The intention of this post has shifted focus dramatically since I was asked to write an op-ed piece. My intention has continually shifted since I decided to write on the mass shooting in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017. When I first thought about moving beyond a visceral reaction to the deadliest mass shooting in American history, I thought about rhetoric. I don’t think it’s coincidental that this emotional to theoretical shift could have happened in less than 48 hours. The conversations I had been involved in concerning the shooting made similar moves. From shock or anger that this happened, was able to happen. To concern for people’s former and current students. To dejection that this keeps happening. To numbness that it’s so routine to our news day we ask “Can we really sustain any kind of intense emotional reaction anymore?” To calls for more gun control.
This American tragedy is stitched into the fabric of our lives and the rhetorical calls for gun control or for increased gun distribution become almost immediate response alongside the standard social media condolences.
When I first conceptualized the layout and visual themes of this post, I envisioned analyses of Twitter screen grabs and tumblr posts, all aiming to prove why arguments for gun control and political and social reform were ultimately “better” (meaning superior, more articulate, more victim focused, more compassionate, possessing more intellectual depth and engagement with social concerns and experiences).
But this morning (it’s currently Thursday, October 5th) as I was scripting this rhetorical argument out in my head, it occurred to me this wasn’t enough. Gun violence is everywhere in our society and mass shootings are incredibly common. And a white dude did this one. And a white dude usually does them (see this, this, this, this, and this for the data cited). This persistent issue of large-scale terror is racialized, and yet the language surrounding white male shooters is centered around anxieties of mental illness and its protective coating of legal defense. Meanwhile, black and Hispanic boys and men are “criminals” and “thugs,” undocumented immigrants are threatening the peace and security of American lives, and if you’re brown and you’re name is hard to pronounce, you’re a terrorist.
When I envisioned this post I saw myself critiquing news outlets and the nouns they used to describe suspects and perpetrators at varying levels of offense, emphasizing the way language use falls on racial lines. I planned on attacking how conservative outlets ignored and perpetuated this racial fear. Perhaps even holding up left and liberal, but still problematic, outlets for their acknowledgment of this linguistic injustice (you can see this in the hyperlinks I’ve embedded). I compiled quotes about the shooter, about how “the man who carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history has largely remained an enigma” (The Washington Post), and how this language of mystery still shrouds the shooter behind anxieties of legally defensible mental illness even though he’s dead and needs no defense. Even in death his access is there. I intended to discuss how in the same article this shooter got to be “just like anybody else” to the man who sold him guns. I started searching for statistics on shootings to support a possibly different argument comparing statistics between mass shootings and racialized police shootings because of gun violence writ large.
And I found the Gun Violence Archive.
To date this year in the United States:
47,187 Total Incidents [of Gun Violence]
275 Mass Shootings
238 Officer Involved Incident: Officer Shot or killed
1,567 Officer Involved Incident: Subject-Suspect Shot or Killed
1,888 Home Invasion
1,534 Defensive Use
1,528 Unintentional Shooting
11,800 Number of Deaths
23,974 Number of Injuries
And I don’t know what the goal of this post is anymore. As of today, October 5th 2017, there have been 47,187 incidents of gun violence this year. You have to navigate through the list of incidents to the last available page, the 18th page, to find the record of the Las Vegas shooting. The deadliest mass shooting in American history. Will I be able to find it tomorrow?
I’m sitting here and I’m writing and I’m trying to think of how to end this, because I desperately feel like I need this to end, and the typical, summative, crystalizing conclusion is lost to me. Even to come back to the beginning, the routine of the American mass shooting, even to try and articulate that normalcy through the statistics I’ve reproduced here seems hollow and naive. I don’t know what to say, what questions to ask, because I don’t know how to process the sheer volume.