Nashville, March 27, 2023
Driving to the airport after a precious day with a precious couple that I got to work with, I heard the news. Another six innocents had been murdered earlier that day. In a school this time. A school that I have driven by a thousand times. I thought of my grandchildren who were in school that very same day, and how, except for chance, it could have been (and very well might someday be) them listed as those among the dead.
As a young boy, I lived and went to school with the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over my head. Fall-out shelters, duck and cover drills, the whole nine yards. We lived a few short miles from a major military installation where B-52 bombers were staged and on alert; ready to take off at a moment’s notice to join an engagement that was destined to end the world as we knew it. This made Wright-Patterson Air Force base, myself and my family a primary target. My father worked there. Logic told me, even as a little one, I and we (my family) would be among the first to go.
Our country, as a country (not as relatively powerless independent individuals) mobilized in reaction to this threat. Public fall-out shelters were marked, freeway systems chosen to move armaments quickly and efficiently and designated emergency radio channels were just a few of the nationwide responses.
My grandchildren now live with a similar threat hanging over their heads (imminent, violent, death). This threat isn’t theoretical, it is actual. They are vicarious witnesses to the reality (not just the threat) of this instant death. The difference is that death by firearm is a far more likely specter than the atomic bomb that was hanging over our heads.
At any moment, a door to their classroom might open and that will be the end of them. Not a foreign threat, but one from their own neighborhood. Not from aliens, but from people just like them. A much more immediate and likely threat to their lives than nuclear bombs…bullets.
Nashville on March 27th, 2023, was only the latest in a string of mass shootings whose numbers, so far this year, exceed the number of days that we have lived in 2023. If this year follows recent trends, more children will die at the end of a gun, than any other cause. Our country is a leader (# 2 in the world as of 2019) in the “death by weapon” category.
Why? Children in other countries play video games. Other countries have the internet. Other countries have weapons (though the number and types are different, and the US has more per/capita than any other nation). Other countries have disaffected youth and adults. Other countries have citizens with mental health issues. Other countries have angry people. Other countries have poverty; many at far greater levels than ours. Other countries live the Capitalistic life.
Everyone seems to have their “pet” cause and resultant simple solutions. You name it, someone has suggested it as “THE” problem. (There actually are those who don’t believe what I am talking about here is a problem, by the way. I’ve talked to some of them). I have mine. I understand the “why” of that line of thinking (simple cause, simple solution.). I understand the comfort that such simplicity brings (it is something that I can’t control, so I can just let go of it.). And the inherent danger of such thinking (nothing changes and it just continues to get worse).
I wonder why we don’t approach this ‘problem’ of mass shootings, as we do if an airliner or two crashes, as happened a few years back when two Boeing 737 Max airplanes went down within a short period of time and 306 souls were lost? They immediately grounded the other planes. They brought the people in the know to congressional hearings. They held the people responsible for the creation and building of the airplanes responsible. Teams of experts swooped down into the mess and figured out what was going amiss and how to fix it. The result was that a few short years later, the problem was solved.
As I understand it, when an airplane crashes, the FAA investigates every possible factor that could have caused the crash with no sacred cows, no pre-determined conclusions. The findings of such an approach over the years have resulted in air travel being among the safest ways to get from here to there and back. Every deadly incident makes future flights safer and safer. The dead bodies are used to reduce future casualties. What if the same were true of the mass shootings?
9,800 Americans are dead from gun violence so far this year. Human beings, who were alive for Christmas last year. They are now dead. That number is the equivalent of 49 commercial airliner crashes in the last three months. Two of those airlines would have been carrying only children, 398 of them. Can you imagine that people would put up with “we can’t do anything about it?” Or “airplanes don’t kill people; those people who ride and fly them kill people?”
My suspicions about at least one of the “whys” is that other things are more important than people’s lives. Cash. Making money. Why would I suggest such a thing? Immediately following the news report of the school shooting, I was reminded in the next segment that the Dow Jones was up 150 points. We saved a banking system from collapsing in less than a day.
What if we, normal people, people who have children and grandchildren, demand that our politicians put together a FAA type organization to figure out how to keep these planes from crashing? Let’s do as those who cared for me way back when did. Find a way to reduce the threat.
I heard one scientist who studies this phenomenon say that there are 200 different elements that have been identified as factors that contribute to these murders. Airplanes have thousands of parts. So, complexity doesn’t seem to be the issue in solving complex problems.
We are doing our version of the “duck and cover drills” for our children these days. Now they are called “active shooter drills.” We continue our “harden” the potential targets, our current version of the bomb shelters. All that is great. Let’s also work, as our parents and grandparents did, to reduce the threat by addressing the necessity for such precautions. “Duck and Cover,’ and fallout shelters didn’t reduce the risk of nuclear war. Looking at and dealing with the cause did.
In the Jewish Museum in Berlin, there is a room called the “Hall of the Missing.” The room is filled with music scores with no notes, books with the pages blank and paintings with no colors on the canvas. We are losing so far this year, 5 kids a day to gun violence. They represent those who would have filled those musical scores, written the blank pages, populated the canvases, turned mud into vases, and allowed us to be blessed by watching the next generation fulfill their holy and sacred purpose, as we have been allowed to do.
A friend of mine, closely connected to the Nashville murders said, “All I can do is show love to everyone I meet.” I’m left wondering what I can do. You?