Thursday, June 9, 2022

They Saw The Carnage

Charles P. Pierce on yesterday’s testimony from Uvalde.

WASHINGTON — They were the witnesses to the unthinkable and now they are witnesses to encroaching oblivion, trying to beat it back with their fresh memories of blood and death. All over Capitol Hill, the talk on Wednesday was all about this country’s insane addiction to its firearms. The Senate debated some bills, the Senate Judiciary Committee having taken on domestic terrorism and white supremacy on Tuesday, and that was about guns, too. Even the breaking news was about guns; an armed man was arrested in the general vicinity of the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The Supreme Court did not hand down its expected endorsement of more guns. And in the Rayburn House Office Building, the teeth came right down to the bone.

A young survivor of the Uvalde Massacre testified via videotape, showing unimaginable courage. (I mean, Jesus, it’s only been a couple of weeks since they were all caught up in Salvador Ramos’ unfortunate exercise of his Second Amendment freedom, and now they were asked to tell the Congress of the United States about it.) Miah Cerillo is in fourth grade, and she shouldn’t have to be talking about what an AR-15 can do to the human body. Miah is the student who covered herself with the blood of a slain classmate in order to keep from being shot to death herself. She is now famous for that. She should not be famous for that. Nobody should.

We were just watching a movie. And then [the teacher] heard something and went to lock the door. He was in the hallway and then he came in and attacked. And then she went to the back of the room and she told us to go hide. And then we went to go hide behind my teacher’s desk and behind the backpacks and then he shot the little window. and then he went to the other classroom, and there was a door between our classrooms and he went through there and shot my teacher and killed my teacher, and he shot her in the head and then he shot some of my classmates, and the white board. When I went to the backpacks, he shot my friend that was next to me. I thought he was gonna come back into the room, so I grabbed the blood and I put it all over me.

Miah also talked about how she called 911 using the telephone of one of her murdered teachers. Pause for a moment and ponder the uncommon cool-headedness under fire that Miah Cerillo demonstrated—both in using the blood of a murdered classmate as camouflage and in finding a way to call for help from the police which, as we’ve subsequently learned, never came. Now ponder what kind of a country it is that demands this kind of steadiness under fire from a fourth-grader watching a Disney movie in school. Miah’s father, Miguel Cerillo, came all the way to Washington to testify about his daughter.

Hello, I came here today because I could’ve lost my little girl. She is not the same girl that I used to play with and run with. She was daddy’s little girl … I do not know what to do because I think I would have lost my baby girl. I thank you all for letting me be here and speak out, but I wish something would change, not only for our kids but for every single kid in the world that goes to school and is not safe.

There is a debate going on in journalism right now about whether or not showing pictures of the carnage would help make it more real and help institute real change. People who believe it would cite the precedent established by Emmett Till’s mother, who insisted on an open-casket funeral so that the world could see what his murderers had done to him. If, as I suspect, nothing will come of this, there’s no problem. Just put Dr. Roy Guerrero on TV and let him describe what he saw on May 24.

Guerrero is the pediatrician in Uvalde. He was born and raised there, and he even attended Robb Elementary School. He’s treated every sneeze and sniffle, every fever that unsettled nervous parents. He helped Miah Cerillo through serious liver surgeries when Miah was small, which should have been risk enough for one lifetime. On May 24, though, he walked into his old school and found himself in Fallujah.

The hearing room plunged into a deep, signifying silence.

I will never forget what I saw that day that, for me, that started like any typical Tuesday at our pediatric clinic. Moms calling for coughs, sports injuries, right before the summer rush. School was out in two days and summer camps would guarantee some grazes and ankle sprains, injuries that could be patched up and fixed with a Mickey Mouse sticker as a reward. Then, at 12:30 business as usual stopped and with it my heart … What I did find was something no prayer will ever relieve. Two children whose bodies had been pulverized by the bullets fired at them. Children decapitated. Children whose flesh had been ripped apart, but the only clues to their identities was the blood spatter.

