“A ‘domestic situation’” read the banner headline in the New York Times, among other news outlets, attempting to explain the latest mass shooting. “No Way to Prevent This Says Only Nation Where This Actually Happens” read the headline in The Onion. (Again. The only change is the location; they first published the headline in 2014.) This time, in Texas. This time, in a church. There are a lot of last times. So many, in fact, it’s hard to keep track. The facts have remained the same since I sat in my 8th grade classroom and learned about a school shooting for the first time: white boy after white boy after white male after white male has taken gun after gun after gun after gun and perpetuated mass killing after mass killing after mass killing on our home soil. And Congress does nothing.
I was 14 when two white boys shot and killed 13 people at Columbine High School. I was 27 when a white boy shot and killed my friend’s five-year-old cousin and 26 others at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I was 32 when a white male shot and killed 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas. I was 32 when a white male “nonchalantly” shot and killed three people at a Colorado Walmart. I was 32 when a white male shot and killed 26 people at a church in Texas. The list, of course, goes on. And not all the shooters are white men, but the majority are white men. And yet, after every incident, the Grand Old Party, those in the pocket of the NRA lobby, and President Trump insist that it was merely a mental health issue (while voting to repeal health care reform) and that it is not time to politicize the discussion. They send thoughts and prayers. If the shooter is not a white male, they still send thoughts and prayers and then say we should crack down on immigration.
I don’t believe in pitting tragedy against tragedy, but if we have systems in place working to prevent future foreign terrorist attacks, why would we not do the same for the epidemic of gun violence? Why are our elected officials so quick to blame lax immigration laws after the tragedy in New York City but not blame lax gun laws after a mass shooting (after another mass shooting)? Is it because the perpetrators are white men? Is it because those in power are paid by the NRA? Is it both?
When I used to learn, hear or read about the news of mass shootings, my first thought was always empathy for the victims. Now my first thought is, “I hope he’s not brown and I hope he’s not Muslim.” This is not because I now empathize with the killer but rather because I fear retaliation on the peaceful Muslim community. Because no matter how many people white men murder, no matter how many crosses they burn, no matter how many women they rape on college campuses and at home, we never talk about the problem with white men. We talk about mental health. We talk about women. White men are not a monolith, in the eyes of our society; they are living, breathing individuals with troubled pasts and distinct narratives — just as we all should be. As a group, they do not terrorize nor are they terrorists. They are afforded the privilege of never having to answer for the atrocities of others who look like them. They are nonchalant. They shoot because of “domestic situations.” Fine. Then let’s talk about the terror of guns.
We hear the word “terror” a lot — it jumps out of headlines more than “domestic” — the word itself can spark fear. Terror, a noun, is from the Latin terrere (later terror) meaning to frighten, to fill with fear. Terrorism, also a noun, is from the French terrorisme with the first recorded in usuage 1795. Terrorist (noun): a person who frightens others, same roots.
Domestic is from the Latin domesticus, derivative of domus, meaning house. Domestic, of or relating to country. Domestic, of or relating to the home. On dictionary.com, the first example of “domestic” is domestic pleasures, in the definition on my computer’s built-in dictionary, the examples are, in order, domestic chores, domestic violence.
Terror does not hinge on foreignness. Domesticity hinges on home turf.
After mass shootings, we hear a lot of talk about the right to bear arms as enshrined in the Constitution to protect. (We don’t hear a lot of talk about how times have changed, how the Founding Fathers might not have foreseen the magazine nor the AK47.) But I’d like to think about the “inalienable rights” underscored in the Declaration of Independence: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Too many Americans lose their inalienable rights to a bullet. It’s time to do something.
Our 100 senators swear to uphold our rights in their oath of office:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
Perhaps one could argue that supporting and defending the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic only refers to the paper document, that it does not encompass the inalienable rights etched into our Declaration of Independence. Perhaps one could argue that the Senate has not evaded their civic responsibility to pass adequate gun legislation or admit the alarming statistics that surround domestic assault and mass killings. Yet if they do not evade a civic duty, they are certainly evading a moral duty to protect our home.
While “domestic” can have the negative undertones of servitude or violence, it doesn’t have to. America, domestically, has long shone as a beacon of freedom and hope for the foreign — including my grandmother who came here as a refugee during WWII — and the domestic, from poets to judges to actors to firefighters and teachers and students. It is our duty to make sure that light continues to shine for all.
Of course, we need to protect our country from foreign threats. But terror does not discriminate. We have a nation of children who are learning to live in fear of being shot: at school, at the mall, at church, at a concert. Children are dying. Local men are killing them with weapons that can blot out scores of lives almost instantaneously, domestically.
We can measure our lives in different ways, by celebrations, by tragedies, by births and deaths. The time we got a job. The time we didn’t. The elections we won, the moments our hearts skipped beats. First kisses, first falls. We can also measure our lives in headlines: wars, epidemics and mass shootings. And we can measure our lives in things we didn’t do even when we should have. Children are dying and the blood is on our hands. Call your senators. Call your reps. Surely even one life saved is worth our fight.