Thursday, May 26, 2022

Beyond Redemption?

Jack Holmes:

LONDON—It is a remarkable thing to watch the American horror unfold from another place. Great Britain is not perfect, God knows. Maybe it isn’t even Great. But it is not a place where children are shot to death in school so often that it scarcely ever qualifies for the nightly news. Kids are shot in school all the time in the United States. It is a fact of life. But on May 24, 2022, there was an incident of uncommon horror in Uvalde, Texas. Mind you, the horror is familiar to the victims and their families and the kids at those other schools, the ones who still have to show up for class every day. The horror they saw is just as real. It will have done just as much damage, having heard or seen or felt the bullets fly, even when fewer than 15 people die. But this is the one that will make the news. The other times that the kids were murdered in math class aren’t worth our time. We’re busy. Your friend was shot to death against her locker? Get back to us when she’s one of a dozen.

In truth, the ones that make the news are just a tiny sample of it all. A splashy front page in amongst the square miles of obituaries. That goes for school shootings, that goes for mass shootings. It goes for all of it. Most gun deaths are quotidian, in a disgusting American sense. About 45,000 Americans die at the point of a gun in a given year, and a lot of those are suicides. People, usually men, putting a gun to their heads. It’s silent until it isn’t. And the silence we greet it with is loud indeed. There are murders, too, and we’ll hear a lot in the coming days about “Black-on-Black crime,” and Chicago, and how criminals will never abide by gun laws. The thing to remember is that this is never about the fact that the United States is home to 400 million civilian-owned firearms. It’s never about the fact that this kind of mass death at gunpoint does not happen in other rich nations that are home, supposedly, to the rule of law. No wonder only a bit over half of homicides are cleared by the cops in the Land of the Free. We’re putting them to work.

And a lot of people don’t die, by the way. Their murders were merely attempted. They will live on, God bless them. The kids in Uvalde will be traumatized, but even some who were shot will live, God willing. We never talk about the ones who are shot and don’t die. We don’t talk about the people who went to Iraq and Afghanistan and came back unable to sleep through the night or play in the backyard with their kids. And we don’t talk about the kids who will never play basketball again. Have you ever thought about what it might be like to be shot and live? To never be the same? What it might feel like to have the volcanic lead pierce your flesh? Have you ever read about what it’s like to be shot with a bullet from an AR-15? To have your body torn asunder by the almighty power assumed by mere mortals? It’s unlikely you’d live from that. But those that do can rarely hope to live full lives again. If you make it physically, even, it will take momentous strength—uncommon fortitude—to survive the horrors of the mind that await you. You are fucked, in other words, if you’re lucky enough to survive.

And the greatest horror of all, maybe, is that there may well be no way back for the United States. There is no taking back the 400 million guns, no convincing the chorus of the loud and the deranged that something must be changed. Any measure, even the most mild restriction, is a “gun grab” or an assault on Second Amendment rights as detailed by right-wing justices hand-picked for the purpose. You can call for voluntary—voluntary—voluntary—gun buyback programs and be called a gun-grabber, a totalitarian, a hater of liberty. Never mind the kind of changes that would actually make a difference. We’re told the answer is more guns. Guns to defend yourself, so you can get in a shootout at the grocery store. Guns for armed guards at schools, so they can shoot it out with school shooters. About a third of Americans own a gun, and many are quite reasonable about the proposition. But others aren’t. The rest of the country and the politicians that represent them have found no answer, and the game is up anyway. “In retrospect,” reads a famous tweet from Dan Hodges, “Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

This is the gun country, where your kid might just be shot in the head at school. Is that too graphic? Is it too much to bear? Because that’s the country you’re living in. It’s the country where more than 450 people just shoot themselves every week. It’s the country where you might just get shot at the mall, or the movie theater, or the subway, or anywhere at anytime. Here’s hoping you aren’t in the wrong place at the wrong moment. In a time when the democratic process itself is under attack, when people are running to be governor of a state on the platform of throwing out votes if they don’t like who got more of them, it is the gun thing as much as anything that has me convinced that the United States of America may well be a nation beyond repair. Those kids in Texas had two days left until school was out for the summer. You have to wonder whether the sun will ever shine the same way.