When I was growing up in the west, guns were commonplace. Hunting and fishing were popular activities, and many homes had sporting rifles. Indeed, I remember clearly my father’s beautifully crafted, and locked, gun cabinet, which had glass in the door to show off the polished and carved gunstocks. Decades later, the cabinet and its contents still are locked up, now in my brother’s house. I doubt they’ve been fired in decades.
I was on the women’s rifle team in college. We used the ROTC firing range, in a dark little Quonset hut, probably left over from World War II. Sandbags provided soundproofing, and the paper targets (bullseyes, not torsos) were guided to the far end of the range by a clothesline-like gadget. Firing of the M-1 rifles was from a prone position; the pungent odor of metal bullet slicing through metal barrel increased with every shot. My scores were good enough to earn the Sharpshooters pin from the National Rifle Association, but I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn today! The team developed great respect for firearms, and the heavy responsibility that accompanies their use.
We never may know what drove the young men in El Paso and Dayton, and those in previous mass shootings, to open fire and murder dozens of innocent men, women, and children. Speculation as to why will persist, but one thing is clear: these mass shootings are abhorrent, intolerable, and unspeakably tragic. The FBI, ATF, and other federal, state and local agencies will investigate and explain, and then we all wonder when, not if, it will happen again.
Legislation can help in some areas — background checks for purchase of firearms, outlawing bump stocks and other modifications that make firearms even more powerful and lethal, for instance. Congress and state legislatures must stop dawdling and enact enforceable statutes now. Under Virginia law, counties lack the authority to adopt regulations for most firearms, so it is up to the General Assembly to enact such protections. Their dismal failure to do anything in the special session in July certainly is exacerbated by last weekend’s mass murders.
We are not helpless, though. The rhetoric coming from the Trump Administration, and others, arguably plays a significant, and sad, role in the public dialogue. There are other powerful voices, and they are ours. El Paso and Dayton residents, and many other affected communities — Sandy Hook, Pittsburgh, Annapolis, Virginia Beach, Orlando, Roseburg — have demonstrated, in their profound sorrow, the strength of their communities, and the determination to remain resilient. Time after time, their positive statements ring out, in support of families, friends, and strangers. And that’s what we all must do — change the rhetoric, and the mindset, from negative to positive, build on the strengths of our diverse community, raise our children to love, not fear, and recognize the humanity in every person. Easy to say, perhaps, but not all that hard to do. If it’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness, then let’s get those candles (or cellphone flashlights) going. We’re all in this together.