A Nation Stymied

12079571_10208207514931300_2807447558671260670_nRecently my state was rocked by the news of another school shooting. Yes, another. The first that I can remember happened in 1998 when the town of Springfield, Oregon was ripped apart by the news of a young student who entered his high school cafeteria and gunned down his classmates, killing two, leaving 25 with bodily injuries and countless more with psychological trauma. He survived, though his parents didn’t. They were his first victims before he left for school that morning. He currently resides in the Oregon penal system. He had two legal guns and some that were acquired illegally. He appears to have had mental illness issues. He will remain nameless here.

The recent shooting took place at Umpqua Community College in the small town of Roseburg on the I-5 corridor in the southern Willamette Valley. It’s one of those close-knit communities that are sprinkled throughout Oregon, bound together by a common factor, in this case logging. I’ll spare you the details. I’m sure you’ve heard the news. Heavily armed man walks into a classroom, shoots teacher, begins mowing down innocent students of all ages, students with lives and families and dreams. Then the media arrives and further victimizes the victims with penetrating questions and invaded personal spaces because we, the people, need to know.

I am reminded of my middle school journalism class and the five questions we were taught to ask.

Who, what, where, when, and why?

The who is unimportant. The list of people looking to claim their place on the list of the infamous is ever increasing. The county sheriff refused to give the name of the shooter. I agree. Let’s just start calling them cowards and give them a number.

The what is inconceivable. A heavily armed person dressed in body armor entered an area of peace, education and edification, an area where nobody expects violence. He gunned down innocent people – fact. We should be able to count on going to school and being safe. And let’s call it what it was, mass murder. School shooting sounds sanitized to me. We have shooting ranges and we shoot pictures. Murder can’t be confused with anything else. By definition it is the senseless, premeditated killing of another human being.

The where was Oregon, a peaceful place, a blue state. We are a tolerant state. We are clean and green. We have abundant wildlife and plenty of hunters, gun owners who are responsible, keep their guns put away, don’t sensationalize them, and use them as the tools they are. The where is Roseburg, a beautiful, scenic area of Oregon, according to KGW newscasters reporting on the story as they gazed at the scenic backdrop. As in how could this take place in such a scenic place? As if it would be more understandable, better somehow, for a mass murder such as this to take place in the city, amid the drab, gray concrete walls, or in a darkened theater in a suburb, or in a mall on the transit line. But in this beautiful area?

The when was during a time of learning. Unarmed people, because we shouldn’t have to walk around our daily lives ready to defend ourselves, sat in a classroom improving their writing. The pen is mightier than the sword…or gun. But in this case it wasn’t.

The why doesn’t really matter anymore.

I understand the perpetrator of this mass murder may have wanted a little attention. So what? He has ripped apart the lives of everyone in that school, and many in that community in his pursuit of whatever it was he needed to make his life matter, to make his name count. But his name doesn’t count. His name should be forgotten, and those of the victims remembered. I’m sure they didn’t have perfect lives, that there were times they felt hurt or victimized or made someone mad or became mad themselves. Such is the nature of life. We all go through things. Most of us at some point are the victims of unfairness, yet we don’t respond with violence toward innocents. We rant to our friends. We cry. We take up yoga or boxing or running. We turn to church or one another. We write.

As a country, this issue has us stymied, as the now infamous Onion article points out. This latest incident brings to the surface yet another debate between the unwavering sides of the gun issue, and nothing will be done. We don’t know what to do. Gun owners wave their guns in one hand and their flag in the other, claiming their second amendment rights. Gun opponents claim this tragedy for themselves as another reason for restrictions. I’ve been more on the side of restrictions before, but when I heard this news, something changed. I don’t know that it matters. These guys are coming to their mass murder events padded with bulletproof armor. Will you, gun owner, be able to take down a shooter who is wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet? Were you trained for this? Maybe we ourselves need to wear bulletproof vests around in our daily lives as protection. Is that the answer?

Concealed-carry proponents claim they are a line of defense between us and potential killers. There may be instances where that is true. I still think I would feel better if we as a society reduced the ability of these madmen to execute their twisted fantasies in the first place. And I don’t know about you, but I’m uncomfortable with the thought of the person sitting next to me in the theater or Starbucks or the library toting a weapon. How do I know that you, with your concealed-carry permit, are not the next school shooter? How do I know that you are balanced and nonviolent, that you only carry your gun for protection, and that you are willing and able to take another human life if need be? For all I know, you may be hot-headed, equally likely to brandish your weapon over texting in the theater or being cut off in traffic. So yes, I am uncomfortable with your right to carry a gun as it impinges on my right to be safe.

We live in a society where increasingly it seems that people claim their rights to independence and freedom without regard to their fellow citizens. Ranting radio hosts create hatred and bigotry, boxing people in with labels that don’t include human being. Isn’t this bullying on a large scale? Political groups hold in high regard a straight talker without recognizing him for the boor he is. We as a nation regularly consume a diet of reality TV that is nothing like the reality we live in – dining on high drama, fattening the bank accounts of media execs while leaving our own hearts and minds bereft of nourishment. Peace and tranquility don’t sell. Pursuit of happiness without turmoil doesn’t gain viewers.

I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that the conversation requires listening as well as talking, and if you are staunchly defending your position, this can’t happen. Maybe a start would be an attempt at civil discourse in this country.

About anything.

In the meantime, thoughts and prayers go out to all affected.

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