I held a bullet in my hand while watching the coverage of the mass shooting Boulder on Monday. As a gun owner, I owed it to myself to physically hold this sorrow, and its cause, simultaneously. Our culture often obscures the consequences of these ubiquitous weapons, until events like these.
Then, with my stomach in knots, I messaged my friends in Boulder, a mere 35 minutes from where I sat. As a nation, we’d just barely begun healing the wounds from the Atlanta spa shootings, and now … this.
Looking at the 9mm hollow-tip missile in my hand, I contemplated the value of life, and the cheapness of the bullet. Is this all we’re worth?
I thought of the shattered dreams that lay in the parking lot, checkout line and grocery aisles of that King Soopers. Could it really be that all of our life experiences, prayers, loves, hopes and lessons weigh no more than the lead grains in this weapon? How pitifully cheap!
It’s not the first time I’ve asked this question, but this time, the answer was a little clearer.
Enter the “gun control” dilemma. The debate itself is a red herring. Obviously, if there are literally no guns in society, there are no mass shootings. The extreme left wouldn’t mind seeing guns removed to save our children, but will settle for common-sense reforms. The extreme right understands that the danger of tyranny is often deterred with a well-armed populace, so they ain’t giving up the guns. This progressive, liberal author agrees.
Sadly, the same government we’d give these dangerous guns to also happens to have committed genocide against Indigenous peoples as its first order of business. In my opinion, this makes the right’s caution against giving up the guns justified. The institutional racism I’ve navigated all my life is a form of governmental tyranny, and we can’t be left defenseless.
Self-defense against other citizens is also a real need. A Denver homeowner shot a home invader two days before the Boulder mass shooting. Violent crime has risen during COVID-19 by almost every metric that tracks it. Among those crimes is domestic violence, and sometimes, a woman’s only way to even the odds against a man is with firepower.
Firepower is what police provide when they engage an active shooter. While I’m a fan of defunding the police, when a lone gunman is afoot, I’m glad they’re there. At that point, asymmetrical warfare, not social workers, are what’s needed. Thus, the cycle continues, and we miss the point.
Here’s a thought: Maybe if you need guns in a civilization, it’s not really a civilization at all. To be “civilized,” by definition, means to solve problems without violence. We never consider that if you even need police, you actually don’t have a civilization.
The very crime that makes police necessary is a result of incompetent social engineering that forces humans to act-out violently. Instead, what we have is a disjointed excuse for a “society” where antisocial humans are starved for connection, meaning and emotional nourishment.
Consider your neighbors, and how you don’t even know them! Consider how weird it feels for most people to literally knock on a door and introduce themselves. “Will they think I’m a weirdo? Will they be weirdos?
My dad says it didn’t used to be this way. People spoke. As a millennial, I notice how much more engaging the older generations are than us. In these brief engagements, there’s an investment in another human being; a value-adding interaction. A seed of light is planted, and community grows.
In a holistic community, the inner life of humans is fed. In its absence, a monstrous starvation takes root, and it mutates into a plethora of nightmarish cries for nourishment. Starving people will eat anything, and what’s in the cultural cupboard? Perhaps a helping of distorted male entitlement? A dash of white supremacy? Maybe a scoop of infamy through public violence, a guaranteed way out of invisibility? Who knows?
What I do know is that raising my individual child isn’t enough by a long shot. We can invest the very best into our own kids: whole foods and early reading, gymnastics, computer coding and karate class.
But, if we’re not invested in that kid down the street, the quiet one who may be neglected and abused in his basement, then in due time we’ll all pay the cost. That kid may one day be starving, reach for his dad’s legally purchased AR-15, walk into a school or a King Soopers parking lot, and put all of our investments in dire jeopardy!
Every missed smile, every avoided eye contact, every kind word we swallow is a withdrawal from the account of shared human value. Eventually, in the eyes of an impoverished soul, life is as cheap as the bullet in my hand; a seed of darkness planted into the chamber of a gun.
COVID-19 lockdowns have made us so nostalgic for life before, we almost forget that when the world was “normal.” That is a world that 10 souls in the Boulder community will never see again.
For their sake, I hope we don’t just “thoughtfully consider” that the dragon of mass shootings may actually be stopped by rebuilding true community. We must act. If we don’t find the courage to take that chance, we chance running from more well-armed, hungry monsters … again!
Theo E.J. Wilson of Denver is a poet, speaker, author and activist.
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