Gun Violence Isn’t Just an Article in the Papers

I suppose I should write some thoughts about the Navy Yard shootings. Because we’ve seen a spate of mass violence in public spaces so often in the past year, my immediate reaction was a heavy sigh of resignation, when I should have been more concerned it was happening in the region where I live and work.

The day had started off miserably with rain. My usual 20 minute commute doubled that day – no, not because of the rain or the shootings, but because of a serious accident involving a car and a motorbike along Montrose Road, just before the exits to the highway. Traffic was diverted, but I saw just enough to know that the wreckage was chilling. Amidst the glow of flashing emergency lights from police and fire vehicles, the charred gray remains of a motorbike lay on its side in the middle of the road. A dark suited man stood yards away from a black car, looking fearful and shaken, self-conscious of curious eyes in cars (including mine) that inched past the scene of the accident. I don’t know if or how he was involved, but his demeanour said enough. This was probably a fatal accident.Wanting to put away those horrible thoughts, I reached for the radio dial as I steered my car on to the highway. Instead of music, the announcer was talking about an active shooter at the Navy Yard, when the chaos started, the 911 calls received and how buildings nearby were currently on lockdown. At that point, no one could verify a motive or how many gunmen there were. Could this be another D.C. sniper style shooting? I hadn’t moved to the area yet when that happened, but it was terrifying to think it might be a copycat perpetrator. An hour after I arrived at work, my boss seemed to think so as well.

“I just heard on the news there are three shooters. Better stay inside today!” she said, creases forming on her forehead. Unlike her husband, whose workplace is right next to the Navy Yard, we weren’t really in any danger. Still, no one left to go to lunch that afternoon. All day, I had one headphone plugged in, listening to a live NBC Washington online feed. The chaos on scene was reflected by factual mistakes being made in reporting. First it was three shooters, one had been caught killed and the other two still on the loose, possibly somewhere in the area. Someone’s name was released as a shooter, then quickly retracted.

Where there was no lack of error however, was the increasing number of people killed as the hours ticked by that day. By 4 p.m., a clearer picture of what really happened emerged. It was just one mentally ill, former petty officer who went on a shooting rampage, killing 12 people and injuring three or four others before law enforcement took him down. In a navy administrative center, most of the building’s occupants were quick to react and flee from danger, once they realised that an active shooter was in their midst. The general consensus was that the shooter could have killed more if they were civilians who had zero experience with armed conflicts.

No matter the number, death is a tragedy. Many of the occupants of Navy Yard are the same people who provide military service in the name of protecting of their country, but that day, they could not save their 12 colleagues. This time, unlike recent mass shootings, the victims’ families didn’t even have an immediate person to focus their anger or frustrations on. The entire nation mourned the Sandy Hook shootings in Connecticut because they were children. The Boston marathon bombings was a universally hated act of terrorism, and targeted a normally wholesome, good-vibes kinda event. How do you pour unbridled fury on a (deceased) man we now know was delusional and needed mental care?

And perhaps we’ve become rather desensitized to the concept of mass shootings/violence of late, for the next day felt eerie-ly normal. Radio stations played their usual lineup of vapid pop songs as the hosts jabbered on endlessly about some stunt prank or another. Only WTOP Throughout the day, no one I met anywhere referenced yesterday’s events. At the office, the bank and the grocery store, things were business as usual. I’m sure that part of this seeming normalcy was in the spirit of not letting a horrible tragedy “get to us,” but at times, an unsettled feeling would prod me in the ribs as I went about the day, doing work related activities. Just a day before, the victims were at their office, doing the same thing.

Now they had been forced to move on early. Across the city, people held vigils in small groups. All the important people on Capitol Hill spoke words of condolences in public. Residents of the region are still shaking off the senseless shooting incident, but they will move on. In typical Washington D.C. fashion, the spotlight will soon pan to endless heated debates on gun control. Or it might not even get to that. Lawmakers are scrambling to avoid another looming threat of a government shutdown, and in their haste, the violent incident will be put on the back burner. For now at least.

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I’ve been morose lately. Future posts will be more cheerful!

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