Stop All the Clocks

I was in Calgary, AB, my city of birth, with my family, when the news hit regarding Colorado. When I'm on vacation I try to avoid computers so as to have a real break for my mind. Kirsty, however, has her alarm set to CBC, so either she or my mother with her ipad, heard the news first and then said over breakfast, "what a terrible thing to happen."
But, you know, they said it with an air of resignation; as though it wasn't really surprising. What does it say about the United States of America when no one is really feeling the stunned disbelief of, say, Norway, that someone raised with all the promise of the American dream ends up with such a hatred either for themselves or for other people that they have to plan, in detail, how to destroy as many as they can?
I suppose we can't really be surprised. This is yet another violent act in a country that, dare I say it, seems to pride itself on the amount of violence we can produce.
A year ago there was the Texas Birthday Massacre that I certainly don't remember. But why would I? My own community, Poughkeepsie probably had about 5 shootings that month. In fact, I'm somewhat surprised that it didn't end up in our vernacular, since that one featured a husband who decided to resolve his marital woes by shooting his wife and her siblings at their son's 11th birthday party at the local roller-rink.
But then there was the shooting in Arizona. I originally thought of the one that included a congresswoman and judge among  people hurt, but a Google search turned up this one from May 2012 where a man managed to kill 4 people including a toddler and then himself. Just so we don't forget it, though, let me include The Tuscon Shooting, that seemed to target Representative Gabriel Giffords and ended by killing 6 people, including Chief Judge John Roll and 9-year old Christina-Taylor Green. The other four individuals who lost their lives, are no less tragic, even though they perhaps weren't young children or public servants. It also bears remembering that Jared Lee Loughner, the shooter, actually shot and maimed 12 other people, including Rep. Giffords, and 74-year old Bill Badger, a retired US Army Colonel who tackled Loughner to the ground after he dropped his 2nd clip of ammunition.
Loughner bought his Glock pistol from a Sportsman's Warehouse. He didn't get it from some gun runner off the street with the serial number filed off, because he didn't need to. Despite his previous charges for drug possession and his documented dismissal from Pima Community College due to "behavioural" problems, he was deemed fit to carry a gun.
Then, of course, there's the infamous Virginia Tech Massacre.  I was in college myself for that one. I had been in class all day until my Non-Fiction writing course when a classmate said they estimated about 20 students were hit. I didn't know which students she was talking about; SCAD students? Then, a few days later, after the news had hit full force, another classmate read aloud his scathing reaction to his fellow students seemingly oblivious to the enormity of what just happened. He wrote how baffled he was that people were still chatting with friends on Facebook, or discussing their plans for the night. We pointed out that he had heard the news almost immediately, while a lot of us hadn't heard until maybe hours later.
Again, Seung-Hui Cho didn't purchase his guns from some shady basement dealer. He walked into a gun shop and purchased a semi-automatic handgun and a Glock handgun. This, despite his diagnosis of an anxiety order and being declared by a Virginia Special Justice as mentally ill, and a long history of behavioral problems prior to his dance with the legal system.
This enabled him to kill 32 people and wound 17 others. For those of you following at home this means a grand total of 49 people were shot by Cho. 49.
Of the people he killed all of them had more than one bullet lodged in their bodies. He would shoot a classroom, move on to another one, and then come back to attack anyone he had missed. He may have been in a state of mental anguish prior to this, but it seems to me he had a very clear idea about what he was doing, as he was doing it. After he shot himself in the head, as a coup de grace, responders found 203 live rounds still remaining.
Despite Virginia Governor Tim Kaine's grief-stricken statement: “People who want to . . . make it their political hobby horse to ride, I’ve got nothing but loathing for them. . . . At this point, what it’s about is comforting family members . . . and helping this community heal. And so to those who want to try to make this into some little crusade, I say take that elsewhere."
(Read more
Virginia did in fact close the legal loopholes that made it incredibly easy for anyone to purchase a gun. It also lead to major federal gun control laws for the first time in 13 (thirteen!) years.
And then, there was Columbine. I'm glossing over, of course, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the UNA Bomber, but this list of American violence towards Americans with no really good reason (they all have reasons, but they are all really flimsy ones) could go all the way to John Brown's body lying a'mouldering in the grave. 
Columbine was not the first school shooting. There had been shootings in Arkansas, California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Oregon, just to name the few that I skimmed from this Wikipedia page. If you go to his link, I want you to notice how long this list is compared to the ones for Canada and Europe. There have been school shootings since Columbine. But with its tally of 15 victims, Columbine is, and hopefully will remain, the bench mark of violence in schools (VTech somehow, I feel, is considered something else).
Once more, I want to point out that even though 15 people died as a result of the massacre, 21 other people were injured, bringing the grand total of individuals who had a bullet or two rip through their flesh to 36.
36 people shot.
What hasn't been said about Columbine? I was an 8th grader in middle school at the time, and already a shade or two cynical and jaded. My school was assigned a police detail for about a week because, and I'm not making this up, we were considered dangerously similar to Columbine. The officers in Kevlar standing grim and slightly bored were regarded with a childish dose of amusement by me and my classmates. We were only 13; it was inconceivable to us that someone would take inspiration from this and kill us. No doubt it was inconceivable for Columbine students until it was all too real.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had bold plans for their last day at school, including bombs to detonate, causing students to stream like lemmings from the building and making themselves easy targets to pick off. They planned for emergency response by detonating a bomb in a field relatively remote from the action. That was to distract police and fire crew. The feux de joie was for more bombs to explode and kill approaching emergency teams. Journals and videos also show that these two were incredibly ambitious. They reportedly wanted to rival the Oklahoma City Bombing, or hijack an airplane and fly it into a building in New York City (which, quite frankly, was the scariest thing I read today). Harris and Klebold, from a planning point of view, were methodical and prepared. It is only because the bombs they planted about the school failed to explode, they look slightly amateurish; not getting the triple counts they were gleefully expecting. After being bored with killing their students, or perhaps realising the horror of what they had done when directly confronted by people expecting to die at their hands, Harris and Klebold wandered around trying and failing to detonate their bombs, shooting somewhat half-heartedly at other student and the police outside and then concluded the day by shooting themselves.
Where did Harris and Klebold get their guns? From a friend-of-a-friend. Who had purchased them from a gun dealer. But let's be clear here. They were not wandering around with hunting rifles. Among their arsenal was TEC-9 semi-automatic handgun and a Hi-Point 995 Carbine with 13 10-round magazines.

