On April 20, 1999, I answered the phone in my dorm room and heard my friend on the other end crying uncontrollably while sharing with me about the shooting that had occurred at Columbine in Colorado. I remember intellectually understanding that this was a tragedy but emotionally I was perplexed. I remember questioning why my friend was so upset. After all, we were safe and sound in the state of Michigan and events like this were not new. Maybe the scale of that particular incident was not normal, but gun violence most definitely was not new. I later shared my observation with a mutual friend and learned that my friend had lost one of her brothers to gun violence in the streets of Detroit. Yet again, intellectually I knew it was a tragedy but still emotionally it did not register with me. Fast forward about three years and I get a call from my mother telling me that one of my cousins was murdered in the streets of my hometown of Gary, Indiana. I felt numb. It wasn't until I learned of my brother shedding tears that emotionally I began to wake up. I became flooded with memories of young boys that I went to middle school with but who did not live to complete 9th and 10th grade. I started to recall that one week after I graduated from high school, I was attending the funeral of a friend that I fondly remember as my grade school "boyfriend." I remembered when I was in 10th grade, my school being on lock down because fights had broken out and school officials thought that if we changed class periods then more fights would break out. I started to recall in my 11th grade U.S. History class listening to the NPR headlines and learning that my city was given the title of murder capital of the country. I started to recall times in college where I got the call saying "Jo are you sitting down?" only to learn of yet another classmate being shot or murdered. Emotionally I had shut down. I gave in to the idea that I was strong and that these acts of violence didn't get to me. The murder of my cousin started to wake me up. Yet again a few years later I recall not having much empathy after hearing about a friend losing her oldest son to gun violence. This time, however, I started to question why I wasn't broken up about it. I didn't like it and knew something had to change in me. Once again my brain downloaded those same memories and then I finally just let my heart ache.
Like many people I like thrilling action movies. Somehow I convinced myself once again that I was strong and I could tolerate the images. Then finally one movie pushed the boundaries for me. Finally one of the tv crime shows pushed the boundaries for me and I decided I couldn't take it. I will still see certain movies, but I allow myself to get squeemish and I cover my eyes. Call me a punk, lightweight, or what have you but I can't act like digesting these images is good for my psyche. I cannot allow myself to be further desensitized to acts of violence and incivility.
Seems like we have become accustomed to the occasional mass shooting. Shocking enough at the time of incidence but infrequent enough to be tolerable and not challenge the status quo. And those of us that lived or live with the more frequent and regular occurrences of violence become numb and alienate affection as a means to survive. I do not know if it is human nature or an aspect of our culture in this country to take things all the way to the brink and reach the point of no return before we take action. The unthinkable murder of 6-7 year-old children at Sandy Hook seems to be our point of no return when it comes to gun violence in this country. There seems to be collective agreement with what President Obama has said, "We cannot tolerate this anymore...We cannot accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?"
After the Kansas City tragedy, NBC sportscaster, Peter King, reported that many NFL players turned in their guns. Longtime gun owner, Goldie Taylor, shared that she was turning in her gun recognizing that it was more likely that her gun would be used on her. The gun control debate is passionate on both sides. I appreciate both arguments. Also, I fully understand that such mass tragedy is not entirely preventable. The problems that lead to such tragedies are rooted in causes that are not gun-related. We have to address all aspects that lead to mass and individual incidents of violence. Are we ready to take this on? From my vantage point and based on all of the reporting that I have heard, we seem to be ready. Those of us that were numb and desensitized are no longer. Perhaps we are realizing that we indeed are not powerless; that we can harness the same power we exhibited this past November. Perhaps this time we will be more unified. Perhaps we will now be the change that we seek.