I’m a Millennial: Gun Violence is my Normal
I’ll cry tonight. I know this about myself, because I’ve been here before. I’ve seen shootings on the news, seen the casualties tick higher and higher, seen the crying families. I’ve seen it far too often, now, so I know. I wish I didn’t. I wish this was a shocking revelation.
I was born in 1991. Two years after the Cleveland Elementary School shooting in Stockton, CA (6 dead, 32 injured). Less than a month before the University of Iowa shooting (5 dead, 1 injured). I was four years old when the Frontier Middle School shooting (3 dead, 1 injured) happened in Moses Lake. My hometown.
Maybe it gives me a different perspective. It definitely colored my experience. My whole childhood, I heard about Barry Loukaitis and his victims. My parents talked about it, my sister, my teachers even brought it up on occasion. Everyone had different opinions, too. What caused it, whether it was handled correctly, capital punishment, life in prison, or psychiatric care. The only thing anyone could ever agree on was that it happened, and that it was awful. Which it did, and it was.
Now, Moses Lake isn’t a small town, but it’s definitely got a small town vibe, and something so big stuck for years. It’s only recently that people are finally moving on. Just in time for the state laws to change and bring up re-sentencing, of course. I can’t say if this happens the same way in more metropolitan areas. Maybe the pain of it all disperses faster. I just know that it didn’t in my town. If you know where to look, you can still see signs of the damage. Look at the high school. A few years after the shooting, they tore out the lockers. No one ever said it directly, but they did it so students wouldn’t have lockers to hide guns in. Subtle scars, but definitely there.
Columbine went down when I was in first grade (15 dead, 21 injured). After that, Rachel’s Challenge started touring schools across the country, telling the story of Rachel Joy Scott. About how her simple kindness impacted people, even stopping one boy from committing suicide. That was so powerful to me that I still tout random kindness as a way to brighten the world. It was tragic, but beautiful, and I signed the pledge. Over a thousand of us did, in fact.
But I still knew, in the back of my mind, that it started because Rachel got shot, along with too many others. That’s why we got to hear her story. A bunch of dead kids led to that pledge. Kids like me. And I remember very specifically looking around and noticing that, for the most part, my classmates weren’t appropriately horrified. And neither was I.
I was raised with mass shootings and violence already a part of the American zeitgeist. And to me, it looks like there are more shootings every year. Bigger shootings Worse shootings. Virginia Tech comes to mind (33 dead, 25 injured). That was my freshman year of high school, the same year we had two bomb threats in as many weeks. The next year? A stabbing, someone curb-stomped, and a second attempted stabbing. All over the course of two days. They didn’t close the school or lock us down. People laughed about how crazy the school was. I joked about it. I wasn’t scared. How could I be? It was one person, not thirty.
In 2012, there was the Aurora, CO shooting (12 dead, 70 injured) and Sandy Hook Elementary (28 dead, 2 injured). It doesn’t seem like it was four years ago to me, but facts are facts. And these are just the shootings that stand out to me personally. I don’t dare go through every single event. What I’ve covered so far is hideous as it is.
I wish I could say it was slowing down. It would make my heart so much lighter to be able to say that. But no. According to Mass Shooting Tracker, the shooting in San Bernardino, CA on 12/2/15 (14 dead, 17 wounded) was the 355th mass shooting of 2015 (Mass shooting defined as a shooting incident with 4 or more victims.). 12/2/15 was the 336th day of the year. And this right on the tail of the Planned Parenthood attack in Colorado Springs (3 dead, 9 injured), which was right on the end of the tragedy in Paris (130 dead, 386 injured).
And of course, now we have Orlando (50 dead, 53 wounded). It’s an attack that skirts a little too close to home for me. Shooting up a gay nightclub. Thankfully, the same thing didn’t happen at West Hollywood pride. They stopped that guy a few hours after the Orlando shooting. Hours. How many people would have gotten killed at an event that large? We don’t have to know, but we can imagine.
Think about that. We can actually imagine what it might have been like for a bunch more people to get shot dead.
I’ve never seen a world without gun violence. Millennials in general haven’t. And it’s true, there have been recorded mass shootings since the nineteenth century. But the scale we’ve been seeing it at is unprecedented, and there’s nothing good that comes from it. That’s just a whole separate layer to add to the tragedy. There’s no silver-lining to all this. Not even a nominal one.
Generation Y was formed by this. I see something like the events in Colorado Springs or Paris come through on the news, and I know it’s not the first. I know it’s not the last, either. Even if it were, I couldn’t conceive of that. Not really. As a millennial, I can’t see an end to it, because so far, this sort of violence has been nothing but escalation my entire life. 25 years of it.
Now, when the next shooting comes up (Because how can there not be a next? That’s life.) I know there’s nothing I can do. I can feel bad. I can be indignant. I can swear to be as peaceful as possible. I can scream. I can rant on Facebook and Twitter. I can change my profile picture. I can donate money to try and help. But when all of that’s done and it’s just me, a single millennial lying in bed alone, staring at the ceiling… there’s nothing. Just that mixture of guilt and luck, because it wasn’t anyone I knew.
We millennials get accused of an awful lot. We don’t connect to people anymore. We’re too emotional and not tough enough. We’re violent and damn those video games for doing this. What’s the world coming to? We’re lazy. And to one degree or another, you could say that any of those are true.
I’ll add something else, though. An observation from the inside. A lot of us are pretty damned jaded. Cynics before 30. Hell, cynics before graduation. I was, and I was proud of it. Not so proud now, though. Now I just want to be able to look at the world the way I did when I was a kid, even though I know so much of the population still sees me as just that: a kid. Whatever they think, it’s simply not the same.
It was bound to happen, I guess. With unprecedented access to information via the internet, we hear about the horrors of the world much more easily than previous generations. It’s a constant barrage. Shooting, bombing, stabbing, bombing, bombing, shooting, riot, police brutality, police officers shot, Johnny doesn’t come marching home again, shooting, shooting. It never ends.
So anymore, I choose sanity. I change the channel if violence comes on the news. I play with the dog if a friend brings up the latest horror at a party and pretend that I can’t hear every single word that’s being said. Not that I don’t know them all anyway by that point. I ignore it as much as I can, because I don’t want to feel powerless. Nobody wants to feel powerless. No one likes getting sucked into the evils of the world when it’s avoidable.
But eventually, it’s not avoidable. When things are absolutely at their worst, when too many have died and too many events have been stuffed under the rug and I can’t fit anymore, when I realize just how many victims there have been, and how many more there are bound to be, I have to confront the real horror of everything. And then it starts to show through my jaded, cynical little shell. It’s different for different people. Some start sobbing uncontrollably. Some punch walls. A lot of times, as tends to happen with my generation, people rant on Facebook. Like I said before, I’m one of the criers.
Because it’s hard to live with this, to be fully aware that the world is so full of horrors and feel so utterly helpless about it. It’s hard to know this is out there from age nine (How old I was on 9/11.) and not crack. And it’s hard to know that the pain of living in a world like that is nothing compared to the pain of the victims and their families.
I’m a millennial: gun violence is my normal. Ignoring gun violence to try and keep from breaking is my normal. Focusing on the smallest flicker of positivity is my normal. And on nights like tonight, when I can’t remember the spaces between shootings, when Sandy Hook feels like it was just a few months ago, crying is my normal.