This morning, one of my students said she knows James Holmes, the gunman that allegedly opened fire in a crowded theatre over the weekend. She said her mouth dropped wide open when she saw his picture and heard his name on the news. She said she remembers him as being very creepy. The small-world connection is what I found creepy, especially considering these events happened clear across the country and that I had never heard of Aurora, Colorado until Saturday morning.
We didn’t spend much time talking about the shooting, but I wondered if, like me, any of my students were extra vigilant this morning on the metro or if they’ll think twice about going to the movies, for fear of a copycat gunman; they laughed when I asked if they were nervous about going to the movies, because they know such an association is a logical fallacy (after all, we want to believe we’re still safe to lead our daily lives, right?)
The sad reality is America’s history of shooting is long and extensive, at least one a year since Columbine in 1999. There were the D.C. sniper shootings of 2002; a man who shot and killed seven people in a Wisconsin church in 2005; Virginia Tech in 2007; a South Mountain Community College student who shot three students in Phoenix in 2008; the soldier that opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009; the science professor who shot and killed three colleagues and injured others during a department meeting at the University of Alabama in 2010; and the 2011 Tucson shooting that left Representative Gabrielle Giffords clinging to her life from a gunshot wound to the head. And these are just the notable ones; there have been several shootings in between (see the link above).
I don’t want to be afraid to leave my home, walk my dog, or take the metro to work, for fear that someone out there wants to make a point with gunfire, yet this morning I found myself growing uncomfortable the longer the metro ride lasted. I know, logically, that these shooting events (no matter how extensive the list) are truly rare and far between in the everyday goings-on in any given city, but I also can’t help but marvel at how complacent we were last week, enjoying life at the height of summer, never knowing that James Holmes had been planning his rampage over the last four months, completely unaware that he would leave a city and a nation in unthinkable sadness.
What is also frustrating for me is the conversation we’re afraid to have in this country for fear of impeding on fellow Americans’ rights or of being called a bleeding heart: let’s talk about America’s fascination with guns. I imagine that fascination stems from our early frontier days or the wild west mentality that is at the root of our history. Gun owners insist on their Second Amendment rights, saying things like “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” That may be so, but there are certainly very few murders committed by bow and arrow or musket, so what is it about gunfire? Also, I’m not one of those people that thinks video games or violent movies lead to gun violence — enough people watch them and don’t go shooting innocent people, and we often find that those who do are suffering from mental illnesses — but what I am saying is that ours is a culture that loves guns. We need to examine why. We need to get real.