America, the Pendulum

During my sophomore year of high school, in a classroom just 13 minutes from the site of the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, my speech and debate coach showed my class a video of a “duo interpretation.” A sharp departure from the humorous clips my coach typically opted for, the piece was a ten-minute-long reimagining of the dramatic play Hello Herman, in which a teenaged mass shooter is interviewed by a journalist. “Do you think people are going to care about you in two months?” the frustrated, emotional journalist asks Herman, the shooter, in the piece. “You’re going to be a footnote, listed next to a bunch of other footnotes.” Herman replies: “Why do you think these keep happening?” Despite the differences between the stories of Stephen Paddock and that of the fictional Herman, this sentiment—about our inaction and forgetfulness—is just as valid and as cutting as it was five years ago.

I doubt that this issue, like any of its complexity and severity, has a magic bullet solution, so let’s stop searching for one.

I’m only 20 years old, but I remember how it felt tracking coverage of Orlando and Sandy Hook, following the shooting at the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, and watching the disturbing, sexist manifestos that Elliot Rodger published on YouTube before he shot up his college campus. But Sunday’s attack was jarring for me in a way these others weren’t—not just because of its magnitude and Paddock’s seeming normalcy, but because it happened at home, a place I had always considered “safe” for reasons I now know are arbitrary. When I called my parents the following day, they instructed me to “hide and not run” if I was ever in an active shooter situation—teaching me how to avoid death, because I guess it’s no longer guaranteed that people won’t try to kill you. In the days since the shooting, I’ve been distracted by a persistent undercurrent of unease, one that I can mask by busying myself with everyday minutia, but that I can never quite bury. Blame it on my youth or my naivety, but the fact that someone from my community is capable of such brutal, methodical mass murder has been immensely challenging to my optimistic worldview and belief in our capacity for progress.

I’m not sure if I believe that progress—on issues like violence, hatred, and mistrust—is just around the corner. But I also don’t know if that matters.

Though there is much to be grieved, I resent the idea that this isn’t political, that this isn’t the time to talk about solutions to a clearly growing problem. But I’m not interested in having a debate about which policy intervention—bans of high capacity magazines or increased background checks or even better mental health care—is most effective, because such deliberation has already frozen us in place. I doubt that this issue, like any of its complexity and severity, has a magic bullet solution, so let’s stop searching for one: especially as federal research on gun violence has been banned since before Columbine, it’s ridiculous to presume that we have all the answers anyway. Even if our first pass is only a partial fix, or even if it doesn’t work at all, we’ll still be one step closer to a world that doesn’t demand our grief. Even further, intervention doesn’t just have to be macropolitical, it should be micropolitical as well: anecdotal claims of Paddock’s verbal abuse towards his girlfriend further emphasize the strong connection between mass shootings and interpersonal violence. In our everyday actions and conversations, we can address such cultural sources of violence; this is only one of many potential ways that we can work to prevent tragedies like Sunday’s on the individual level.

Progress may not come soon, but I believe that it is inevitable—and in our resiliency, compassion, and dedication to the cause; we have an opportunity to accelerate its arrival.

In light of the shooting and our nation’s slow slip from normalcy in the past year, I’m not sure if I believe that progress—on issues like violence, hatred, and mistrust—is just around the corner. But I also don’t know if that matters. In the early Monday morning hours, members of my home community lined up around the block to give blood, leading United Blood Services to reach capacity by that very afternoon. I’ve witnessed my friends, both Vegas natives and non-natives, rally around each other with warm offers of support and generous donations to the victims’ funds. Ruth Bader Ginsberg recently named the pendulum as the true symbol of the United States, saying that “when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will go back.” Progress may not come soon, but I believe that it is inevitable—and in our resiliency, compassion, and dedication to the cause; we have an opportunity to accelerate its arrival.

Sabrina Wang ‘19 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at s.d.wang@wustl.edu.

Sabrina Wang

Sabrina Wang '19 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at s.d.wang@wustl.edu.

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