The Back Road: Our eternal fight against epidemic gun violence

The Back Road: Our eternal fight against epidemic gun violence

My first published column for this newspaper appeared after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, 2018, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others.

Months later I attended the student-organized March for Our Lives rally in Manhattan on March 28, 2018. I’ve written at least 15 columns on mass shootings in America; a constant reminder that little has changed.

No matter how heinous and horrific the act, how young the victims or how unfathomable the family heartache, America’s appetite for carnage persists.

Those who were elected to protect their constituents instead hide or glower, living under the lucrative thumbs of their morally depraved financial benefactors.

As we fast forward to Oct. 25, 2023, a gunman killed 18 people and injured 13 others at a Lewiston, Maine bowling alley during a youth league tournament and moments later at a nearby restaurant. No definitive motivation has been disclosed.

The shooting came as a surprise. Or did it? Sometimes I feel as if we have reached the “Ho Hum” stage of mass murder where unimaginable slaughter becomes routine, anticipated, expected?

However, as a nation, we must move on from accepting casual mass death.

Senseless killing, shock, psychic numbing, fear, manhunt, capture, grief, demoralization, rebuild, new reality … Next.

After each shooting, painful memories of previous ones are evoked – schools, movie theaters, concert halls, business places, and more have become American killing fields. With each new combat zone emerges yet another memorial. Lewiston, Maine being the latest.

The universal query that has become a post-carnage cliché is, “after thoughts and prayers, what’s next?” Disingenuous politicians and government officials elevate their faux outrage and give impassioned, if empty, speeches. The greedy and apathetic wring their hands and do nothing, aiming only to mollify their corporate cash cows. Motivated youth and moms and other stakeholders organize, educate, lobby, and protest. They lead the way!

In 2018, Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Parkland H.S. at the time, had the most searing indictment: “The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call B.S.”

“Companies, trying to make caricatures of the teenagers nowadays, saying that all we are self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission when our message doesn’t reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call B.S.” warned Gonzales. “Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the N.R.A., telling us nothing could ever be done to prevent this: we call B.S.”

“They say that tougher gun laws do not prevent gun violence: we call B.S.” she emphasized.

Many gun rights advocates, refusing to allow for the fact that our forefathers were talking about the right to bear arms such as muskets and had no conception of guns that could shoot down dozens in an instant, stand in the position that it’s not about guns but rather mental illness.

As a mental health professional for 50 years, I have seen the many faces of mental illness and addictions. It is incredibly rare for those who are labeled as mentally ill to be violent. In fact, they are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.

Nevertheless, we do need to discuss mental illness at times like these. That discussion, however, needs to be about how health insurance companies and the elected officials who count on their donations are failing miserably at having adequate numbers of providers who accept insurance for easily accessible and affordable mental health care.

Many of the Lewiston survivors will no doubt turn their heartbreak and rage into activism by demanding a fresh look into America’s gun laws, as Emily Witt wrote in the New Yorker (Feb. 17, 2018).

In her encounters with some of the surviving students she reported that “Their grief was raw, their rage palpable.”

From Columbine to Sandy Hook to Uvalde to Parkland to Lewiston and so many slaughters in between. Yet, too many have faded from consciousness.

As journalist Gary Smith, who wrote about a lesser-known 2012 shooting at Chardon High School in Ohio, stated: “The clock is already ticking in the land of amnesia.”

How long before Lewiston, too, is gone? If it is up to the activists in Lewiston and across the nation, never. The fight against epidemic gun violence in the U.S. must endure.

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