2020 had one blessing — and I’m not talking about banana bread. In 2020, with all of us locked down at home, the number of mass shootings in this country plummeted. In the five years before that, we had as many as 18-22 mass shootings per year depending on how you define it; in 2020 we had six.
And if that doesn’t give you pause - “only” six mass shootings! — then I suggest that like most of us, you may have become inured to the idea of a strange man bringing a military grade weapon into a public place and gunning down everyone in sight.
And yes, it’s invariably a man. Why, I don’t know. I mean I’m as guilty of homicidal thoughts as the next person. Get me on the phone with just about any place of business and after trying to navigate their phone tree for what feels like seven years, I’m certainly capable of shooting up the place.
And yet I don’t. I don’t buy an AR-15, I don’t go online and get a blueprint of their office or stalk their staff or case the joint. I don’t write a manifesto and then strap ammo to my chest and walk into the supermarket or school or movie theater or post office and shoot down every human being I see.
I just complain about it. To my husband, to my friends, on my platforms. I moan and whine and move on. I don’t kill people.
And not just because it’s illegal and I’d be risking my own life. I don’t kill people because it’s not my right. And because I’m in awe of life, however irritating, vulgar or stupid. Life — that animating impulse — is just awesome. Not up to me to snuff it out.
But not everyone shares that view. After all, we’ve got capital punishment and abortion and euthanasia. And you could argue that the real issue here is taking that power into your own hands as opposed to handing it over to a jury or a doctor or a legislature.
Which brings me back to the killers themselves. What drives them to pick up a gun and kill lots of strangers? Is it mental illness? A lack of faith in institutions? Is it any of the various faces of evil — racism, sexism, fascism?
I don’t know. But I do know that I was really enjoying this relative holiday from mass murder and I’m not happy to see it come back. We’ve had six mass murders in two and a half months, putting us on track for a particularly bloody year. And we don’t seem to be willing to do anything about it.
After Sandy Hook, I made a short film called “Safe” that’s distributed in Europe. It’s about a former teacher who’s survived a school shooting and what happens when she discovers guns at a playdate. Let’s just say it’s a cautionary tale with a bit of a tragic twist designed to elicit discussion.
I did a great deal of research before making the film and spent time with a few gun owners.
And for the record, let me state that I’m not against folks owning guns. There are all kinds of legitimate reasons to own a gun. You admire the craftsmanship. You’re a collector. You’re a marksman. You like to hunt. You live in a remote area or on a farm and need a firearm for protection. You’re a police officer or in military service. It’s all good.
The gun owners I spoke to take enormous pride in the craft involved in creating weapons and in the skill it takes to use them effectively. And they take enormous care to store their firearms safely. So, I have no interest in interfering with their pursuits.
And in fact, I want them to take ownership of this issue. They’re the ones who really understand the steps that should be taken to make sure that guns don’t fall into the hands of wingnuts or folks with evil intentions or even just normal humans who don’t know what they’re doing and end up shooting themselves or others.
One of the gentleman I spoke to referenced his upbringing in the UK where the local police will call your doctor to review your mental status and then visit you at home to ascertain your purpose for owning a gun before issuing a license. So licensing and more stringent background checks would be positive steps and I urge gun owners to support them and join the conversation.
Then we have to tackle the other problem - the profit motive. Gun manufacturers want to make money. As far as they’re concerned, the more guns sold, the better. And so, they’re constantly expanding their product line. In recent years this has led them to offer more and more military grade weapons. And military grade weapons such as the AR-15 are designed to kill as many people as possible as fast as possible. While that may be an asset on the battlefield, it’s counterproductive in a supermarket or a school or a movie theater or a post office.
In my opinion, the profits of a few manufacturers don’t outweigh the rights of innocent folks to not get shot. New Zealand agrees. They have been pursuing a path of licensing and regulation and gun buybacks for several years now and committing the funds to make it happen. And in 2019 thanks to the leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, military grade weapons were banned.
Is their system perfect? No. But it’s an improvement over ours and worth studying, adapting and adopting. And this being America, I’m sure we can find the money to help manufacturers retool and develop products with more peaceful purposes.
Now’s the time, folks. COVID has given us a time out from normal life. We need to reimagine how we want to do things in the future. And finding ways to stop these mass murders is a good start.
(Thank you so much for all your emails. Reach me at WelcomeToThePandemic@gmail.com. And find me on Twitter at @epagenyc or on Facebook at ElizabethPage and Safe, the film or online at AboutThatNightTheFilm.com)