It’s coming. We know it’s coming. We just don’t know when.
Another massacre has been committed by a man with an automatic weapon. The nation’s sympathy has been officially expressed. An investigation is underway. We are intensely engaged with the news. What’s it going to take to get us to do something about this?
I refer, of course, to the murder of six people at a Sikh temple in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Sunday, August 5. Three other congregants are critically wounded. There will be no guilt-and anger-assuaging trial and punishment this time, no soul-satisfying retribution. The attacker was killed by the police.
And you can sense the currents of ambivalent response in a nation that still doesn’t have the will to respond decisively. “Those Sikhs are kind of unusual. You know–those headdresses and the gowns. Are they Muslims?”
With the massacre two weeks ago, there were other, kind of mitigating comments. “What were people doing going to a movie that late at night anyway?”
And we’ve kind of “processed” that attack in Tucson in 2011. That was more than a year ago, and six people died then too. “But former Congressman Gabrielle Richards is recovering, isn’t she? And wasn’t she a Democrat?”
So one must wonder where the next madman will strike. We’re getting a bit accustomed to this, and there is more fear about losing gun rights than about being mowed down in church or at a movie or a political rally. At the same time, there’s a sense that this can’t go on, that there will be one last horrific event that makes the blood of an entire nation run cold, and then we will begin to move on gun control.
But how many more, kind of inconsequential, massacres will there be before that? What’s “the big one” going to look like? Where will it happen? How many people will die? Who will they be, so that everyone registers: That could be my child, my friend, my mate, my parents, my neighborhood, my . . .That’s the key word. “My.” That’s the point we have to get to collectively: “My world is being destroyed.”
At that point, employees at the NRA may get up and walk out, saying “I can’t do this anymore.” People working on the assembly lines of weapons manufacturers start figuring out ways to go on disability. Politicians running for office announce, “I don’t care whether I lose or not. I have to try to do something about this.” People who have been flailing our culture with the Constitution will suddenly realize, “Benjamin Franklin and those other guys were really smart, but they couldn’t read the future. They didn’t know how things could change for the worse.”
And here’s the worse. Americans are the most heavily-armed civilian population in the world. We have 88 guns for every 100 people, and Yemen in the Middle East comes in second—at 54. We have about three gun homicides per year per 100,000. That’s twenty times as many as the British, whom we had in mind when the Second Amendment was drafted.
And yet our safety record has improved nationally over the last ten years. Since 2000, violent crime has fallen 20%. Gun fatalities have remained the same, however, and nonfatal injuries from guns have increased by 20%.
What’s afoot is not good. We look at the way people are arming up and think, “This is not what life in America is supposed to be like.” We look at the madmen with their assault weapons, and we think “This is not who we are.”
If so, what will it take to reactivate our ideals? And if we believe in the idea of a soul’s contract, who among us has committed to the role of martyr that always invokes the most profound change in human thought? How many of them are there? Where do they live? How long will it be before we know their names? And which one or ones among us will call them out through an act of unprecedented evil?
The questions hover. Disabled by uncertainty and controversy, we wait for the answer. It’s coming. We know it’s coming. We just don’t know when.