Collier’s Weekly: As Uvalde Calls Up Memories of Tree of Life, Inaction Is Unthinkable
Division over the best path forward on gun safety cannot continue to prevent any and all attempts to stop future tragedies
When the Tree of Life Synagogue was attacked, I was only a few blocks away.
I had an early meeting on Oct. 27, 2018, at the since-shuttered Eat’n Park on Murray Avenue. A group of us were alerted by a phone call; a friend phoned to make sure we were safe, telling us little other than the bare fact that a mass shooting was underway.
No further detail was necessary. I’m old enough to remember a time when a sudden spree of gun violence would have to be explained, the details and circumstances clarified; now, we have been taught what the words “active shooter” mean by frequency and repetition.
The restaurant was placed on something of a soft lockdown; we were told that we couldn’t leave and no one would be permitted to enter. Other than that, little changed a mere mile from Tree of Life. Plates were cleared. Coffee was refilled.
As we began to grapple with the situation, I kept looking out the window. First the police cars flew by — a trickle, then a stream. Fire trucks and ambulances followed, eventually giving way to imposing military vehicles. We walked over to look at the television near the counter; helicopter shots on CNN pictured this neighborhood, a look at ourselves from above.
As I tried to catalog my emotions, I found anger, dismay, confusion and sorrow.
Surprise, however, was not present.
My lack of surprise was not a shocked response to an unthinkable occurrence. The attack was unconscionable, but not unthinkable. Somewhere, this happens every few weeks — actually every few days, now. The scope of the devastation shifts, but the pain is always total.
Now, in a small town in Texas — and, only days before, in a supermarket in Buffalo — it has happened again. As it has in countless other places in the few years since Tree of Life, and as it will continue to occur unless Uvalde is finally the time when something, anything, is finally done to proactively address this epidemic of gun violence.
The speculation in print and on television concerns whether this particular massacre is finally shocking enough that some bare consensus may be reached; that some steps, however slight, might actually be taken. What a great and lasting shame it is that those in the halls of power looked at Tree of Life, Buffalo and dozens of others and deemed them not quite shocking enough. Any effort made now will be staggeringly late and inevitably incomplete.
But any effort would be welcome in an era where no effort has become the norm.
Hijacked and terrorized by the minority of the U.S. population that continues to fetishize and worship their firearms above all other concerns — a group inflamed by cable-news talking heads groveling for ratings and social-media trolls desperate for attention — Washington has steadfastly failed to agree on even basic and tentative gun-safety measures. If we were as reluctant to regulate drugs as we are unwilling to regulate guns, heroin would be sold at the corner store. If we were as unwilling to regulate cars as we are terrified to regulate guns, “Mad Max”-style deathmobiles would be street legal.
So, knowing too well that calls for sweeping change will be silenced by politicians willingly held hostage by the National Rifle Association, we are reduced to calling, simply, for anything. Any safety measures at all. Any response.
Any meager reaction to another list of dead children.
Such basic, preliminary steps should be easy to achieve, considering that gun-safety legislation is broadly popular. 87% of Americans favor preventing people with a history of mental illness from buying guns. 81% support background checks on all gun transactions, including private sales. 63% support an outright ban on assault weapons.
The idea that proposals such as these are unpopular is false; the assertion that legislation to enforce these popular measures does not reflect the will of the voters is incorrect. While there is inevitable division on the scope and extent of gun-safety measures, nearly all Americans want them.
The small, desperate minority of gun fetishists who oppose even the most simple safety measures are keen to point out that such steps would not end the mass-shooting epidemic. Unfortunately, that’s true; the roots of anger, violence and hatred run far too deep to be torn up by half-measures.
But these steps would be something. Which, I assure you, is better than nothing. And I refuse to believe that this country is incapable of taking broadly popular, utterly rational steps that might even slightly reduce the staggeringly high rates of gun deaths in America.
I’ll accept steps that are incomplete, insufficient or evolving — I just want us to do something.
I’m not interested in more of nothing. I’m not interested in throwing up my hands again and again.
And I’m not interested in reacting again with dismay, but not surprise, the next time I get a call that the bullets are flying nearby.