Where You Live.
Where you live. Where you learn. Where you pray. Where you drink.
It’s happened again.
We ask questions like, “How could this happen?” “When does this end?” and “What can we do?” and the answers are: easily, never, and nothing, if the past is any predictor.
It’s not going to stop.
I see about 50 movies per year in a movie theater, and not once since July 20, 2012, have I done so without thinking of what happened in Aurora, Colorado. Truth be told, I don’t go very many places anymore without eyeing the nearest exit. The news has taught us there is nowhere safe in America anymore. Not your school, not your church, not your favorite place in the world.
Because I write movies, the Dark Knight shootings hit particularly close to home for me. So did what happened last night in Orlando. As I write, at least 50 people have been killed, and more than twice that injured, in the worst mass shooting in American history… for now. Until there’s a worse one, tomorrow, or the next day, or next year.
It’s not going to stop.
There have been enough shootings like this that one of them must have hit close to home for you, too — both geographically, and also in the sense that a gunman entered a place that is a lot like one you frequent and feel safe in and shot a lot of people there. You’ve been to school. You’ve been to a bar. You’ve been to the movies.
The gunman, whose name I refuse to mention here, has not robbed me of my sense of safety the next time I go out to drink in a gay bar with my friends, because other murderers have already done that. I know I’m not safe. Not anywhere in America. Not really anywhere in the world.
Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Sandy Hook. San Bernardino. Orlando. There have been enough of these things that I had to Google “mass shootings” to find a list, and think to myself: “Oh, yeah… I forgot about that one.”
When it happens these days, we have to wonder which kind of terrorist: domestic or international? ISIS, or just a good ol’ fashioned American crazy? Some combination of the two? Which brand of ignorance and hate was it that motivated some asshole to kill everyone this time? But it doesn’t really matter, does it? That’s not what you think about when someone opens fire in a crowded nightclub, just before the bullet hits you.
Yes, you. It will happen.
I think about a man getting ready for a fun night of drinking and dancing with his friends, looking in the mirror, thinking he looks pretty good tonight, unaware that these clothes will be soaked through with his own blood in a couple of hours. I think about a girl tweeting about how excited she is to see the sequel to her favorite movie, a few seconds before the lights go down, half an hour before the smoke starts filling the room. I think about myself, and what I’d do: run for the exit praying I make it? Crouch in a corner? Throw something? Or just sit there, petrified with panic? Shamefully, I have to admit: I suspect it’s that last one.
I also think about how, now, if I am killed in a mass shooting, there could be articles about how I once posted a piece about how afraid I am of being killed in a terror attack. The superstitious side of me wonders if even writing this has doomed me to such a headline. Yes, that’s right, I am terrified. And I should be. I’m a healthy man in my thirties, but a part of me thinks I won’t survive to see my forties because I live in America.
I like to think that if I’d been there, I would have had the presence of mind to throw a drink at him. Charge. Urge everyone to keep charging ‘till they knock him over and incapacitate him. But I know that I wouldn’t. I’d be too scared. If both luck and smarts found me in that critical instant, I’d run for the exit. And that’s a big “if.” I often wonder what I’d do in such a situation, and then I realize: I’d die. That’s what I would do.
He held them hostage. I can’t imagine… but I do imagine. These days, it’s all too easy to picture exactly how it would go down. We know these stories, the way our ancestors knew myths and fairy tales. Those, too, were warnings. “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running,” someone managed to post in the chaos, sensibly and smartly. But where is safe?
We respond differently to different crises, based largely on how easily we can place ourselves at the scene. I know this attack hit many friends of mine particularly hard, and that’s understandable. It hit me, too. Every massacre is a hate crime, and any bloodbath that claims fifty lives is grotesque. But the timing and location of this one are a special kind of tragedy. This one is ours.
These are the places we live. These are our homes. They are finding us there and they are killing us. To a lesser extent than the patrons of Pulse last night, we are all being held hostage in our home, in America, by people with guns. And like most hostages, we’re just sitting there, terrified, hoping and praying for rescue. What else can we do? Everybody get out of America and keep running.
Let’s think. Let’s pray. Let’s grieve. Let’s tweet. Let’s call it “tragic,” “unthinkable,” and “senseless.” Let’s tell all our friends how not to feel. Let’s tell all our enemies how not to think. Let’s glibly point out all the ironies in our politics that are far too gone to fix. Let’s push the button to post the little yellow face with the single tear running down his cheek, as if that one tear were enough. Let’s be outraged.
Or let’s not. No thoughts, no prayers. It’s mourning in America. Business as usual. It’s too late. Let’s do nothing.