Having virtually laid the bleeding bodies on the floor of the hearing room, Dr. Roy Guerrero got down to the real business he’d come to Washington to discuss—our insane addiction to our firearms.

Adults are stubborn. They are resistant to change even if the change will make things better for ourselves, but especially when we think we are immune to the fallout. Why else would there have been such little progress made in Congress to stop gun violence? Children all over the country today are dead because laws and policies allowed people to buy weapons before they are old enough to buy a pack of beer. They are dead because restrictions have been allowed to lapse. They are dead because there are no rules about where guns are kept, No one is paying attention to who is buying them. The thing I cannot figure out is whether our politicians are failing us out of stubbornness, passivity, or both.

If you figure that out, Dr. Roy, pass the answer along to the rest of us. But it’s clear that he has his hands on one piece of it, that encroaching oblivion that always shrouds the aftermath of horrible crimes like this one.

I said before that as grown-ups, we have a habit of remembering the good and forgiving the bad, never more so than when it comes to our guns. Once the blood is rinsed away from the bodies of our loved ones and scrubbed off of the floors of the schools, supermarkets, and churches, the carnage that we have seen is erased from our collective conscience and we return to nostalgia, to the rose tinted view of our Second Amendment as a perfect instrument of American life.

I chose to be a pediatrician. I chose to take care of children, keeping them safe from preventable diseases. That I can do—keeping them safe from bacteria and brittle bones, I can do. But making sure our children are safe from guns, that is the job of our politicians and leaders. In this case, you are the doctors and our country is a patient. We are lying on the operating table, riddled with bullets like the children of Robb Elementary and so many other schools. We are bleeding out and you are not there.

As eloquent as Dr. Guerrero was, his testimony was not the most dispiriting element of Wednesday’s hearing. That came one panel later, when Dr. Guerrero and Miah Cerillo were replaced by activists and purported experts. There was a guy from the gun-safety group Everytown and a woman from the Heritage Society, and what they said was entirely predictable. The members of the committee chose up entirely predictable sides.

For example, Rep. Andrew Clyde, Republican of Georgia, explained that the answer is to harden schools into firebases in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Clyde also attempted to soak up the blood in Uvalde with the pages of the Constitution.

For almost 250 years, since the founding of our nation, countless hundreds of thousands of men and women have sacrificed their lives to provide the freedoms we enjoy today. Indeed, those freedoms were bought at a very high price and must be guarded continually so they can be passed on to further generations. If we allow emotions to drive our actions, actions that have constitution-altering consequences, we will destroy the very foundation of our country and break faith with those who gave everything that we would be free. Evil deeds do not transcend constitutional rights. It’s the other way around. Constitutional rights are the ones that transcend evil.

It should be noted that, in his other life, Rep. Clyde owns a gun store, and not a small one, either. From Business Insider:

When not working in Washington, D.C., Clyde leads the No. 4-ranked firearm store in Athens, Georgia, according to Yelp: Clyde Armory. According to Clyde’s 2021 federal financial disclosure, the congressman’s stake in the store is worth anywhere between $5 million and $25 million, and it earned him between $1 million and $5 million in income in 2020 alone. The store’s website shows it sells a multitude of firearms and accessories, including military-style semiautomatic rifles, weapon silencers, and ballistic helmets. Among the items for sale at Clyde Armory: a Colt-manufactured AR-15 rifle for $1,349.95 and a .50 caliber semi-automatic rifle for $11,384.95.

And a familiar oblivion closes in from all sides and only Dr. Roy Guerrero and Miah Cerillo have to live with the memory.

It provides absolutely no solace to anyone, but one can hope that those vultures who dismissed the dead and wounded in the name of “freedom” and their own pocketbook will be reminded again and again of the carnage by their opponents in the mid-terms and common human decency.