(This post is a drastic departure from my usual content.)
As with all posts here, the material considered is covered from my own very specific viewpoint. I did a little research, but not much. I merely verified (and enhanced) my own memory and experience(s).
I am well on my way to becoming an old man. Like most old men I know (and have known), I have stories to tell (and retell too many times).
Some mutterings, in my experience, have value. I imagine if I had grown up a century earlier, respect for elders and viewing them as a resource of contributions surely was stronger. While I imagine being one of the kids/grandkids sitting on the porch in the cool of the day, after the work and dishes are done, grandfather in his rocking chair, family gathered around reading Bible, playing music, and the old ones telling stories, such is not my personal experience. But I knew old people when I was young who surely knew it.
The meaning of life might be handed down from generation to generation in those ways. A lot of stories told and retold, but absolutely no competition with TV or internet. Life moved slower and the meaning went deeper. None of the exchange as rich or potent as listening to Socrates or watching a Shakespear play, but for common people, it did fine.
Here is me on a blog taking a turn in the rocking chair.
Today the kids call them “active shooter events.” There is not one strict, widely accepted definition of a “mass shooting,” but generally if a shooting spree kills four or more people, that qualifies. But since some “shooting sprees” involve dozens or more victims, and since there are so many, a mass shooting with only four murders might not stand out in your mind unless you were there for it.
As it turns out, America has experienced mass shootings since at least the 1920s and before, however some of those early events involved multiple shooters and/or unions strikes which to my way of thinking opens a different category of event. Also, they tended to call them “massacres” in the old days. When I hear the term “mass shooting,” I think of a lone gunman shooting disinterested bystanders. (Funny how language/terminology shapes categories in my mind, and thus my experience of them.)
But the term “mass shooting” is not the only term we use for it these days either. If the event occurs in a school, we tend to call it a “school shooting.” If in a church, we call it a “church shooting.” This kind of pointed designation already makes the phenom a bit more sinister in my mind since these events are so common in such places as to warrant those particular designations.
Oh, how I wish I lived in a world where the term “school shooting” was nearly as jarring as the event. There is something jaded about it when it gets its own term – even more when the term is overused. And “church shooting”??? Don’t get me started.
I was born in the 1960s, but sometime after the UT sniper of 1966 (and 100 years after that other mass shooting event aka Civil War). Still, I grew up hearing about that UT sniper. Harry Chapin’s song was one of my dad’s favored. When I was young, my parents and grandparents would occasionally reference it. (We weren’t exactly sitting on the porch whitling when it was discussed, but perhaps in moments akin to that.) When I was young, that story had such a singularity about it, I thought it was probably a one-off event for the history books.
Wow! How innocently naive, huh?
To my mind now, I think of it as the first. (Not accurate to think that, of course, but that is the frame my mind references it in, nonetheless.)
I was a high school student in the summer of 1984 when the gunman shot up a McDonalds restaurant in San Ysidro, California. Somehow my memory of that one always struggled for clarity. For one thing, I was young and easily distracted. For another, California was a world away from me in Texas. But in particular, my family was in transition that summer. We were moving from Texas to Colorado, and I was staying with my grandparents for a few weeks when that shooting occurred. This made it easily forgotten by me.
I didn’t forget it entirely, but the memory of it became extremely vague. Until I looked it up, I thought it happened earlier – even thought it was the late 70s. And amazingly, I did not recall any pictures from that story. However, I recently found a video documentary on it (released in 2016), called 77 Minutes. This film spares little to the imagination and suggests that photos of the bloodbath were likely aired on TV news at the time.
I don’t recall seeing images broadcast in Texas, and possibly I just missed the broadcasts which might have aired them, but I do recall, even in vague terms, this shooting created a category of mass shootings in my mind. No longer was the UT sniper a one-off case, though I still did not imagine such shootings would become commonplace.
I remember giving pause to the thought of innocently eating a Big Mac only to be shot at by a fellow patron. I was almost 16 at the time. Young, strong, stupid, vigorous enough to think I would find a way to survive it, but smart enough to see that it would be traumatic. I was asking myself, “What would I do?” But of course, it was so far away, and so uncommon, that I didn’t really fear it would happen to me.
After watching the documentary, especially seeing the bloodbath footage, the corpses lying in their blood and food, and as an older adult now, I am more shocked by the carnage than ever. I have watched a lot of these events unfold on the news over the last 30 years, but the media always sanitizes the pictures, and that keeps it just a little easier to deny.
Just a couple years later, the post office in Edmond, Oklahoma was shot up. I was a senior in high school just starting the Fall semester when that one happened. As I recall it now, there was one, maybe two, other post office shootings just prior to that one, but the Edmond case was particularly bad. Fourteen died in that one. Still, between the bad one and the fact that a spate of them occurred in post offices, we got a new term for it; we called it “going postal.”
The kids today never heard of going postal, but when I was a senior in high school, that was the new term for it. And it was becoming commonplace. Just a few years after that, the Luby’s in Killeen, Texas was shot up, and if it had not been for the post office and the term “going postal,” between the McDonalds and the Luby’s I might have viewed the crime as more a dining out experience.
There as so very many mass shootings now, and they tend to be labeled as “active shooter events” anymore. My job has “active shooter” training/drills these days, and my kids’ schools are all in permanent lock down. They do the “active shooter” drills too.
These events are so common now that I either don’t hear about them (there’s too many to report on) or I forget a lot of them as they blur together. But it seems the notable shootings all have some unique characteristic which makes them stand out as notorious. Of course, the number of those killed plays a part in that, but in the case of Sandy Hook Elementary, the age of the victims made the real difference.
If we were talking about black people shot by white cops, there would be an effort to “say their name” and remember.
Of course, there is also the politics aspect.
If there were no guns in the world, none of these events would have happened. Not like they did.
Yes, there are mass stabbing events. And, yes, they are happening with more frequency anymore. But nowhere near the level of shootings.
A gun has exponentially more power than a knife. Even a .22 revolver can kill more people with more ease than any knife. High power, large magazine, semi/full automatic guns take the exponential exponent to the next power. I never heard of bump stock rifles until after October 1, 2017.
We call it a “gun control” issue, another term governing categories of thought. The term by itself is not a dirty word, but when put in the political context it becomes one. Who doesn’t want “gun control”? If your toddler finds your loaded revolver and points it around the room, you are going to do your damnedest to have gun control! But if congress votes on it, nearly half the nation doesn’t want any.
Context, I reckon.
I can’t help but think of Chris Rock’s comedy act where he calls for “bullet control.” Maybe he says it better.
I am not writing this post to take a side on that issue or to inform you about it. I merely note the impact our terminology has on these things. Whether we call these events “mass shootings” or “active shooter events,” or if they are said to be “going postal,” we have come a long way from calling them massacres, which they are. And I wonder why we don’t call them “terrorism.”
A commentor in the 77 Minutes documentary called that event San Ysidro’s Nine-Eleven. Funny, I was thinking that very thing shortly before the comment was made. How is it that the shooting at the El Paso, Texas Walmart or the Sutherland Springs, Texas Baptist Church isn’t called “terrorism” is beyond me. Perhaps there are good reasons, but they are still terroristic events.
I wonder sometimes what Billy the Kid or Wyatt Earp or Gen. Custer would call them.
Whatever they call them, don’t call me “psychic,” but I am having a premonition all the same. I think we are about to have another, and I expect it will be noteworthy.