We demand a production shutdown when there's a salmonella outbreak. So why, with each massacre, do we protect our firearms more fiercely than our children?
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You have to wonder what he thinks when an aide approaches him, beginning a sentence with the words “Sir, there’s been a shooting…” What’s going through his mind as he approaches the podium in front of a hastily gathered press corps. What he’s feeling when he looks into the camera, knowing that somewhere in his opening remarks he will reference a tragedy. At what point does he wonder to himself or aloud, “How many more times do I have to do this?”
Since taking office in January 2009, President Obama has stepped in front of a camera to offer words of comfort to a grieving nation eleven times. The first was on November 2009, when an Army major opened fire at Ft. Hood in Texas, killing 13 and injuring over 30. Then came Tuscon, Arizona, in the first weeks of 2011, when on January 8, a shooting left six dead and 13 injured, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. A year later, in July 2012, Aurora, Colorado: 12 dead, 70 injured. August 2012, not even a month after Aurora, a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin killed left six dead and four wounded. Four months later, just days before Christmas, Sandy Hook: 20 first-graders and six teachers dead. September 2013, the Washington Navy Yard: 12 dead, eight injured. April 2014: Ft. Hood again, with three dead, 14 wounded. Eleven days later, three killed at a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kansas. In Portland, Oregon in June 2014: one dead, one injured at a high school. Just this June, in Charleston, South Carolina, nine were murdered, one injured. Chattanooga, Tennessee: Four Marines were killed at a recruiting center. And now, here we are again: Roseburg, Oregon, with nine dead, nine injured on the campus of Umpqua Community College.
He has to be sick of it. Sick of us. Sick of a country whose citizens routinely vote against their best interests in the name of ignorance, stubbornness, stupidity, or an amalgam of all three. Sick of a nation that elects politicians so beholden to the NRA that even the suggestion of a minor restriction on weapons spurs claims of tyranny and constitutional violations. Sick of people who think “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” grants them the moral authority to build arsenals in their basements with ammo ordered online and take their AR-15s to Target during their weekly grocery runs.
How could he not be sick of it? This country’s obsession with guns is cancerous and even the simplest of cures is considered worse than the disease. Last year, our country lost its collective mind when a man in Texas died from the Ebola virus. There were calls to ban all people in Ebola-stricken nations from coming into the United States in fear that they’d spread the disease. When three people died from a listeria outbreak tied to Blue Bell Ice Cream, the company destroyed 8 million gallons of product and shut down its production across the world. Sunland Peanut Butter Company was shut down completely by the FDA after a salmonella outbreak that didn’t cause any fatalities. We accept and approve of corrective action when it comes to products that are deemed dangerous. But if that product fires a bullet, all bets are off, regardless of the body count.
It has to eat away at him. When he went to Newtown, Connecticut, to deliver remarks at a prayer vigil for Sandy Hook Elementary, he asked “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” The honest answer to those questions is yes. How could it possibly be anything else when 20 dead first-graders were enough to bring this country to its knees in grief, but not enough to make it rise in anger and resolve? How could it possibly be anything else when over 3,000 children and teens were killed by guns in 2014? How could it possibly be anything else when a five-month old infant is the third child shot and killed in Cleveland in less than a month?
He has to feel like Sisyphus at times, pushing the boulder of common sense gun laws up the hill, only to have Congress and the NRA shove it back down over and over again. That’s a brutal weight to carry. Imagine what it must feel like, being the most powerful man in the world, and yet so limited in what he can do to stop people from killing each other in his own backyard. It’s enough to make a man known for his cool demeanor tremble inside with anger. And that’s what we saw during his eleventh trip to the podium on Thursday. To put it bluntly, President Obama is sick of our shit.
The frustration, impatience, and disgust were all visible on Thursday. “But as I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America—next week, or a couple of months from now.” He’s right. If thoughts and prayers were a product, they’d be pulled from the shelves for ineffectiveness. If we’re ever going to find a solution to the malignant apathy that comes after the candlelight vigils and hashtags come to an end, we have to make people understand that dying in a movie theatre or in a community center or at work or huddled in the corner of a classroom is no longer the price we are willing to be pay for the right to basement arsenals and AR-15s in the produce aisle. We have to make the Wayne LaPierres of America understand that their right to bear arms does not supersede our right to live without the crippling fear that comes with dropping our kids off at school in the morning and wondering if today’s the day they become the next victims of something no one thought would ever happen in their city or town. We have to make them understand that unlike Sisyphus, we are not bound to a hell of their creation.
President Obama has roughly 15 months left in office. He doesn’t have to worry about re-election, doesn’t have to worry about his political future. Fifteen months to channel that frustration, impatience and disgust we saw last Thursday into making Wayne LaPierre’s and the NRA’s life a living hell. Fifteen months to get that boulder to the top of the hill. It’s going to take an army of people pushing behind him. But if the blood, sweat, and tears means he doesn’t have to go to that podium for twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth times, they will be a price worth paying.
Fifteen months. Let’s start pushing.
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