Count me among the cynical.
Ten Boulder families and their circle of friends are grappling with the horror inflicted at a King Soopers Monday afternoon. Meanwhile, the rest of us play our parts in this macabre American tradition of mass murder.
I’m cynical because I’ve seen this show many times. It doesn’t end well.
Microphones and cameras are pushed into the faces of people who escaped with their lives. They’re prodded to relay the graphic horrors we’ve become accustomed to. Recollections of the gunshots, the terror and the relief, all while TV news anchors soberly fill air time with speculations and cautioning about speculating.
Police clamp down on the crime scene, dispensing virtual riddles rather than providing answers.
Elected officials line up to proclaim their deep sadness and issue a flotilla of “thoughts and prayers” for the dead and those staggered by the deaths.
Everyone waits anxiously to glean the first few details of what flavor of crazy the new gunman is. The prosecutors promise justice that can never come.
Then comes the heartbreaking stories of the lives that are no more. Vibrant daughters. Generous aunts. Funny dads. We marvel how each of the stricken was doing what so many of us have done thousands of times before. The dead were just going to school, dinner, a movie, a church, a concert, a bar or a department store. This time, mundane trips to a Boulder grocery store turned deadly.
Then come the shrines and the outpouring of dollars for the families of the dead. Endless bouquets, stuffed animals and mylar balloons in wrong places that signal only one thing: another mass shooting.
I’ve achingly watched and participated in this gruesome American ritual most of my professional life. I cut my journalist teeth on Colorado’s obscene slaughter one night in 1993 in the parking lot of an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant after Nathan Dunlap shot five fellow workers just before Christmas, killing four of them. Then came the Labor Day Massacre in 1998. The Columbine Massacre in 1999. The Platte Canyon hostage crisis in 2006.
I was personally ruined after the Aurora Theater Shooting in 2012. I am forever haunted by the look on Tom Sullivan’s face, the sound of his voice, as he waved a photo of his son, Alex, frantically among dozens of horrified and dazed survivors corralled to Gateway High School. Alex was among the dead. Tom now has a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives, working to create laws that might prevent someone else from living every parent’s worst nightmare.
Since then and in between, we’ve ticked off massacres inside elementary schools, high schools, discount stores, concert halls, churches, dance halls, office complexes, even newspapers.
After all this, after almost 30 years of perpetual massacres, we dutifully note and publish well-meant cries like those from Boulder Congressman Joe Neguse.
“This cannot be our new normal,” Neguse said after discovering his home town was the latest target of terror, just days after a ghastly rampage just outside of Atlanta.
Mass shootings are now a longstanding Colorado tradition. We suffer and accept them like tropical communities endure malaria.
The most aggravating part of my cynicism stems from what will come in the next few days. President Joe Biden has already started the customary chant for gun control.
I heard it from President Barack Obama in 2012 right here in Aurora, and from many others since.
The lofty goal of those in Congress who understand that the pandemic of gun violence is directly related to the easy access to prolific guns is hardly profound. All they want right now are universal background checks, something a vast majority of Americans also want. We are so far gone in the United States, however, that Congress can’t even muster the ability to require people to prove they’re not criminals or insane before we hand over an assault rifle and a large-capacity magazine.
I can promise you this. If you think the Boulder massacre will be the tipping point that persuades Colorado congresspersons like Lauren Boebert, Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn to ban assault rifles, you would be dead wrong. Not only do they faithfully believe colonists 200 years ago wanted to bestow the deadly firepower of an AR-15 on every American, they frequently post sordid proof of their gun worship to shore up support of Americans who believe the exact same thing.
Nationally, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had this to say about the newest effort to legislate fewer mass shootings.
“Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” Cruz said in the Senate committee that has stymied gun control for many, many years now.
Cruz, a Republican, is sadly joined by too many Democrats who also believe that gun laws only make criminals of law-abiding gun owners, who are law abiding only until they kill 10 people at a grocery store.
Like so many American quandaries, gun violence is complicated and won’t be easily solved. I am confident that state and federal lawmakers will no more heed the hoary call for “enough is enough” now, any more than they have in the past.
What we’ve all found is that for political leaders and, so far, for the vast majority of Americans, 10 dead innocents at a neighborhood grocery store isn’t enough. After Aurora and Sandy Hook Elementary School cataclysms, it became clear that sheer horror would never be an agent for change in American political leaders.
Instead, change must come as a demand from all of us. We individually must dispel the myth of the Founding Fathers’ fetish for guns and individual militias. Gun control must become the same touchstone for voters as are gay rights, racial equality, climate change and telling the truth.
As a society, we must counter an American gun culture steeped in gripping fear and propaganda. We must treat mental illness in all its forms as the pandemic and key component of gun violence that it is.
Will all that happen because of the Boulder Massacre or the next several massacres? No. Clearly, our tolerance for gun violence is limitless. Sorry-not-sorry to discount three attempts at reform in Colorado, but the problem is so severe and gun violence so prolific that the loophole ridden clip limit, background checks and red-flag law are the equivalent of handing people a sheet of newspaper to protect themselves during a golf-ball hail storm.
Optimism now comes from hoping that real change in gun laws and access to mental health will come despite the Boulder shooting tragedy and the next one.
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