My God is the God of Stories. That may sound blasphemous, or snarky, or stupid, but I assure you it’s not. Stories are vastly important to human lives. Stories take raw experience and reveal patterns, form meaning, and communicate realities across wide cultural landscapes, even when the receivers aren’t equipped to understand everything that’s being conveyed. (The plural, stories, is important, too. In the same way that there’s never just one teller, there can never be just one Story.) And I’m not talking only about fictional stories–fairy tales and myths and novels and the like. We’re always making so-called “real life” into some sort of narrative, be it political or religious or cultural. We not only want to know what happened at any given historical point in time, we want the background and the fallout, too. We want our stories whole.
That said, I’d like to make a personal plea to the God of Stories to start sending those of us here in the States some better endings to our narratives about gun violence. Seriously, God of Stories. Stronger, more meaningful endings. We need them desperately, and we need them now.
Here’s a story I only found out about last winter, when a Canadian friend posted a remembrance on his Facebook feed. Yes, I know, the link is for a Wikipedia entry, and yes, I also know that Wikipedia is not exactly a fount of unfailing accuracy. Still, at this point in its life cycle, Wikipedia has gotten reliable enough that if you want a quick snapshot of some thing or person or event, you can skim over the Wikipedia entry and then find links to more reputable sources where the anonymous Wikieditors researched (or, in many cases, lifted) their material. Also, on the Internet, if you’re searching the real world for narrative structure, Wikipedia can’t be beat. Have a look at the first three paragraphs on the Montreal Massacre (the story at the link) and notice how much information you get on the subject, particularly if you’ve not up on your Canadian history. I’ll paraphrase here:
On December 6, 1989, Marc Lepine walked onto the campus of the École Polytechnique in Montreal and, with a legally purchased semi-automatic rifle, entered an engineering classroom, separated the men and women, and proceeded to shoot the group of women, nine in all. He then left the classroom and shot four men and 15 more women until he shot and killed himself. Throughout the rampage and in his suicide note, he presented himself as an anti-feminist crusader and claimed that feminists “ruined his life.” Fourteen died at Lepine’s hands, all of them women. After the attack, many Canadians argued about the true meaning of the incident and why it had occurred. In addition (according to Wikipedia), “the incident led to more stringent gun control laws in Canada.”
Nicely crafted, isn’t it? The narrative, I mean. Madman hates women and wants to kill them. Madman goes to a university and kills and injures over two dozen people with a legally purchased gun. The horror of the event leads the country’s lawmakers to enact stricter gun laws. A beginning, middle, and–most importantly–a solid, sober, meaningful end.
Now, on to the content of the story. For those of you who live in the U.S.: does anything about this narrative strike you as familiar? Maybe it’s the fact that this past week, a woman-hating madman with a legally purchased gun (oops, no–he had three) went to an area near UC Santa Barbara and shot 16 people before he killed himself. Maybe the separation of males and females in a classroom reminds you of what Wikipedia calls the Amish School Shooting, when a truck driver named Charles Roberts walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse, dismissed the boys and adults, including a pregnant woman, and tied up and shot the remaining ten girls, aged 6 to 13, before shooting himself. Maybe the description of Lepine’s legally acquired semi-automatic weapon reminds you of the shootings at Sandy Hook, where in December 2012 Adam Lanza took his mother’s legally acquired semi-automatic Bushmaster to a local elementary school and killed 20 children and 6 adults (all women, and not including his mother, whom he shot before he left home) before shooting himself in the head with a legally owned semi-automatic pistol.
Maybe, however, you’re like me and you get stuck on that first sentence in the third paragraph that someone on Wikipedia wrote about the Montreal Massacre: “The incident led to more stringent gun control laws in Canada.”
So far, nothing like this statement has been added to any of the Wikipedia entries describing any recent mass shooting in the U.S. Yes, there have been changes in the law, the most notable being those enacted after Seung-Hui Cho shot a total of 49 people on Virginia Tech’s campus. (Note, however, this Washington post article, which states that since the shootings “it is gun rights, not gun restrictions, that have grown stronger” in Virginia.) Other tweaks took place in Connecticut and a few other states after Sandy Hook (again, see the WP article). In Pennsylvania, the Amish were apparently so forgiving of the shooter and his family that their amazing act of kindness rendered any new gun regulations unnecessary (or, at least, that’s how the Wikipedia entry makes it seem). But nothing on the scale of the 1995 Firearms Act in Canada has occurred in response to any of the recent gun massacres in the U.S.
Notice that I’ve only mentioned four U.S. gun massacres, three of which aren’t even called “massacres” on Wikipedia (they’re “shootings” or “killings” instead). Notice that I haven’t yet brought up Aurora, Colorado. Or Columbine. Or the two separate shootings at Fort Hood. Wikipedia even observes that the “Amish school shooting” in Nickel Mines “was the third school shooting in the United States in less than a week, the others being the Platte Canyon High School shooting on September 27, 2006 and Weston High School shooting on September 29.” Who even remembers Platte Canyon or Weston High, apart from the victims and their families? (Actually, I remember Platte Canyon, although not by name. It was a case of another woman-hating madman going into a classroom and separating out the female students from the male. Only one of the female students was shot and killed; the rest were raped by the gunman.) Do I have to count up the number of dead and injured in these mass shootings and ask why 28 Canadian women and men are worth more reasonable limits on the sale and use of guns than all the U.S. victims put together? Do I have to start counting up all the “small” gun massacres, where one or two or three are killed, and wonder why no action has been taken to prevent other deaths like theirs, which were just as painful and just as senseless?
You may be thinking that I’m one of these “wacko gun control nuts” who has no respect for responsible, law-abiding gun owners. Bullshit. Growing up, I spent every Sunday in my mother’s hometown in the mountains, a town full of hunters and other responsible gun owners. My cousin is a state policeman. My grandfather was a hunter and a World War II veteran. If you think I don’t know and respect responsible gun owners, you’re effectively spitting on the memory of my grandfather, one of the kindest, bravest, and most generous men who was ever, even briefly, a part of my life. So no, I don’t disrespect responsible gun owners or, for that matter, responsible gun ownership. But I also believe that the vast majority of responsible gun owners in this country favor responsible gun legislation. The only people who oppose it, really, are the NRA and their cohort of gun manufacturers (some of which are foreign, or so I’ve heard) who prey on the paranoia of a small group of people so that they can continue to collect money from unfettered gun buying.
The NRA wants you to think the story of their “gun rights” crusade is all about patriotism. Nope. It’s about money–your money being funneled into their pockets.
So my prayer to the God of Stories is that California and the tragedy in Isla Vista will finally begin the country’s move toward responsible gun laws. Since the U.S. Congress is basically useless, I figure changes in gun legislation will have to happen the way the fight for gay marriage has unfolded, state by state. I’m thinking that an ugly, misogyny-fueled mass murder will carry some weight, especially in a state like California, which almost certainly has the appropriate density of the wealthy and the progressive. The words of Chris Martinez’s father, Richard, who said of the NRA, “They talk about their rights. What about Chris’s right to live?” will surely resonate and will prove difficult for the NRA to spin.
Surely. Certainly. Finally. To put it bluntly, God of Stories, I’ve got the ending for this tragedy worked out for you. The details are all there. Please, please, please, this time just run with it.