“There will inevitably be some kind of fallout from this, and eventually, it will all revert back to the way things were. This tragedy, like the rest, will just be at the very back of our minds. Until the next one.” (Written on July 20, 2012, in response to the movie theater murders.)
The Second Amendment was supposed to protect us. Our forefathers didn’t prepare for mass shootings with assault rifles in the Constitution because, obviously, they didn’t imagine that this kind of thing could happen. Neither did we. We used to be shocked. Remember Columbine? That was back when we didn’t think something so horrid and fatal and final could happen and happen and happen and happen and happen and happen and happen and happen and happen and happen.
But it did happen. And does happen. And will. keep. happening.
It’s not going to stop.
Some argue that making it harder for people to buy guns won’t stop all of these mass murders. That’s probably true, but you know what? If it stops even one of them, that’s good enough for me. If it saves even one life that wouldn’t have ended with another kind of weapon, that is also still worth it. It’s not about stopping all of them, it’s about stopping any of them. How can you not want to do that?
Oh, I know. In a perfect world, you and I both would have the right to own an assault rifle and, I suppose, shoot things with it, as long as you didn’t harm anyone. But we live in a different world. Your right to own any gun you want does not trump my right to survive a night out with my friends. But it does, I guess?
Of course, the answer isn’t so simple as more bombs or less guns. There are no easy solutions, no absolutes, and I have nothing fresh or original to say about gun violence. No politician will ever seriously come out advocating to ban all guns, even if some might wish they could. But there are things we could do. Compromises we could make. That, actually, is what this country is supposed to be all about. The bad guys are the extremists. We’re supposed to be the ones who can meet in the middle, to find a solution we can all live with, instead of so many of us dying. Chances are, whoever you are, you don’t need an assault rifle. You really just don’t.
Yes, there are bombs. There are planes. There are knives. There are forks. If you want to kill, you’ll find a tool to try and do it with. But it’ll be different. It’ll be harder. The fact that there are other bad things isn’t a good reason to let this bad thing keep happening. It is insane to accept mass casualties with assault weapons just because there are potentially worse weapons out there. That’s like sinking to the bottom of the ocean because you might attract the attention of a hungry shark if you swim to shore.
But it’s not going to stop.
These are just words. I know they’re just words. I don’t expect them to do much, except express my thoughts and feelings. If you think I’m wrong, and it can stop? Good. Fight me. If you think you can do something, I hope that you do. But I don’t know what that is anymore.
As dismayed as I am by the actions of one man, and by the words and opinions of some others, I must also be encouraged by the bravery, heroism, and camaraderie that has risen from the horror. So many have the right spirit today… which is, unfortunately, not enough. Am I proud of the gay men and women who are out now, respectfully celebrating despite these sad and scary events? Absolutely. You bet I am. Am I proud to be an American? Well, that depends… on how things go from here. We have a major party candidate who is stoking the exact brand of intolerance that provokes such attacks, both here and abroad. I’ve read some dismaying comments about this tragedy already, mostly from people who support him. You want to be free to live your life with as few restrictions as possible, but for some reason, want to restrict others from doing that also? Oh, I see. That’s because you think you’re removed from it all. You think you’re safe… but you’re not. I know that deep down, most of you find it impossible to believe that what happened in Orlando could happen to you. But I don’t.
One hundred three people felt safe last night. They weren’t.
Think for yourself. You might think you’re doing that already, but are you really? Murderers don’t always come up with all that hate on their own. Someone told them who to hate, and who to kill. There is a self-proclaimed “politician” prominent in the news right now who is trying to tell us who to hate. Don’t vote for him. Don’t vote for any of these people. Extremism cannot help us. It can only hurt us further. It is a time for change and compromise, a time to question our beliefs and examine where they’re coming from. Do we need to hold on to these biases and grudges and prejudices…? No? Then let’s lose them. If you spend any time or energy trying to stop someone who is not harming anyone from living their life they want to, it probably isn’t doing any good and you should stop. Think about where you live, and what you can do to make it a place we all want to live. Or don’t. I don’t know.
Do we need assault rifles available to consumers? I mean, really, seriously need them? And is it at least possible that restricting them might save a few human lives? I have a hard time believing that anyone could seriously believe that the answer is “yes” to the first one and “no” to the second one, but I know. I know.
So it’s not going to stop.
I wasn’t able to sleep last night, because every time I closed my eyes I thought of shooting and screaming and bleeding. It’s not the first time.
It happened again.
It’ll happen again.
Where you live. Where you learn. Where you pray. Where you drink.
It’ll happen to you.
Everyone get out of america and keep running
Originally published at hardinthecity.com on June 12, 2016.