To bring in some extra money for the holidays, I've taken a temporary position in cosmetics at a large, sparkly department store in downtown Chicago, where I now live. Even though it requires close physical contact with strangers and their faces, the job is kind of fun. I'd never drawn eyebrows on anyone before.
It's weird, though, especially for someone who's used to being chained to a computer for a living, being offline all day and largely disconnected from the outside world. I spend periods of eight hours in a vacuum. A vacuum with a soundtrack that includes — no shit — five different versions of "Walking in a Winter Wonderland." Most days I can't tell you what's going on in Palestine and I don't know the latest cat videos, but I can goddamn help you find the perfect foundation for your oily skin.
I didn't find out about the elementary school shooting in Connecticut until around 4 o'clock last Friday afternoon.
I was taking a (very) late lunch break, and checked the news on my phone for the first time since my train ride at 9 a.m. Twenty-some-odd people confirmed dead, a majority of them young school children, something about the gunman's mother being an employee of the school where the shooting took place, an assault rifle.
I felt nauseated. I looked around the store's bustling food court, at the fellow store employees and shoppers happily carrying on with their holiday spending sprees, and I felt even more nauseated.
Had these people also been absorbed into the information vacuum, cut off from everything besides piped-in Christmas music? Should I stand on a table and announce to everyone that a national tragedy had taken place? That none of us are safe, even where we're supposed to be safest?
I'm sure that wasn't necessary. I'm sure people were carrying on with their days like nothing had happened because, really, what had happened?
Another mass shooting. A mass shooting like Columbine, or like the 2006 massacre in an Amish schoolhouse, or like Virginia Tech, or like this summer's shooting at an Aurora movie theater. Or the more than 60 mass shootings that have taken place in the United States since 1989.
I was upset. And I dealt with it the worst way possible: I spoke out in favor of gun control on my Facebook page. Here's what I said:
"Right now, another severely mentally ill person is buying a gun, legally and without question. Sick people (I don't believe in innate "evil") will always kill, but guns sure make it a lot easier for them to kill a lot of people at once, and without the physical proximity required to do it in other ways. Could this guy have strangled or stabbed 20 school children? Maybe. We can't control people's hands, but we can control the weapons they wield."
Mostly, I regret posting this because reacting to situations like these on social media is boring, tacky, masturbatory, and enormously pointless. Otherwise, I stand by what I wrote.
Certain friends were quick to point out the following: There was a mass stabbing in China a day later (no one died in that attack, so the parallel is lost on me), the guns didn't belong to him (OK, so change my statement to read, "Right now, the parent of another severely mentally ill person is buying a gun ..."), and that I'm basically an enemy of the U.S. Constitution and the great men who drafted it.
What I've gathered based on the reactions of several "friends" — particularly those who lean libertarian — is that when you mention gun "control," what you're actually talking about is gun "prohibition." Frankly, it had never occurred to me that the wholesale elimination of legal firearms was even a possibility, and I'm not certain it's a possibility I'd favor.
But maybe their confusion is understandable. When we say gun control, what do we mean? Do we mean banning certain kinds of weapons? Making licenses more difficult to obtain by requiring mental health evaluations? Limiting the number of guns people can own?
I'm not a policy expert and I don't pretend to know what a viable solution might look like. In his address to the residents of Newtown, Conn., President Obama said we need to "take meaningful action to prevent tragedies like this," and no one seems quite sure what that means. President Obama might not even know.
Regardless of the specifics, these are conversations that need to be taking place, and not just on people's stupid Facebook pages. Conversations about firearms policies that make more sense and conversations about increased access to health services for the mentally ill.
Yeah, it'll probably be hard to reform our gun laws, but we can't do nothing just because it's easier than doing something. Nor can we keep repeating the defeatist refrain, "But the criminals will always have access to guns."
Not after what happened last week. Not after 20 kids and several adults were killed in a matter of minutes because killing is fast, easy, and impersonal when you're disturbed and have access to an assault rifle.
I'm about to head to the department store for another shift of makeup consultations, big peppermint-scented smiles, and Annie Lennox crooning about sleigh bells ringing and snow glistening.
No one will mention what happened in Connecticut less than a week ago, but plenty of people will ask to be directed to the perfume or sock departments. The victims of last week's massacre will remain in my thoughts, as I'm sure they're quietly in the thoughts of others, even if they appear to be carrying on with their regularly scheduled Christmas programming. None of it will feel suitable or reverent until action is taken, however.
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