Of all the massacres listed here, Columbine probably lasted the longest: 45 minutes, which, incidentally was the length of one class period at my middle school. VTech took 10-12 minutes.

They do have one thing all in common, besides guns and high body counts. 
The killer's parents. Reportedly Loughner's mother and father began crying in the drive way when they saw police at their home, and Cho's family tried all sorts of methods to make him functional with society. Harris had been attending therapy sessions right until his shooting spree. These were not un-loved people.
I imagine that the one thought going through their minds, even today, is what did I do wrong? They replay what they can remember of raising their children, trying to locate that one moment when something snapped and a monster was unleashed among innocent victims.
We don't exactly help either. Fingers have been pointed at every abstract concept that has come into contact with these killers: Violent video games; violent movies; songs glorifying violence; bad diet, medication; bullying. At one point in Bowling For Columbine Michael Moore asks Marilyn Manson who he thought had a greater influence over teens; himself or President Bill Clinton. At the time I thought that was a particularly stupid question and I thought the answer (Bill Clinton) was a bold face lie. And of course, we blame the parents.
Do some of these factors heavily weigh in? Yes. But I don't think, out of this list, there is one that we could name and say, "yep, that was it."
What these parents and family members, looking for the moment of no return, don't realise is that their children went to great lengths to keep secrets from them. Then they went and purchased a gun. Or two. THAT was the point of no return, that is the one thing we can all say "YES! If they hadn't had a gun they wouldn't have been able to shoot 49 people the span of 11 minutes!"
And they won't, because they have been skilfully guided by others with a vested interest in keeping guns available to think of something else. 
Forget "it's the economy, stupid," never mind elephants. There is a giant mastodon sitting in the room with us, and the piles and piles of bodies, all of whom have gun shot wounds.
Okay, here we go with the rebuttals:
1) "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." In theory, this is true. But people are able to kill a great number of other people with assault weapons. Or as Eddie Izzard puts it: "I think the gun helps."
2) "If they were so dead set on killing people, they would have found a way without guns." Again, this might be true. We'll never know for sure. But I sometimes wish Cho or Loughner had been armed with knives, or a cross bow or something that takes a bit longer to deploy. I believe if Cho had started stabbing people, their wounds might have been less extreme and/or someone might have been able to disarm him quickly.
3) "It's my constitutional right to bear arms. I need a hand gun to protect myself." You need a hand gun to protect yourself from other guns. It is a constitutional right, of some sort, for militias to be armed in order to protect people. But what people mean, when they invoke this right (and really, it's more a privilege) is "my desire for entertainment outweighs what I care for the greater safety of people. My need to purchase, without inconvenience, the means for this entertainment outweighs the greater safety of my community." We are still, and probably always will be, a nation of "e pluribus, unum," out of many, one.
4) "If more people carried hand guns and/or concealed weapons, less people would have been shot." Yes, people have actually said this. I feel the sheer math of this proves them wrong. I like this math better: If ZERO people had guns, ZERO people would be shot. I heard a news story, when we lived in Calgary, of a young girl who hid in the closet to surprise her dad. He thought she was a burglar and shot her.
5) "I'm a hunter. I need guns." Fair enough. But you don't hunt with assault rifles, or a concealed hand weapon, or semi-automatic guns, or machine guns. I've never hunted, I don't want to hunt, but I respect it for the skill and toughness required of it (I also believe you need a strong liver and one willing to be donated to you, 5 years in). I do believe there are hunters out there who have a true, healthy, genuine respect for life. I know that sounds completely contradictory, but they are people who have spent hours, days, weeks possibly, tracking the signs of life and aim to take it as efficiently as they can.

This brings us, at last, to the Aurora shooting. I still haven't done much reading on it, and I still don't really want to. Most likely I have read it all before in the research I did for VTech, Tuscon, and Columbine. The details, like what kind of gun, who was shot where, will be slightly different. Otherwise it reads like a Dan Brown novel: A crazy person buys a gun, concocts a detailed plan to kill or hurt as many people as possible, does it to avenge themselves of some perceived injustice.
Please don't think I'm dismissing, Aurora. The people who died were in the midst of their own life stories which have ended far too soon. I would much rather read their stories on wikipedia, in full; hearing about how they rose to great personal triumphs, endured dark valleys and died fulfilled of natural causes. Instead, maybe 6 months from now, their names will be on a list of victims, detailing where they were shot.
The answer is obvious: We have to ban assault weapons. By not doing so we are saying "my unfettered access to guns supersedes your ability to safely enjoy a movie." Or go to school.
I thought I wouldn't know what to say on this subject, I was wrong. But the funeral scene of Four Weddings and a Funeral and the poem from W.H Auden is a perfect mirror of the sadness, and the weariness, the unspeakable, numbing, deafening grief of this moment of violence.


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