As of right now, today, the 284th day of 2015, there have been 298 mass shootings so far this year. If you click the link in the previous sentence, it is likely that you will see that the number is no longer 298, since math tells us that these events are occurring around once a day, and it’s still early in the day. So, to state it plainly: every day in America, someone with a gun shoots 4 or more people. This fact, while becoming less surprising, is no less horrifying to state aloud.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few days since having caught up on some news and analysis on the topic. Though I have not personally lost anyone close to me to gun violence, I take gun violence personally. As a former college instructor and big sister to some college, high school, and elementary schoolers, I take it personally that so many shootings happen in schools, both on college campuses and in primary schools. As the partner to a hairdresser, I take it personally that they can happen in a hair salon. As a friend to a family who lives in Sandy Hook, I take it personally that their lives are forever changed, that they were in a different elementary school a few miles away and that it could have easily been otherwise. As a former Charlestonian who lived .4 miles away from Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, I’m personally devastated that nine people were shot while worshipping. And as a woman and feminist, I’m angry that a shooting happened in a darkened movie theater full of women watching a feminist film. As someone who has not lost a loved one to gun violence, I still have an awful lot of connections to shootings happening in America.
All of these shootings happen for differing reasons, but I see a lot of connections among them, and I’m fairly convinced by analyses I’ve read connecting them to misogyny and white supremacy. Basically, once again the patriarchy is to blame.
Out of all the thoughts and feelings I have regarding this ever growing, worsening phenomenon, the strongest among them is fear. I fear for my mother, who has, after 20 years, finally gathered the courage to divorce her husband, a decidedly narcissistic, entitled, and potentially dangerous man. I fear for my siblings, who go to school in southern and central Georgia among heavily entrenched racist and patriarchal social structures. I fear for my ex-colleagues, many of whom are professors. And I fear for myself.
I work for an IT company which is made up of over 50% ex-military personnel. Most of the employees at my company (I’d guess 85%) are male. The majority are white. Half of them are ex-military, and, by my quick survey, 100% of those are gun owners. One coworker spends probably 50% of his day searching the internet for deals on guns and ammunition. Several coworkers go shooting together after work. And my boss, when he’s in town, has been known to drive select employees to swaths of public land at night and allow them to try shooting his automatic weapons. Like, machine gun type weapons. Upon sharing my concerns with a coworker yesterday, she noted that there has been a push among one or more employees to designate an active shooter policy and to allow firearms within the building. An ex-marine, there is certainly a “good guy with a gun” mentality occurring here; certainly many of the men who work in my building believe that, if an active shooter situation were to occur, they would be the ones to save the day. While this may be comforting to some, it is not comforting to me, since it only emphasizes the pervasive presence of the patriarchal gender conceptions that hurt men and women in our society.
But even scarier to me than the hyper-macho guys are the more “beta” types, as they might call themselves if they are members of the Red Pill or /r9k/ online communities. The quiet ones. The gamers. And the ex-employees, the ones that were let go this week, or last week, or two years ago. In 2013, when the Navy Yard shooting happened at Quantico, one of our employees came back from getting a cup of coffee to find everyone in her office dead, killed by another employee. Last month, when Alison Parker and Adam Ward were killed, it was by a disgruntled former employee. Who here among us does not work at a place where someone has been fired?
Sometimes, when I think about going back to grad school to teach, I think about the number of school shootings and I honestly think it’s better to stay out. Fear takes over. Or sometimes, I think I’d like to work for a feminist sexual violence agency in town but then I think about how they could be the target of violence, especially after their recent vocal responses to the Waking Life scandal which has rocked this town. But the truth is that you can get shot anywhere–at work, at Wal-Mart, in your home. And if you do, it will probably be by a man.
I’m not sure what to do with this fear except let it be there, while also not letting it guide my choices. We can’t let the fear get in the way of our of educating ourselves, feeding our families, or engaging in our spiritual practice. Even Alison Parker’s dad, who became an anti-gun activist hours after her killing, said he did so because that’s what she would have wanted. Letting fear guide our decisions is letting “them” win.
So while we are in a national debate about guns, spurring me to read article upon article about the issue, I’m ultimately interested in how it affects my own choices. I’ve been actively trying to figure out what my next step is on my career path. I’ve considered, just in the past year, law school, getting an MSW, becoming a farmer florist, freelance writing, working in marketing at a local nonprofit, and going back into adjuncting [gulp]. It’s a glut of choices, a veritable ocean of options. Each day one or another will seem like the better choice, the more viable option. My therapist told me this week, “I wish you would think less and breathe more.” This is a very difficult thing to do for someone who wants to a) figure it all out, and b) get the hell out of dodge ASAP.
In the meantime, I might contribute to Sandy Hook Promise or Everytown for Gun Safety. I’ll vote for candidates who consider gun violence a top priority, both in terms of restricting access to guns and increasing funding for mental health care. However, there’s more work than this to be done, and it is cultural. It has to do with hate.
Last week’s Mountain Xpress included an op-ed in favor of forgiving the owners of Waking Life, and, though I am appalled at their misogyny, that feels right to me. If they are repentant and actively working to repair their belief systems, continuing to punish them or wish them harm is not only hypocritical, it’s counter-productive. Similarly, there were arguments circulating around the time of the Kim Davis marriage debacle that argued that making fun of her hairstyle or backwoods attitudes doesn’t actually solve anything. Ultimately, throwing hate on those who are hateful only fans the flames and makes the victim now the perpetrator.
So, in this in-between time, (in between now, my current occupation in the IT/DoD arena, and the future, in something hopefully brighter and more beneficial to the world), I’m focusing on love. Not positivity, but love. Evenness. Peace. I’m working on reacting less to my partner with less anger and impatience. I’m working on being more peaceful and accepting of others and of myself. And I’m trying to have patience with myself, because I know that my best work is yet to come, and it will be even bigger, more far-reaching than myself and my household. But in the meantime, I’m practicing locally.