Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Three things stood out to me after the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon last week:
  • It's the 45th school shooting in the United States this year. Forty-fifth.
  • When the shooter announced his plans and his anger on niche social media, some people responded by encouraging him, and even recommending weaponry.
  • Umpqua Community College is only 15 minutes from where my in-laws used to live. A young father, who sang with my mother-in-law in their church choir, recommended we take a look at the campus where he teaches, telling us it's lovely. And it is, nestled in a bend of the North Umpqua River, hilly and thick with trees, and Oregon green. Students, I thought, are lucky to go to school here.
Though Will McAvoy is fake, a creation of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for the defunct cable drama The Newsroom, he speaks the truth via Sorkin. His shows, including The West Wing, work as oracles through which Sorkin reminds us we're screwed up and need to fix things. And can fix things.

"The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one," McAvoy says in the powerful opening moments of the first episode, destroying the assertion that the United States is the greatest country in the world.

Do we recognize there is a problem? I'm talking primarily to those who run the guns in this country, who control the money and the message about guns, and to those who own the guns that the legal gun runners run, and buy into the gun runners' message.

Is that a problem, that a shooter could walk onto a college campus and kill eight and wound more before killing himself? Does that seem wrong – really, really wrong?

Do you recognize a problem with forty-five school shootings this year, a year still young? Do you see a problem with parents sending their children into a safe haven for learning — a hilly campus sparkling with aspen leaves and the whisper of a river flowing by, this time — that becomes a killing ground?

Do you recognize that more and more people now think twice about sending their kids to school, or going to the movies, or shopping at a mall, or eating at a restaurant, because the idea is born now that a shooting could take place.

Do you who make the guns and buy the guns, who promote the guns and buy the votes — you who stir the fear and stand your ground and bristle in the fear — do you see nothing wrong with guns so available, with people who are angry or out of their minds using guns to punctuate their fear and phantoms?

Nothing at all?

To you who howl now at the gun runners, who are furious at yet another shooting — and to me and people like me in the middle, still wondering what we could possibly do to effect improvement — do you see a problem in everyday gun deaths all around you? At least twice a week my hometown newspaper reports a shooting death in the greater metropolitan area.

Eight dead in one fell swoop, wring hands. One dead in a dispute outside an apartment, ho-hum.

Do we recognize a problem? Do we?

The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. If we don't see the problem, if we don't yearn for a solution, then we become OK with sending our children, our families, ourselves, into harm, the price we pay for the questionably constitutional right to bear arms.

If we don't recoil at the thought that anonymous people over the Internet encourage others' violent intentions, as if it's another video game, what's wrong with us?

We move on, scab over, and hope for the best; and if not, oh well.

The majestic flag that flutters on the soaring flagpole where I work has been lowered to half staff. It's no easy task: It takes a skilled maintenance worker maneuvering a hydraulic lift, and it requires a windless day. But it's done, to honor the dead in Oregon. From where I work, I can see three other flags lowered too.

I get the gesture, but I'm not sure I agree. The dead deserve honor and remembrance, of course, but you can see where this is going if we don't recognize this as a problem. In fact, if this is our tradition now, I think the flags should be set to half staff most days, and if a day occurs in which no one is shot and killed within the immediate vicinity, then the flags should be raised to full height.

It'll be like the shop steward's sign "____ days without an accident." We can note the days no one died because of guns.

The first step.

No comments:

Post a Comment