[Author’s note: it’s been a long time since I’ve written here, so what follows is reactive and immediate. It may also be triggering.]
When I was in high school, I read The Long Walk, a novella by Stephen King, published under his pen name Richard Bachman. It’s a brilliant piece. The gist of the plot is that in a dystopian United States, young men enter a lottery for the chance to be one of 100 boys chosen compete in a contest in which they try to outwalk 99 other boys to win their greatest desire. The reality of the fact that they’re basically committing suicide doesn’t hit until the first few deaths. You see, anyone who drops below 4 mph a certain number of times is killed on the spot. As the walk progresses, the boys awaken to the reality of their deathwish and the social circumstances that got them there. In the end, even the winner is an empty shell, wiped clean of all anger, desire, identity.
In that same collection is a novella called Rage. It’s a very difficult read, given where we are a society. You see, it’s about a school shooting. In it, King explores the social factors that fail teenagers. In the end, it wasn’t the violence that King wanted to examine – it was the pressures that make violence a reality. In the years since the novella’s publication, numerous school shootings have taken place. King asked that the story be pulled from publication in 1999, wrote about why in 2013, and has donated proceeds from that writing to gun control efforts.
Each of these stories depicts a society in which self-destruction is the only path for the protagonists. These stories paint a world in which the downtrodden fight for scraps and compete to the death for a mere chance to live a life that promises more than fighting for the next meal. (For a real in-your-face metaphor, read The Running Man novella – it’s far darker than the movie.) These works are meant to horrify, but they are also meant to shock you into thinking.
Stephen King’s writings came to mind when I heard of yet another school shooting, coming so close after two other shocking domestic terrorist attacks in Buffalo and California. I hesitate even calling them “shocking,” because it is so common anymore. We are drowning in violence. We are buried in helplessness. We are suffocated by inaction.
King’s writings came to mind because we are living in a society that incubates violence. To be clear, I do not exonerate the killers. They are evil. They are horrible. They have destroyed so much. They are monsters.
But they are our monsters.
We celebrate notoriety and grant celebrity to the worst of us. We cry ”thoughts and prayers” while we profit from ensuring the next attack will happen. The news cycle never ends, politicians pad their pockets, and legislative progress halts in the name of grandstanding.
I’m fucking angry about it.
I don’t have patience for it anymore.
And before you dismiss my anger, listen.
I am a gun owner. I have a shotgun and a .22 pistol. I enjoy trap shooting and target shooting. And I would gladly relinquish how I own and use those guns if it meant no one else would feel like violence is the only answer. I am a registered independent, and I would gladly vote for legislation that addresses inequality in society and works to ease the burdens of those who feel like their only chance to leave a legacy is to destroy lives.
In the immortal words of Ted Lasso, we are broken. We have built a system that limits hope. We have exchanged our social contract for control. We have been sold the lie that security means success. We keep voting for people who are owned by lobbyists. We focus on banning books when we are failing our fellow human beings. We are systematically closing off choices for all but a few and as a result, we have people who think that there is only one path.
I don’t know the full answer. We need gun reform. We need social programs. We need pay equity. We need to eliminate white supremacists. We need campaign reform. We need to remember we need each other.
The dead deserve better. Their families deserve better.
If you are also angry, that’s good. Let’s channel that anger into action. Let’s stop pretending there’s nothing we can do. If you believe in prayer, then pray. And when you’re done, roll up your sleeves.
We’ve got work to do.
If you’re struggling with feeling helpless, here are some resources for you to take action:
- Moms Demand Action: Moms Demand Action is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence.
- Sandy Hook Promise: Sandy Hook Promise envisions a future where children are free from shootings and acts of violence in their schools, homes, and communities.
- Buffalo 5-14 Survivor Fund: In partnership with Tops, the National Compassion Fund has established the Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund to provide direct financial assistance to the survivors of the deceased and those directly affected by this tragedy.
- Mental Health Support: A starting place to find help.
- Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: Dedicated to raising transparency about candidate funding and endorsement of gun control.
- Contact Your Senator: Information on writing or calling your senator demanding action.
- Contact Your Representative: Information on writing or calling your representative demanding action.
- VolunteerMatch: If you want to make a difference locally, this site can help you get started.