I wrote this column following the Parkland shooting after thinking about ways to move beyond our inaction to answering, truly solving, the questions surrounding mass killings in schools. I promised myself to submit it to the Gazette after the next shooting. It’s only been three months.
Could it be that we are unable to take major steps to control gun violence because we are stuck in our own kindness?
I’m having a daytime version of a recurring dream, in some cases, presented as a waking nightmare. I, like many of you, have a visceral response to my own imagination when I attempt to imagine the terror and ravished bodies of 5 and 6-year-old and 16, 17, and 18-year-old children.
Most of us close our eyes and protect our children from images so terrible as to leave a lasting effect. Gratefully, persons who want to see those images are rare, and more likely characters in a horror movie. Regretfully, some do exist and are drawn to such images on the dark web.
Our public media are required to warn us of any pending images or language that can cause us the slightest discomfort. We are familiar with “warning, this contains mature content” or “warning, the images you are about to see may be difficult to view” or something like that.
What’s interesting is that the images or language are often harmless in that adults ought to be able to handle them. Recently, one of my columns carried the warning “The following column includes sensitive subject matter.” I didn’t mind because I believe that people should be offered the choice about whether to be exposed to certain images.
We are often warned before scenes from war are shown. Who really, besides those dark web travelers, can see a parent carrying a dead child or anyone dying a painful death following exposure to chemical weapons and feel anything but tremendous sorrow, anguish and outrage?
What concerns me is that we readily participate in this kind protection from truth and allow ourselves this deception of reality.
How much does our avoidance of gun-caused carnage lead us into a false understanding that it really isn’t as bad as we think? Do such shields allow us to live in denial of harsh realities? Does our own avoidance and denial cause us to believe that there is no need to change the culture, the environment and ourselves?
Do such shields and denial allow us to be manipulated by interests that wish to step between us and any action that might prevent gun violence?
Disturbing images disturb
At this moment many of you should be protesting this lead-in to the conclusion to always offer choice to view or not view disturbing images but to always show the images. We should not hide the harsh realities, particularly of the violent massacre of children by a weapon that shreds the bodies and lives of many in the briefest of time.
I make your argument for you. Who wishes the loved ones of victims to see and repeatedly experience the final terrible moments of a person so precious in their lives.
I don’t, but it’s the only reluctance I have which is lessened every time I see the amazing strength of parents who lost a child and children who saw other children blown apart or, later as they escaped, stepped over the torn-up bodies of their friends. Those strong voices have put themselves on the front lines of a debate to control gun violence — not gun control, gun violence control.
They will be there even though the political forces of the NRA, self-named gun rights advocates, the controlling party in Congress and the ever-elastic President of the USA advance again now that the victims’ bodies have been buried.
Our “I’ll take the heat” President proposes the NRA safe policies of tightening the holes in background checks, funding more mental health services and arming teachers.
Do we forget that shortly after his inauguration, this President with the support of his party signed the order rescinding a President Obama regulation that required the Social Security Administration to submit names of those receiving SSA benefits due to mental health disability for use in background checks?
Do we forget it is this President and his party that want to eliminate Obamacare that includes a provision for mental health? Do we forget that teachers should be the best teachers and not the best marksmen when we minimize their influential role by offering more money to carry a gun and not to create responsible and educated adults?
It’s all so easy … except that it isn’t.
Limited horror bandwidth
Seems like we can only handle horror for so long and must retreat to the normalcy of our lives or the legislative process which can only make “incremental” progress. Translated to mean pretend or no progress.
It makes more sense to me to keep showing the images and having the children tell their story often than to wait for another shooting and more slaughter. There is a possibility that repeated exposure to graphic images should we dare look will bring out our responsible adults.
Experts in trauma counseling tell us that the best antidote to PTSD, feelings of vulnerability and anxiety following experiencing or witnessing trauma such as mass killings is talking, telling the story, sharing. Hearing “we will learn from your tragedy” and “we will keep you safe from now on” is medicine for living through terror.
We must see what they saw so we will act to control gun violence in any way we can.
We can do that. We can face the harsh realities, commit not to forget, and band together as responsible adults and citizens to support public safety, especially our children’s.
Bertha Cooper spent her career years as a health care organization and program administrator and consultant and is a featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette. Cooper has lived in Sequim with her husband for nearly 20 years.