I don’t want this to be depressing. I don’t want to be depressed. With Hanukkah so close, I want to write something cheerful. But, alas, my heart isn’t in it. My heart is in San Bernardino, aching over the terrible loss of life.
This loop of mass shootings seems to play and never stop. President Obama has anguished over the routinization of gun violence. On October 1st after a lone shooter killed ten people at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon he said: Earlier this year, I answered a question in an interview by saying, “The United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense gun-safety laws — even in the face of repeated mass killings.” And later that day, there was a mass shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. That day! Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine.
As if to underscore the surreal notion that mass shootings in America are par for the course, the BBC report on San Bernardino began, “Just another day in the United States in America-another day of gunfire, panic, and fear. This time in the city of San Bernardino, California, where a civic building was apparently under attack.”
God help us if this does become routine for the 21st century. And God help our children who are living witnesses to these violent melees. It doesn’t feel routine. But sadly it’s not surprising. Upon word of a mass shooting now the first response is not, “Oh my God a mass shooting!”; instead it’s “where is it this time?”
In another part of his October speech, the president said, “We’ve become numb to this.” But I don’t feel numb at all. I feel the opposite. I feel uneasy and anxious watching the news. And because it seems virtually impossible to do anything to change gun laws in the foreseeable future we will continue to experience this mass shooting loop.
The rising wave of mass shootings crushes the human spirit. It besmirches the American values of freedom and confidence. It’s as if we all are in danger of becoming traumatized by this deadly phenomenon. “Everybody is filled with what we sometimes refer to as anticipatory anxiety – worrying about something that is not currently happening in our lives but could happen,” said Alan Hilfer, the former chief psychologist at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn who is now in private practice. “And they are worrying that the randomness of it, which on one hand makes the odds of something happening to them very small, that randomness also makes it possible to happen to them.”
What’s to be done? Perhaps someone will devise a winning strategy to change gun laws and to better regulate easy access to large amounts of ammunition and extra large clips. In the meantime, in one of the great ironies of American democracy and the will of the people, it feels as if the NRA and its supporters have locked out any possibility of gun legislation.
That being the case, we have to study what our options are. “I think awareness of your own fears is the only way to go and to do the things that are soothing and comforting and distracting to do, and to do things that bring meaning to your life and bring comfort to other people,” said Dr. Sherry Katz-Bearnot, assistant clinical professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. “It’s what your grandmother said: Keep busy.”
I appreciate Dr. Katz-Bearnot’s advice, but it doesn’t exactly make for good long-term public policy. Are there answers? Can we figure out why this act of mass shooting occurred? Why a mother of a six-month-old baby girl is willing to make her an orphan for the sake of a political cause? Why a man would shoot up a roomful of people, most of whom he knew and worked with? How anyone can demonize a bunch of folks who worked for the city or the county making sure restaurants were not filthy and that bathrooms were clean? Regular folks of various backgrounds raising families, living their lives?
It’s frightening to feel so helpless in the wake of a pernicious phenomenon that seems a permanent part of our national experience. It’s going to take a lot of inventiveness and courage to make a difference, to figure out just what exactly is going on in this country. This cannot become the new status quo. My Hanukkah hope is that we can bring the light of courage and determination to this very dark place.