Perhaps you are like me. You heard about the horrific shooting in Las Vegas. 58 people killed. At least 500 injured. Perhaps, like me, you thought you must have been mistaken in the numbers.
As I read some preliminary reports – I don’t watch this kind of thing anymore, because I can’t control how I react to the images – there was a little voice in the back of my mind saying “There must have been a dozen shooters, because this sure as hell wasn’t some guy with an unregistered .22”.
I continued reading. As the terrible reports mounted, the selfless acts of others started to come in. Heroic acts by first responders. Ordinary people taking wounded to local hospitals. People and companies donating food, water, supplies, transportation and lodging.
Loved ones shielding others with their own bodies.
The very best – and the very worst – of people, shown in a few short minutes.
I braced myself for what was coming. I could imagine the “talking heads”, spouting unsubstantiated claim after unsubstantiated claim. “We don’t know what’s happening, but this might have been what happened.”
Once again, I was glad that we ditched cable a couple of years ago.
More details came out. The shots came from the 32nd floor of a local hotel. Police had broken into a room, only to find the shooter had killed himself, and … wait. What? One shooter? One shooter killed or wounded some 550 people? How?
A dozen or more rifles recovered on the scene. A crapload of ammunition.
Again, I was stunned. One person. One. One person, in the span of a few minutes, had irrevocably changed the lives of not just those unfortunate souls who were immediately affected with injury and death, but all those people’s loved ones. First responders and hospital staff. An entire city. An entire nation.
I admit it: I’ve become cynical, over the years. I hear things and think “Yeah. Right.” And I have become somewhat calloused at reports of violence. It seems that nearly every other month, there’s a horrific shooting.
Sad to say, I’m getting used to it.
That’s when I realized that I’d heard nothing about the shooter. And that’s when I was pretty sure he was white.
We, as humans, are so good at labeling people, and two of our favourite labels are “Us” and “Them”. I knew that if the “Them” was a bearded, brown-skinned person, I would have already heard about investigations into ties with ISIS, or whatever group was in the news at the time.
Likewise, if he was black, we would have heard about it. The person – with first, middle, and last names carefully announced – was thought to have grown up in the projects and had a hatred of (fill-in-the-blank).
We like labels because it helps us not to think about people. If we can label people as “Them”, we can move on. “Oh, of course it was a terrorist.” “Oh, of course it was a disgruntled black man.” We file it in our brains and move on.
But, it turns out, the shooter was one of the majority. Rich, white male. Retired accountant (Could anything be more ordinary?”). Loved by his family.
The shooter is us. How are we supposed to react to that? How am I supposed to file that away? And I really shouldn’t be so shocked, because aren’t most of these terrible shootings done by a North American?
I should be more shocked if it isn’t.
Thankfully, it turns out that the shooter had a girlfriend. She was in the Phillipines. Ah. Isn’t that a hotbed of terrorism? Oh, and didn’t some money change hands? Isn’t she, at the very least, darker than the majority? The cynical part of me thinks that I’ve seen her picture more than I’ve seen the shooter’s.
OK. File it away as terror related and move on.
I am now waiting for the inevitable “Well, in order to keep this from happening again, we are going to pass legislation to step up security for hotels. You see, the shooter used a hotel. So, logically, if we have better security in hotels, we will be safe and secure, once again.”
Until the next shooter uses an old warehouse. Then we’ll need to step up security in the warehouse sector.
It’s a bit like saying “Little Johnny likes to play with gasoline and matches. Unfortunately, he burned himself. From now on, Little Johnny is not allowed to play with gas and matches … UNLESS he keeps a fire extinguisher nearby.”
This is the kind of logical debate I imagine is coming.
The debate over gun control will start up again, although we know this is doomed from the start. The gun lobby will say “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Which makes a sort of sense. Although, if the shooter had an unregistered .22, and not more than a dozen assault rifles, this would be a different story.
“If people don’t have access to guns, people wouldn’t be getting shot,” the other side will say. Which makes a sort of sense. Although, we have all sorts of ways of killing each other without guns.
And as we desperately try to restore our sense of safety and security, we will blissfully gloss over the issue that there is no “Them”.
It’s all “Us”. This might be the scariest thought of all.
There are about 7 billion of us here on planet earth. We are different. We have different religions. We have different beliefs. Our skins are different colours.
There is a lot that separates us, and my little voice crying out will not have any effect. I honestly don’t know what to do about that; however, if we don’t figure out how to highlight the things we have in common, instead of our differences, we are destined to hear of more horrific stories like the one in Las Vegas.