tw: ramblings and thoughts on mass shootings and murders ahead
My first conscious memory of a mass shooting came at 11 years old. The year was 2002 and I was in the sixth grade. It was a year after 9/11, and the entire Washington, D.C. area was still on edge. Someone was going around our quiet neighborhoods and shopping plazas and gunning people down in broad daylight. As we picked up groceries, as we walked to school, as we pumped gas, as we sat at bus stops reading books. We weren’t allowed outside for gym or recess anymore. They told us to avoid white vans. When we walked to the bus stop or when we walked home, they advised us to walk in random zig-zag patterns. That way, it’d be harder for him to shoot you. Him being “The Beltway Sniper” – that’s what they called him. A few weeks into the series of shootings, a woman was murdered in a Home Depot parking lot one mile away from my school. During that time, my mom and brother had traveled to Canada for an aunt’s wedding. I remember being glad they weren’t around.
My second memory of a mass shooting happened on an abnormally cold day in April 2007. There were flurries that day, even though we were weeks into meteorological spring. I was a sophomore in high school. Between classes, someone told us about a shooting at a university, Virginia Tech. I remembered my sister was visiting a university that day. Momentary panic set into me until I came to a realization that she had gone to UVA and not Virginia Tech. I was relieved, but our school was in mourning. My high school sent 40-50 students to Virginia Tech every year. My classmates knew friends or friends of friends who were shot that day. In the aftermath, we sent a banner of signed well wishes in solidarity. Someone had written, “This tragedy will not be in vain.” There were talks of greater foresight, stricter checks on guns to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. To this day, “[n]o state permit is required to otherwise purchase or possess a rifle, shotgun[,] or handgun” in Virginia. (https://www.nraila.org/gun-laws/state-gun-laws/virginia/)**
A third personal memory comes several years later, many shootings later. It was the first weeks of law school, and I was sitting in my Constitutional Law class. An emergency message had been sent to us via text and email. “Shelter-in-Place.” The term of art had become a part of our cultural lexicon by then; everyone knew what it meant and our routine quickly unfolded. A Google search told us an active shooter situation was occurring at the Washington Naval Yard, a quick 10-minute car ride from our campus. We stayed away from the windows. We turned off the lights. We waited for the all-clear. And when we got word that everything was “safe,” we then left school for our homes. Onto the next day.
Today’s shooting is personal, but in a way different from mere proximity. A murderer intentionally targets a gay club, killing dozens of people partaking in an activity I have personally enjoyed many times before – simply going out with friends and lovers on a Saturday night. This hate crime was not random or senseless. It was premeditated. This massacre was not unpredictable. It follows a pattern of killings extending from my childhood. This act of violence is a reminder of why I hesitate every time my boyfriend wants to hold my hand in public, every time I want to hug him in public. It’s a reminder that my brain completes a mental check of where I am whenever we appear as a couple. It’s a reminder that homophobia and anti-LGBT violence is real and thriving. It’s a reminder that mass shootings still infiltrate my life.
I mourn the day when our lives became so intertwined with mass shootings and murders that the term “Shelter-in-Place” has become as recognizable as “Chipotle.” I mourn for the people whose spirits and thriving lives are reduced into names that scroll along the ticker tape of the 24-hour news channel. To be honest, this isn’t a passionate call to action, this isn’t some shaming of politicians, this isn’t a policy plan or a new framework of interpretation for the Second Amendment. But, it is a recognition and an acknowledgment that too many tender lives have been taken, that our daily routines revolve around sidestepping the next massacre, that somehow and someday, we will have to be able to tell our children that a shooter may come into their schools, a movie theater, or a mall and try to kill them.
Today is another dark day in a series of many dark days.
**But I couldn’t resist sharing another fabulous nugget I found on NRA’s website re: Virginia gun laws: “A resident of Virginia may own machine guns, short barrel rifles, short barrel shotguns, or suppressors if all Federal and State laws are complied with.” Because, yes, we need machine guns for our personal protection of our family and our homes.
In the wake of the horrific Orlando tragedy, some thoughts from our Community on processing the latest moral failure of our society to protect our queer brothers and sisters from bigotry and violence, and America’s problematic stance on gun control.