I wrote my first mass-shooting column 22 years ago, after two students at Columbine High School murdered 13 of their classmates and then turned the guns on themselves. That happened in Littleton, Colorado, a few miles from where I grew up. I addressed that piece to reassure my daughter, who was then in middle school and frightened by the story.
I wrote about the slaughter of 20 little children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, disgusted and outraged by the fact that not even the murder of kindergarteners could soften the hearts of the NRA hardcore or their minions. Driving on I-84, the signs for “Sandy Hook” still make me shudder.
Writing about the murder of 17 high school kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I was (and remain) awed and inspired by the survivors — parents and students — who refuse to stay silent about what happened, and what should never happen again.
I wrote about the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where a gunman murdered 11 Jews on the Sabbath, including a man I knew as a child in elementary school. I was glad my parents — Holocaust survivors — were not alive to witness that.
I did not write about the Las Vegas massacre: 62 dead. Or the Virginia Tech mass shooting: 32 victims. Or the obscenely intimate murder of nine souls at prayer in the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charlestown, South Carolina. Or so many others.
Now comes the news from Atlanta, where eight are dead. Within hours, 10 more corpses were counted in Boulder, Colorado. Although I did not know any of the victims, I feel a connection: I have family in Atlanta, and that supermarket shooting in Boulder took place a few miles from where I went to college.
I heard someone say that these two bloody events might have something to do with the end of the COVID lockdowns; maybe people felt freer to venture out, to act on pent-up grudges or psychoses. The facts argue otherwise.
The Gun Violence Archive reports that May 2020 had the highest number of mass shootings — 56 — of any month since they started tracking the data in 2013. (Their study defines mass shootings as four or more shot and/or killed in a single event.)
We didn’t notice. At least I didn’t — not amid the daily tallies of dead Americans from COVID-19 — more than half a million and counting.
Atlanta and Boulder have me wandering between fury and despair, wanting to scream and cry and pull up the covers and move to Canada. There should be massive demonstrations against gun violence in all the cities. The bereaved should carry photographs of all their dead and the rest of us should shoulder coffins in their memory.
I don’t want to write about this anymore. You don’t want to read about this anymore.
As in the past, I will turn to the people and organizations who keep the faith, raise the money, make the noise, pester their elected officials, and sound the alarm on what is an ongoing abomination. Because pulling up the covers — for anything more than a day or two — is complicity.
Published March 22, 2021 Cognoscenti