Believe it or not, I actually do not seek out controversy. It just so happens that these days being a transit and bicycle riding, dairy and beef loving woman who devotes absolutely *zero* time to achieving a flat stomach makes me a walking, talking controversy, a definitive circus freak. Oh well. I happen to like me that way. (Did I mention I am a natural brunette and make no attempt to go blonde?)
As I mentioned in my Monday blog post, I recently relocated to Denver, Colorado. Never having lived here or in this part of the country, I was curious and figured it was as good hunting grounds as any for a new job. I arrived in Denver on June 19. As the early weeks in my new city passed, I corresponded with a number of friends about my new life, such as it was, and I passed on that I found the area interesting in many ways, but that people here seemed to live in a bit of a bubble, somewhat unaware of things that were happening right in front of them. In my inevitable way, I attributed it to the driving culture and heavily suburbanized structure of the Metro area. You notice less when you buzz by in a personal vehicle at 40 miles an hour from the attached garage with automatic door opener out in the ‘burbs along the freeway to the parking structure with elevator direct to your floor; interact with fewer strangers; navigate fewer social situations outside of your own control; stay snug in a low density neighborhood isolated from busy commercial districts.
On July 20, twelve people died during the Century 16 Theater shooting. It was pretty weird going to bed on Thursday night (by 11pm, of course, because I am boring) and waking up to find out that Aurora was suddenly the talk of the planet—for the wrong reasons. Inevitably, the Columbine shootings came up in early discussions and there was some nascent soul searching. The irony of the communications I had sent to friends the prior week was not lost on me and I thought about writing down my reactions immediately. Instead, I decided that having been in the area for a month when the shootings occurred, I would wait until another month had passed. (I then postponed this a bit, having declared last week Snark Week, a seemingly inappropriate venue for writing about a mass murder.) I also thought that given the tendency of people to let such events slip from their consciousness after some time had passed, waiting to assess my own reactions would also give me the space to sort through it myself rather than in the mix of others thoughts.
Like so many others, my initial reaction was, “Not again.” These types of shootings seem to be all too common these days. Locally, there were also a lot of references to the Columbine shootings and sentiments as to “Why us again?” Sadly, (Happily?) I am not sure there is anything particularly unique to Colorado or the Denver area. Lists of all of the U.S. mass murders in the past few decades are shockingly long and dismaying. Although, the scope of this shooting—twelve dead and 58 injured (some permanently and severely disabled by the shootings)—does make it, along with Columbine, one of the worst such shootings. And, much like Columbine, it was not a sudden, reactive, rage-filled outburst of a jilted spouse or employee overlooked, unwillingly pushed into retirement or otherwise wronged, but a carefully, slowly planned deliberative act of young men who had barely embarked on adulthood and should have had decent prospects for bright futures ahead of them.
There are other similarities—in both cases, the shooter(s) and the victims came from the same age demographic: older half Millenials. Right now, if I had been born between 1984 and 1994 and I lived around here, I’m not sure I’d want to leave the house. (And the Virginia Tech shooting involved the same demographic as well, so maybe it doesn’t depend on where you live.) In both cases, the shooters came from seemingly stable family backgrounds, and they were students—supposedly at “the most wonderful time in life” when one is surrounded by freedom and exploration and supportive peers. (Uh huh. Did the people who say things like that actually go to high school? Maybe we need to stop romanticizing youth.) In both cases, the victims seem to have been simply unlucky rather than targeted based on any kind of long-standing grudge or soured relationship. (Although I will acknowledge some indications that the Century 16 victims seem to have been largely female or men protecting women, and rumors that the Columbine shooters did target some students they did not like.)
Taking the laundry list of shootings in recent decades (not to mention bombings), is there anything we find in common among the longer lists of rampages? Well, as someone who grew up in a smaller community in the Upper Midwest, we always used to say that stuff like this happened in California or New York City or Texas where everyone is nuts. (Although, having said that, my little home town has had homicides from time to time and I doubt anyone in my age cohort from Edison will ever forget the name Tom Schroeder.) Perhaps as more of the country becomes isolated, boxed off and dissociated as California is, or cold and anonymous as New York City, perhaps the phenomenon spreads.
I am a long standing proponent of the philosophy that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. And bombs kill people. And airplanes kill people. And cars kill people. Maybe what we take away from these lists of rampages, fueled by anger and misunderstanding and isolation and mental instability and most of all missed cues, is that it is not the guns or the bombs or the airplanes, but it is the communities that fail. Fail in the most subtle ways. That provide schools that meet fire codes, but not the emotional needs of students. That provide entertainment, but not social mixing.
To peace in our time, connecting and staying connected.