When a lone gunman kills a large number of people, the media jumps into gear. We’re showered with platitudes about the senselessness of it all. There’s a brief outcry for gun control, followed by accusations of “politicizing the tragedy” and Second Amendment-parsing. By the time the first victim is buried, pundits are sighing about the impossibility of any firearms legislation passing in such a polarized political climate.
On July 20th, James Eagen Holmes allegedly shot 70 people at the Century Aurora 16. Three weeks later, the media has abandoned discussing his legally-acquired arsenal and moved on to his fractured mental state, asking “How do we stop the next Aurora?”
The question is a non-starter, because the equivalent of two Auroras happen every day.1 According to the latest data from the federal government, 153 people are killed or wounded by firearms on an average day in the U.S.2 Based on those numbers, between the shooting in Colorado and the August 5th attack on a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin, an estimated 2,295 people in America were shot.
My cousin is one of them. Her ex-boyfriend shot her in the head and left the scene with a friend. The sheriff accepted their story that my cousin had shot herself. It would ultimately take a CAT scan and a lack of burn marks to change his mind.
For days, my family waited for updates: surgery to remove bullet and skull fragments, hours in the ICU, the danger of brain swelling, doctors tempering expectations of what her brain functionality would be if she survived. Even the hopeful news of kicking limbs and wiggled toes sent me into innumerable crying jags.
My cousin survived. She’s facing months of rehabilitation and speech therapy, or as much as her family can afford. I can’t say where she is, or tell you her name, or even post the latest mug shot of the asshole who left her for dead. To do so would put her in danger, because he is not in jail.
My cousin’s ex-boyfriend is a meth dealer, and this isn’t the first time he almost killed her. In the weeks and months before the shooting, he held her hostage, threatened to kill her family, ran her car off the road, and choked her. Her family saw the tragedy coming from a mile away, but there was nothing they could do to stop it. Yet while it seems like the worst has happened, as long as her ex is still out there, the threat remains.
Her abuser is a convicted felon who can’t legally own a gun, but he’s managed to amass an arsenal. He lives in a “Stand Your Ground’ state, where background checks aren’t required for anything other than conceal-and-carry permits, and buyers aren’t required to register their guns. The sheriff told my uncle they won’t be able to get any gun charges to stick.
When massacres happen, the guns are identified and photographed; their sources are tracked down within days. Things don’t work that way in Podunk, USA. Forensics have to be sent to a federal agency or big-city police department, which are always overwhelmed with tests. It can take months to get results.
My cousin doesn’t have that kind of time. Addicts posing as her friends have been trying to contact her parents. He’s looking for her. While she recovers, her older sister has resorted to putting out false information on Facebook to deflect any small-town rumors, because the family is terrified that he’s out to finish what he started.
Most shootings are simply people firing guns at other people.
People obsess over mass killings, but every single day, hundreds of bullets rip through flesh and bone. Sometimes it’s domestic violence, sometimes it’s a drug deal, sometimes a bystander gets killed in the middle of a police shootout. Whatever the reason, a gun is fired and hundreds of families suffer their own personal tragedies.
It’s the worst shootings that rise to the top; the most terrible incidents that register collective shock. Yet tabling the gun control discussion until our next national tragedy is what’s truly senseless. Massacres will always be blamed on something other than guns. The killer was mentally ill, a white supremacist, or a catch-all “monster.” None of these explanations change the one unifying truth: these men wouldn’t be able to slaughter en masse without firearms. If we really want to stop the next Aurora, it’s time to admit that guns really do kill people.
The author of this piece has asked to remain anonymous.
1 Using CDC stats from the Brady Campaign, 33 people per day were killed by firearms every day in 2008.
121 people per day were injured in a gun attack every day in 2009.
2 This does not include suicide attempts, people shot accidentally or people shot during police interventions. http://www.bradycampaign.org/xshare/Facts/Gun_Death_and_Injury_Stat_Sheet_2008__2009_FINAL.pdf