Some crackpot who couldn’t get a date stabs and shoots his way across the Southern California college town of Isla Vista, killing six people and wounding 13 before apparently turning his gun on himself. This happened on a Friday night. And what shall I say about that?
I mean, I know how this goes. We all do. Weren’t you sort of expecting it when the father of one of the Isla Vista victims blamed his son’s death on the NRA? Would you really be stunned if the NRA countered that none of this would have happened had there been more guns in Isla Vista? And now, this is the part where I am supposed to offer context, to mourn these losses and use them in an argument for sensible gun laws.
We’ve seen it all before, in Newtown, in Tucson, at Virginia Tech, at the Navy Yard in Washington, at that movie theater in Aurora, Colo. We’ve seen it so much there is by now a rote sense to it, a sense of going through motions and checking off boxes, of flinging words against indifferent walls with no real expectation the words will change anything — or even be heard.
So I am running out of words. Or maybe just faith in words.
Which ones shall I use? “Sickening”? “Obscene”? “Grotesque”? “Tragic”? You’ve read them all a hundred times. Do they still have power to punch your gut? And what argument shall I use those words to make? Shall I observe that a gun is a weapon of mass destruction and mentally impaired people should not have access to them? Shall I point out that as a statistical matter, a gun in the home is far more likely to hurt someone you love than to scare off a burglar? Shall I demand we hold our leaders accountable for failing to pass some kind of sensible laws to rein this madness in?
And if I do, do you suppose it will make any difference?
It is a measure of a uniquely American insanity that truths so obvious and inarguable are regarded as controversial and seditious by many people in this country. Indeed, Georgia recently enacted a law allowing guns in churches, school zones, bars, government buildings and even parts of airports. You think those words and that argument will find any purchase there? Don’t hold your breath.
This is why I am running out of words, or faith in words. Too much blood, pain and death. And the dictionary is finite.
I’ll tell you something, though. I grew up in South Los Angeles and lived there at the height of the drug wars of the 1980s. Seemed there was a mass shooting every weekend. They became so routine it seemed like the local paper pretty much stopped paying attention. You’d see a write-up on the back page of the metro section — six dead, three wounded — and that would be it. They reported it like the stats of some out-of-town ball team. Our deaths were routine.
But when carnage becomes routine, we lose more than lives. We lose some essential element of our very humanity. Seven people died in Isla Vista. Then, on Sunday night, a 14-year-old Miami boy argued with his 16-year-old brother over clothing, shot him to death, then killed himself. That same weekend in Detroit, a mentally ill teenager was arrested in the shooting death of his mother’s fiance. And in Chicago, eight people were shot, one killed, in less than eight hours beginning Monday afternoon.
So I guess I cannot afford to run out of words — or faith. None of us can. Running out of words is an act of surrender, an obeisance to the obscene. Running out of words is running out of outrage. Both those who died and those of us left behind deserve better than that. Our humanity deserves better than that. Here, then, is one final word flung against that high and indifferent wall:
Enough, you hear me?
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald.