When I woke up today, my first coherent thought was, “It’s the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting.”
Then I realized why a trivial 10-year concert anniversary, of all things, broke through my month-long blogger’s block yesterday. The concept of a 10th anniversary had been on my mind since I attended the National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence in D.C. last Wednesday. The annual vigil is organized by a coalition of anti-gun-violence organizations, including the Newtown Action Alliance, a grassroots group founded by Newtown, Conn., residents after the shooting at the town’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six educators were murdered. The vigil is always on or near December 14, the date of that tragedy.
I attended the D.C. vigil as a part of Gays Against Guns (you don’t have to be gay to join!), a direct action group that puts pressure on those who support and enable the gun industry. I was one of GAG’s “Human Beings” — people dressed in white, including veils, each silently holding space for a particular individual whose life was lost to gun violence. GAG was founded after the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse, an LGBTQ+ club in Orlando, Fla., and the Human Beings were the idea of founding member James “Tigger” Ferguson, who wanted to make the lives lost tangible to the public in a way a list of names in a news report can’t. I can testify that it’s quite effective, whether Human Beings are walking through Times Square (representing the Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket shooting victims); holding space in front of the landmark Stonewall Inn (representing the Club Q shooting victims); or standing in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill as we did last Wednesday (representing dozens of people killed in homophobic/transphobic attacks).
When we’re in public, people want to know what we’re about. The Human Beings don’t speak, but GAG members and other activists explain why we are there, what we want (a ban on assault rifles, for instance), and invite observers to walk among the Human Beings and read about the people whose lives were lost, all unnecessarily.
Gun violence has only gotten worse since Sandy Hook. In 2020, for the first time, guns surpassed auto accidents, drug overdoses, and cancer as the leading cause of death for children, aged 1 to 19 years old. On a personal level, this May’s elementary school shooting put me over the edge. I’m talking about the one at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, during which the well-funded and amply-trained local police stood around for more than an hour as children and teachers were shot. Oddly, the last straw for me was Fled Cruz (I refuse to use any other name for that joke of a Texas senator) said the answer to school shootings like Uvalde wasn’t fewer guns, but one-door school buildings.
I literally felt like I couldn’t live a country where a Zodiac-Killer-looking ignoramus like Fled could say something that ignorant. I started planning an escape. MrB is retired and I can work from anywhere, so in September, we packed up Edward the dog and our two cats and went to Montreal. We loved it! I even found TWO pole-dancing studios in walking distance and started to convince myself I could learn to love the cold. But, morally, I couldn’t yet abandon the fight here, so we returned to New York in time for me to get out the vote for the November 8 midterms by knocking on voters’ doors in Pennsylvania.
Before we took our break from gun culture, lots of folks, including my Canadian friends, pointed out some things I’m hyper-aware of: that violent fascism is on the uptick globally, and Canada has its own terrible history and brutal current-day racism. I don’t think for a second there’s anywhere immune from the evils perpetrated by humanity. But the U.S. is special in a terrible way because no other wealthy country has permitted an epidemic of guns like we have …
… and no other wealthy country has close to the number of gun homicides that the U.S. does.
Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a surge in firearm suicides: In 2021, the 26,320 firearm-related suicides actually outnumbered the 20,966 homicides caused by guns. (For 2022, the count will sadly include 40-year-old Stephen “tWitch” Boss, the popular dancer and “Ellen” show DJ, whose death by a self-inflicted gunshot was announced today.)
There was a tiny bit of good news this year. Both Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi spoke at the vigil in D.C. last week …
… and reminded us that in June, President Biden signed into law the first major gun safety legislation passed by Congress in 28 years. Among other things, a law restricting gun ownership by domestic abusers now covers people who are dating, not just married or formerly married. Unfortunately, the legislation didn’t reinstate the 1994 law banning assault-style weapons, so the AR-15s favored by domestic terrorists out to cause maximum carnage remain unrestricted.
I do believe that a little progress is better than a stalemate, but as always, I’m preparing for all possibilities. On the one hand, MrB and I are continuing our Québécois lessons by Zoom. On the other hand, I finally acquired a white winter jacket for my Human Being duties. Sometimes we stay outside for an hour, standing stock still. It pains me to think that I’ll wear the jacket long before I have an opportunity to order un café noir. That’s America for you.