CNN is in my ear from the other room. The pro-gun people are battering around like moths in a glass jar flapping the standard jargon. I don’t bother with these “news” networks on general principle most days, but this isn’t most days, and despite all the bad noise, as much information as possible is required.
Strike that. This is like most days. According to the metric that a “mass shooting” means four or more people are shot in the same incident, there have been 355 mass shootings in the United States this year alone. We have passed 337 days on this year’s calendar. The math drips blood: More than one mass shooting a day.
Wednesday proved that out. On the same day as the slaughter in San Bernadino, four people were shot and one killed in a shooting in Savannah, Georgia. The Washington Post reported, “The local media barely acknowledged the murder: One local television station covered it in three paragraphs. And the world spun on. The big ones, of course, attract the national media, comments from the president, cries of terrorism. The small ones … well, they have become just another police report in the United States.”
According to the latest reports, the San Bernadino killers – a husband and wife with a six-month-old child – had guns that were legally purchased. I don’t know what’s worse: How easy it is to get an illegal gun, or how easy it is to get a legal one. All of them were equally lethal, and 16 people are dead, including the shooters.
The husband of the pair worked with the San Bernadino County Public Health Department, the organization hosting the party in that conference room, for five years. He dropped his baby off with his mother before he and his wife paved that room with lead and put 31 people down, 14 of them fatally, before fleeing to their eventual doom.
This could have been a workplace shooting, all too commonplace in this brave new world. It could have been ideologically driven terrorism, likewise all too common. It could have been both. The husband knew every person at that party, and the couple came back prepared with armor, bombs and bullets. This was personal, and outside the pattern. The traditional understanding of terrorism would have this couple shooting up the huge mall complex just three blocks away. Instead, the man shot his co-workers at a Christmas party. He knew they’d all be in one room.
William Butler Yeats wrote:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Things fall apart. The blood-dimmed tide. The worst are full of passionate intensity. Sound familiar?
There are more guns than people in this country today. There have been more mass shootings than calendar days this year. What happened in San Bernadino on Wednesday, and in Georgia, and in 353 other places besides along the bloody tracks of 2015, including at a women’s clinic in Colorado less than a week ago, has many meanings. You’ll hear all about them on TV, and some might even be worth listening to.
One thing is sure, and was on vivid display during the media coverage of the catastrophe in California: Police all across the country are going to armor up even more now, buy or be gifted more armored vehicles and assault weapons, and they now have 355 excuses for doing so.
Meanwhile, the gun industry runs like a frictionless machine: I need a gun because he has a gun, and he has a gun because that other guy has a gun, and that other guy has a gun because those guys over there have guns, and they have guns because the cops have guns, and so the cops need more guns to protect themselves from all the people out there with guns. The gun manufacturers, the bullet manufacturers and the NRA laugh all the way to the bank, their hands dripping crimson as they count their money.
Maybe what happened in San Bernadino was ideologically driven terrorism. It was still a mass shooting because you can practically pick assault rifles from the trees like dark apples in this country. I refuse to believe the people are willing to endure this sustained level of carnage, happy to ignore it until the phone rings and an officer says, “I’m sorry, your daughter has been shot, please come to the coroner’s office.”
Sadly, I could be wrong.
… and what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?