliest of weapons?
Can we talk clear-headedly about what really goes on in a shooting spree? What really stops a single person shooter?
Can we strengthen the laws that demand a mental health evaluation before purchasing a weapon? That deny convicted criminals the right to gun ownership?
Can we enforce the laws that are already in place, so that background checks don’t get lost in the paperwork? Can we streamline the paperwork process, preventing delays that create loopholes, and give villains such powerful weapons?
Can we immediately report violent threats when we see online? Especially in social media? And not feel irrational for doing so?
Can we take the time to befriend loners?
Or are we going to forget everything until our next mass shooting?