Acts of Domestic Terror

I wrote this piece in August, just after the mass-shooting in NYC. I just never found a right time to post it. In light of yet another spate of senseless violence, I simply do not know what else to say. Each day in the US, 34 people die as a result of gun violence. Is it any less heinous when these deaths happen one at a time rather than in a “news-worthy” mass shooting?

Wake up. Force my contracted legs to straighten and stretch for 30 minutes, so perhaps I can stave off the muscle contractions that are strong enough to break yet another bone that I won’t be able to feel. Wiggle across the bed and transfer to my shower chair. Roll over the toilet, then across the room into the shower. Wheel back to the bed, park, and transfer back onto it to dry myself off.  Wiggle and log-roll into my clothes and put on my shoes. Then transfer into my wheelchair to get started on my day.

I’ve been awake now for 90 minutes or so. Coffee, make-up and bed-making have yet to occur. All my mornings begin this way, with the work of preparing the paralyzed lower two-thirds of my body for the normal process of daily living. Before my injury, this was maybe a 15-minute process, now it takes between one and three hours a day, depending on my health.

The television is always on for background noise, tuned to a news station to help me pass the time during what has become a mind-numbing routine.  But this morning, in the regular flow of stock prices, weather reports and campaign updates, comes news of yet another mass shooting. This is what, the fourth, the fifth since the Aurora shootings in late July? I’ve lost track. Mass shootings have become so common that it seems they hardly even change the story rotation unless the details are particularly salacious.

Apparently, though, I don’t need to worry:  The talking head assures me that today’s shootings are not believed to be an act of terrorism.

I should feel better, I suppose, knowing that these people were not killed as part of an international political statement. But I doubt that brings much comfort to their grieving families. And I ponder this: Are we any less terrorized by these random people who have guns and personal, sometimes deranged, agendas?

I know terror. I felt it when random bullets pierced the vehicle in which I was riding nearly eight years ago. I’m still haunted by the image of the car window slowly shattering, David’s hand reaching out, the smell of our blood and the final, effervescent tingle of sensation from my toes up:  my nervous system’s frantic, unanswered SOS to my brain as my spinal cord disconnected.

My family and my friends know terror. They felt it when they learned I had been shot in the back, my fiancé shot in the head, and our survival uncertain.

I can only imagine the terror in Tucson that Saturday morning last year, when blood and cries and random bullets were seemingly everywhere. Or the terror in the Aurora movie theater at midnight, where 12 died and dozens were hurt; or in the Wisconsin temple two weeks later, where six died, or the 10 people shot near the Empire State building in New York City just 5 days later, or the 19 hurt in an overnight rash of shootings in Chicago hours before that. Imagine all the dreaded phone calls going out to the families of the victims, confirming their worst fears. That is indeed terror.

Even if none of the incidents can properly be termed “an act of terrorism.”

We have become so inured to gun violence that we now require higher body counts, younger victims or assailants who shock us in some new way for an incident to break into our consciousness.  It is as though being able to write these events off as random or “crazy” makes us feel insulated, safer.

Or does it?

People now arm themselves routinely for trips to the grocery store and outings in their own communities because they believe they could be the next victim of gun violence. Think about that: we consider our own communities so dangerous that we need to be constantly armed. These mass shootings may not be “acts of terrorism,” but aren’t we being held hostage just the same? They may be random, but are they really unpredictable in a country where isolated or mentally ill individuals constantly slip through our social safety nets but have easy access to firearms?

I am the victim of gun violence. I am also a gun owner. I don’t want to ban guns. I want to have a conversation about where the edges are.

How many bullets is it reasonable to carry around? Is it a clip of 9? A magazine of 100? Are there individuals who should not be allowed to possess firearms in our society? How do we identify them? Should there be minimum training requirements for those seeking the right to carry a concealed weapon? Should there be some national uniformity in our gun laws? Are there weapons that should be restricted from civilian ownership?  Does an AK-47 legally strapped to the back of some average Joe in downtown Phoenix constitute the “well-regulated militia” protected in the Second Amendment?

Most people believe there is room for moderation of our gun policies. Many agree that individuals who are known to be mentally ill should not possess firearms. Many agree there are places where firearms do not mix with the venue: bars, sporting events or court rooms, for example.

Our political leaders live in a state of fear of being targeted by supporters of the NRA for elimination from office. As long as the gun lobby continues to hold our legislatures – and even some of our media — hostage to its own agenda, we’ll never have these conversations. Why do we allow our nation to be bullied this way?

In the weeks and months and years post- 9/11, we told ourselves that if we allowed fear to rule us and change our way of life, the terrorists would have won. But when our leaders are not angry enough to stop the epidemic of violence, when the gun lobby protects the gun manufacturers and their stockholders more robustly than it does the citizenry, and when the conversation about all of it can’t even remain civil, the argument can be made that the terror has indeed won. The specific incidents may be domestic, rather than international, acts; but they are terror all the same. And while an armed society could indeed be a polite society, as the adage suggests, there was nothing at all polite about the bullet in my spine.

Christina Taylor-Greene, who was 9 when she was shot and killed in Tucson, had gone to a Safeway to meet a congresswoman. Veronica Moser-Sullivan, who was 6 when she was shot and killed in Aurora, had gone to see a movie. When exactly did they give up their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

You have the right to carry a gun. But what happens when your right to carry a gun intersects with my right to an intact spinal cord?

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