Saturday, July 21, 2012


Guns don't kill people - people kill people.  We hear it all the time.

This is true, but when someone takes a gun and kills one of your people, it's difficult not to go to that place of being very angry about the easy availability of guns in this country.

It's also easy to take the anger and frustration secondary to fear and grief and get into an argument with a gun nut who responds to public massacres with great defensiveness and bombastic rhetoric about how far fewer innocents would have been killed or wounded had average citizens on site been armed and able to shoot back.

Because don't you know we're all crack shots when we're scared and under fire by a psychotic in body armor who's planned an  attack in the last place you would ever expect something like that to happen.  This sounds like the story my 8 year old neighbor told me on 9/12/2001 about how if he'd been in New York, and he'd had a fighter jet, he would have stopped the planes that crashed into the towers.

People walking around with loaded guns would only equal more gun deaths.  The armed neighborhood watch of George Zimmerman is a tragic illustration of my point. 

Yesterday morning I woke up to news of the massacre in the theater in Aurora Colorado and the coverage that has continued ever since. 

As a nation we have been through this so many times: The McDonalds Shooting in 1984, The Luby's massacre in 1991, Columbine in 1999, The Amish School Shooting in 2006, Virginia Tech 2007. 

Every time it happens the experience is the same - the news coverage, national or local, is constant and we watch it obsessively wanting to make sense of the senseless.  It's something that happens in another town to other people and you feel sad and maybe you cry, but then you need to go to work or take care of your kids, and life goes on.

It's tragic, but it seems remote because it's happening to someone else.

It IS remote until someone you know goes to a restaurant, goes to school, goes to work, goes to the mall or goes to a movie and doesn't come home because they've been shot and killed by another someone who decided they were going to use their guns to vent their frustration, anger, mental illness, etc.

On October 12, just days after her birthday, five months after her wedding, my friend Laura went to work at Salon Meritage in Seal Beach.   

That afternoon she stood begging for her life, before being shot and killed by a guy armed with three hand guns, wearing body armor, who'd come to the salon to kill his wife, one of Laura's co-workers.  By the time she came face to face with him he'd already shot her mother Hattie and 6 other people who were either working at the salon, or had come in to get their hair done.  He shot these people at close range, pulling the trigger for two minutes, reloading once and using at least 2 of the 3 guns he brought with him. As he left the building he shot and killed a man who had pulled into the parking lot with plans to go to lunch at a nearby restaurant.

I had a busy day that day.  I'd been so busy that I hadn't looked at the internet and hadn't had time to answer my phone, so at 10pm when I was listening to my voicemail I had a hard time understanding what my friend Natalie, one of my oldest friends, and Laura's sister, was saying on the message she'd left me at 3:00pm.

Her voice trembling, obviously trying to keep her shit together she said, "I'm on my way to Memorial Hospital.  Laura is one of the survivors of the salon shooting in Seal Beach.  Turn on the news.  Call me as soon as you get this message."

I turned on the news just as the 10 o'clock hour was beginning with a helicopter shot from earlier in the day of police activity n the parking lot, people holding each other in tears, news reporters standing with the chaos in the background, a picture of the perpetrator who had been apprehended and surrendered, then back to the anchors in the studio with the chilling news that two of the survivors taken to hospital have died.

When I reached Natalie she told me that their mother Hattie was the only one who survived, that Laura was dead and her body still at the scene.  She told me about getting to the hospital and being taken into the chapel where the police give them what little information there was.  This is where she finds out that her mother was in the salon and that Laura has been killed.

 In the days following there is shock and grieving.  Family and friends gather together and numbly cling to each other trying find a way to stay sane.  There is going to view Laura's body in the morgue.  There is Hattie coming home from the hospital.  There is taking care of Ron, Laura's husband.  There is going to court for the arraignment of the shooter. There is meeting with the District Attorney and getting more information. There is talking to psychologists to try to process what happened.  There is reconstructive surgery on Hattie's shattered arm.  At the end of June there is the paddle out of Laura's ashes.

This is happening to people I know - there is nothing remote about it.  It will never be remote again because now, every time this happens, you cannot help but relive the horror and shock of losing someone you know and love this way.

In Colorado there will be vigils and memorials and funerals and we will learn about the people who were killed yesterday.  We will hear from survivors and witnesses.  We will learn more about the shooter.  We will try to figure out why he did this although we all know he is one seriously messed up soul

And then life will go on until this happens again.

But it is not remote.  Although this is a deviation from what we think of as normal it is becoming part of a norm that we are in denial about. The fact that Jessica Ghawi, one of the victims yesterday, narrowly missed a shooting at a shopping mall in Toronto last month, is evidence that something is very, very wrong in this world and it is getting closer and closer to each one of us.

It doesn't make any sense.  It is insanity manifesting and expressing in the actions of an individual and affecting all of us.  The guns and ammunition used in Seal Beach and in Aurora were purchased legally.  Would gun laws have stopped Scott Dekraai who vented his rage on innocent people?  Would it have stopped James Holmes?  It's hard to say.  Guns will always be available to those who want them.  They might have to pay more for them on the black market but they will still get them if they want them bad enough. 

The shooters - the people who use the guns to kill the innocent people at the movies, or at the hair salon, or at the restaurant or the mall - these people are sick and deranged and up until the moment they snap they very often are living among us with no criminal record, no aberrant behavior.  After the fact people will say, "he was quiet", "he was a loner", "he seemed like a nice guy."  Rarely is this individual the career criminal that most gun rights people want to arm themselves against.

My thoughts and prayers are with all of the people impacted by the events in Aurora, and with all of us in this country that seems to be arming itself to the teeth,  because it is no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when gun violence will intimately touch our individual lives.

We live in a country where people buy guns and shoot people who are at work, or school, the mall, the hair salon or the movies.

That's what people do.  

And it's tragic.