Teri Orr: We must demand an end to gun violence
I am of the age where we were taught to hide under our desks — for when The Bomb dropped. It was the early 60s. We had a plan. It also involved emergency routes to walk away from the school and to walk to preplanned safe places. So we did the drills and we giggled hiding under our desks. Many of our dads had been in The War — and they cautioned us not to laugh at the possibility of such danger because they had seen the ugliest face of a nuclear war.
But nothing happened. So the drills were an exercise and we sometimes got out of school early and nothing happened. We didn’t feel unsafe. We didn’t fear much. We were preteen kids in the Eisenhower era. We were safe.
We raised children who were also pretty safe. The guns started with Columbine really — in the late 90s — at the same time as the movie “The Matrix” and a lot of violent video games came on the scene. That is simply the truth. We invited horrible violence into film and our lives — in the name of art — and entertainment.
If you have read any of my other columns about shootings since Sandy Hook — there is nothing new here. Except the anger. The raging — Times Up! — anger pointed in a bullseye-scoping — high-powered — targeted — can’t-miss device at the problem. And it is aimed too at nonsense excuses of everyone who defends the rights of civilians having access to assault weapons.
The past 24 hours I tried to stay offline and away from electronic media. I did. I tried. But then I felt like it was somehow disrespectful not to pay attention — not to see the faces of those killed. Not to try and learn something about those victims. Not to understand the pain. Wanting to look away. And then trying to imagine the pain of the friends, parents and grandparents — the teachers, the First Responders, the reporters assigned to the story. These shootings have so many more victims than those who are immediately buried.
So I’m crying writing this — crying because as the parent of two and the grandparent of three, I am in pain for each of the families who lost their children. To the adults who lost their lives protecting those children — there is a special place in a heaven for you.
CNN on Thursday night took us through each person killed with a short bio. I watched every one. I wanted to see them. Know them. And yes … pray for their families.
Years ago, we had the award-winning playwright, actress and professor at the New York University School of Law, Anna Deavere Smith, who is a black woman, speak at the Eccles Center. After the show we sat in a booth at a restaurant and agreed on the most dangerous person in America — a white boy in a hoody.
From Columbine to Sandy Hook from a church basement in Charleston to Sunday service in Texas — the race and the outfit are the same. A young white male in a hoody.
People of color aren’t killing children in schools. White young men with assault weapons are.
This isn’t about having your hunting rifle that fires maybe three bullets in a minute. This is about a weapon that shoots 45 bullets in less than a minute. Created to fight in wars and kill — people.
We need to better address mental health resources — yes and also social services for kids falling through the cracks — this kid was orphaned four months ago. He went through all that in the holidays and ended up here — in the month all depressives know — February. The friends who took him in allowed his weapon be in a special locker in his room. An assault weapon. The kid can’t buy a beer legally but he can own a gun and murder 17 people.
I am part of an international conference of attendees who are among the most original thinkers in the world. They come from Africa and the Middle East and the Far East and South Korea and China and all of Europe. And in the past few years I have invited them to come visit me in my most magical town in the greatest country in the world. And to a person, they have said no. And the reason is in a kind of mash-up answer that sounds like this… “You just shoot people there — randomly — anywhere. Movie theaters, malls, churches, schools and concerts. There is no place safe in your country.”
And I protest — of course — and try and say that is just the sensational reporting but the truth — in my heart — is I know they are right. Random acts of violence take place in mostly spaces that should be safe — even sacred.
The women’s movement has become a force to send bullies in the workplace packing. All the Me Too stories about sexual assault and abuses that have been an abuse of power have been successful in bringing overdue attention to a problem that has been too long ignored.
Times Up! is part of that same movement but I would suggest we can claim it — both female AND male and use it for the need to change the influence of the gun lobby in politics and remove assault weapons from civilians. Let’s just start there. Let’s finally be mad as hell and agree not to take it any more. MAD AS HELL. EVERY ONE OF US. Every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, sister and brother. We need to tell every politician they can take those thoughts and prayers and light a candle in the wind with them.
Here’s my thought — the national gun obsession needs to be reset right now. Here’s my prayer — that not another child at school, concert-goer, or grandmother in a church is slaughtered.
We want change and we want it NOW. Times Up! — this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.