Sunday, July 29, 2012

Playing with Weapons

I think about all the victims in Aurora, and I realize there are many more than originally counted. Think about all the people in the theater who were not physically injured but who are mentally and emotionally wounded. Think about families and friends of the victims – they are suffering, too.  The suffering is like the rings created in a body of water after an object has broken the surface, moving out wider and wider.
Sales of guns have risen in Colorado since the shooting.  My home state, with 10% unemployment, didn’t have a spike in sales but a spike in interest in purchasing guns. I say, smart thing, pay that mortgage or buy some food instead. That will help you survive better than buying a gun.
I asked Ronald what he thought would have happened if other people in the theater were armed. Remember, he is a certified pistol safety instructor. He said, “A lot more people would have died.”
Visibility was almost zero. People were running and diving in all directions. The noise must have been deafening. Holmes wore riot gear. In such a situation, who would have been able to pull off a shot that hit the one vulnerable area, the neck, of the assassin? No one but the best-trained sniper, a rarity, could have made such a shot. But someone else with a gun might have shot wildly into the crowd and killed even more people.
Another “joker” was arrested for threatening his boss and employees in Maryland. He was going to be terminated from his job. He made two threatening phone calls and the company contacted police. They found an arsenal in his home.
“If you asked me who the Joker is, I’d say a face card or a character in the Batman comics,” Ronald said as we were eating breakfast yesterday morning. “Why do people use something like that to hold up like a banner?”
“I don’t know,” I said, and I really don’t. I watch all the superhero movies and the action/adventure movies, and I have never wanted to hurt a single person. I can’t understand why people need arsenals or why they want to shoot people. I see shooting as a sport, target shooting or hunting, though I am not a fan of hunting just for the sake of killing. My husband shoots at circles, not silhouettes, and he doesn't hunt. Today’s paper had a column about gun control and featured a photo from a local shooting range. The photo was of a shooter at the range aiming at a life-sized photo image of a man. Many people buy assault weapons, and they talk about shooting people.  See my post about my husband’s experience as a pistol safety instructor Profiling Fatality 3 and last week's post on the Aurora shooting: Tired World.
Gun violence is mainstream and accepted. People are afraid so they want to get guns, and they want to use them. What are we so afraid of?
A four-year-old was shot and killed in a park in the Bronx by a stray bullet. A person on Facebook wondered how a parent could have let a four-year-old out to play at 9:30 in the evening. 
I know why that child was out in the park. When we still lived in Syracuse, I remember driving through the poor sections of the city on warm nights, and everyone was out – the streets were teeming with people. The houses and apartments were not air-conditioned and were stiflingly hot.  That’s why fire and police personnel check on the elderly during heat waves. They can’t get out, and the inside temperature can be twenty or thirty degrees higher than outside. The inside temperature can be deadly.
That child was out because that was better than being in. That mother couldn’t have known that a group of teenagers who were playing basketball would be armed and willing to use their weapons.
Mental illness is stigmatized and access to mental health care is difficult even for those with health insurance. Even if an individual is seeing a psychiatrist, as Holmes supposedly was, it is difficult to predict when one might descend into thoughts of harming oneself or others. Already people are predicting that Holmes is mentally ill, but we don’t know for sure. Maybe that helps people make sense of the senseless violence. We have to be able to explain things, even the seemingly unexplainable.
Here’s my explanation: we live in an increasingly divisive society that tends to isolate individuals instead of creating community. The rich are getting richer while everyone else is getting poorer. Everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else. It is making us a fearful and violent society.  The push for personal freedoms has caused people to act on those feelings. Many people feel isolated and disenfranchised, not a part of mainstream society. I wonder, is anyone really part of the mainstream or are we all islands in the ocean?
There is so much we need to do to calm the situation. The first thing is to take assault weapons and riot gear off our streets, except in the hands of qualified and trained police and military personnel. Why is it easier to buy an assault weapon than it is to register to vote in some states?
The second thing is to stop this trend where most of America, the 99%, is plunging into poverty. We are a better country than this. Corporations have to be better stewards of the people who live where they do business. Our government needs to step in. It’s not socialism, it is the right thing to do, and it levels the playing field for everyone.
The third thing is to accept our diversity. It is our strength, not our weakness. We can come together, if we would just be more tolerant and more accepting of our differences.

Here’s the latest story from the golf range:
This week Ronald climbed the stairs to the front porch after hitting balls. He figured he’d spend a little time chatting with the white guys on the porch. He keeps trying to get along, because they are the people in his social sphere.
The golf club repair guy said, “You want that driver fixed, you better get it to me.”
“Not [Jacob],” Ronald responded.
“What? He thought you were [Jacob]?” I asked. I remembered that Ronald had told me [Jacob] had broken his driver the week before.
[Jacob] is a half-foot taller than Ronald, about ten years younger, very dark, and thin as a rail. The two men couldn’t look more different.
“Oh,” the golf club repair guy said, “I don’t see that well.”
“And he wants people to give him their golf clubs to repair?” I asked, laughing. I was still incredulous.  Let me remind you that Ronald’s been going there for five years. [Jacob] covers the shop for the owner sometimes, and he is there hitting balls almost as often as Ronald. How could the man not be able to tell them apart?
Then I remembered that back in Syracuse, Ronald and his friend Michael, who also played golf, were often mistaken for one another. Ronald had about three inches on Michael, and Michael had that small, long-muscled gymnastic body – he was a gymnast for Syracuse University back when we were students until an injury knocked him off the team. Michael’s eyes turned up at the outer corners and his nose was pointed. He wore glasses. This was in contrast to Ronald’s large, round eyes and broad nose. Yet people used their names interchangeably.  After it happened often enough, both men gave up and answered to either name.
Not only did they get mistaken for one another, but many times in the almost twenty years they were club members, they were reported at the pro shop for “sneaking onto the course.” One day a new white member marched into the pro shop and demanded someone get the black guy off the course. The club pro, who jokingly referred to Ronald as “Walter Hogan” because of his accurate drives, said, “Ron’s been a member for a lot longer than you have. He should have been in here asking about you.”
Change is very slow. But we need to try harder. We need to fight against social isolation. We need to see one another clearly. We need to stop being so fearful. We need to make people feel part of something greater than just the individual, and we need to include all Americans and celebrate our diversity.

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