For me, there is no father. There are no uncles, no grandfather and no living brothers who were raised with me. There are few male first cousins older than me, and of the entire lot of men in my immediate family, the eldest is my nephew—born in 1986.
It should not be.
But for the legacy of poverty and lack, the healthcare denied, the death-ridden culture of illicit drugs and gun violence, our story would be different. I am 51 now, but even celebrating birthdays comes with a pause. Sometimes, there is cake and laughter and revelry. More often, though, there is a measured silence as we mourn the absence of the lives lost, the laughter we do not hear. I do not remember Christmas with my father.
With every gun death that reaches national news, and the countless others who die without mention, I mourn them all anew. Each one is no less horrific for me than the moment my stepmother called to say my brother was murdered in Wichita, Kan. We were supposed to grow old together, needling one another in a constant game of one-upmanship that started over a round of Twister when we were 8 years old. Christopher was a few months older, more confident in his footing and didn’t exactly relish the role of being a big brother. We lost contact for a time and reunited in our late teens.
We know little about the incident. Investigators say he and a friend were shot in the back of the head, execution-style, while laying prone in front of a television set playing Atari. Witnesses claimed to know nothing of the man who slipped into the going-away party that evening. Christopher was heading home to Calif. with his two young children. They never made it. The gun, as I understand it, was used in another murder in Texas a few years later.
The truth is, we have come to accept our very own deaths. How else to describe a society that allows the proliferation of guns, and continues electing leaders who will do nothing?
I have always been bothered by the notion that some gun deaths mean more to some people than others. How much media attention an incidence received, I know, is almost always tied to the race of the both victim and the shooter, as well as where it happens. There is also, it seems, a magic and unknowable number of victims that dictates the coverage. As a society, we place a moral qualifier on every shooting: Could it have been me?
Those “other people,” we say, placed themselves in harm’s way. We accept as fact that some people are destined to die. We blame their moral failings, their inability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, when they are black, brown and poor—as if that alone makes them culpable for their own deaths. But in high-profile shootings, when the alleged perpetrator is white, we almost immediately blame mental health, video games and popular media rather than malice and intent. We pay no credence to ready access to guns and, by extension, the public policies that ensure it.
Our nation’s schools, houses of worship and shopping malls aren’t meant to be battlefields. If video games were to blame for gun violence, I would be running through a maze with a red bow on my head, attempting to eat every glowing white ball in sight. And if movies were at the heart of the issue, I would be cascading down the side of a skyscraper tethered by bedsheet, Die Hard-style, or concocting safe-cracking schemes that rival the likes of Sean Connery. If Congress truly believed mental health was behind violent gun crimes, they surely would not seek to gut federal funding and curtail access to care, right?
We tell ourselves that enough is enough, but we don’t mean that. The truth is, we have come to accept our very own deaths. How else to describe a society that allows the proliferation of guns, and continues electing leaders who will do nothing? How else can we explain over-the-counter sales of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines designed only for the slaughter of human beings? How can we explain our failure to close loopholes that allow straw purchasers in Ind. the ability to pump firearms onto the streets of Chicago? Why would it ever be legal for an 18-year-old to purchase a semiautomatic rifle, or for anyone to evade a background check through a private sale?
“American civilians own nearly 100 times as many firearms as the U.S. military and nearly 400 times as many as law enforcement,” according to the Small Arms Survey. We are four percent of the world’s population, but own 46 percent of the guns.
We were supposed to grow old together, needling one another in a constant game of one-upmanship that started over a round of Twister when we were 8 years old.
We cry for the children massacred in Newtown, the unsuspecting moviegoers sprayed with bullets in Aurora and the high school kids ducking shots and scurrying to save their own lives in Parkland. We offered our thoughts and prayers, but little else. The carnage has not been enough to move us to action. It is easy to blame a gun lobby that pushes more weapons of destruction onto our streets, pouring millions into a fight against sensible restrictions, or point our finger at a Congress that simply looks the other way.
Canceling politically charged movies (such as Universal's The Hunt) and ending the sale of certain video games—chest-thumping measures designed to puff up press releases and protect corporate profits—do nothing to stop the bloodshed. What we do in the aftermath of mass shootings, what we do as 40,000 Americans die from gun violence each year, tells us who we are. It tells the world what matters to us and what we will tolerate. Unless and until we take decisive action, as a nation, and demand more from our elected leaders, enough will never be enough.