Four Score & Seven Shootings Ago

Author’s Note: Today, The Evening Look makes its triumphant return to the land of the living under horrific circumstances. I wasn’t sure that I should write this article and I’m still not sure it’s a good idea. I’m sure I could try to find some humor in this situation. I could mock Walmart or Neil Degrasse Tyson or write about how 30 to 50 feral hogs could produce better content than The Morning Watch. But I don’t want to do that. I want to do something I’ve never done before. I want to be taken seriously.

31. 31 victims. 22 dead in El Paso. 9 dead in Dayton. 3 dead the week before in Gilroy. I wish I knew all their names—I should learn all their names. But there’s too many of them. I looked up a list of mass shootings and there’s too many of them. Too many children. Too many parents. Too many people. And that doesn’t include the nameless, faceless, forgotten victims. The friends and families. The tears, funerals, and therapy. Pain outlives spectacle. Time heals wounds, but not the type of wounds created by an AK-47.

Now I could delve into the issue of gun control. I could tell you about how the US is alone in the world with its frequency of mass shootings. I could explain how there is no statistical differences in video game usage or incidence of mental illness compared to other countries, but there is a significantly larger number of guns in the US and access is easier. Or I could discuss the prevalence of NRA money in American politics and how the Dickey Amendment stunted gun research for twenty years. The obvious connections between the El Paso shooters manifesto and the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Republican Party and conservative media. But you already know about that or can find it somewhere else, written and researched by a professional who has done a better job than I ever could. Instead, I offer something different, some free advice from Honest Abe and the greatest speech of all time: The Gettysburg Address.

Speaking in the aftermath of the deadliest battle of the Civil War and US History, Lincoln was tasked with healing a wounded and divided nation, an extreme version of the contemporary state of our country. While the beginning of the speech is deeply embedded in popular memory, the last line provides a sentiment we would do well to remember. Lincoln concludes by saying:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln’s powerful rhetoric demands that we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice by committing ourselves to their cause. In 1863 that meant the Union war effort, the end of slavery and rebuilding the United States of America. Today, though that call should feel just as intense, the cause is different. The 31 people who were so cruelly stolen from their friends and families were not trained soldiers and they were not at war. But they did have a cause; they were fighting for something on those warm summer days in Ohio and Texas. They died while searching for the first and most fundamental unalienable right on which our country was founded. The right to life. Before liberty, before the pursuit of happiness, Thomas Jefferson enshrined the right to life as the foremost principle of our republic. We all share the same world, one that is often cruel, brutal and unfair. And yet here we are, scrapping together a semblance of an existence with 320 million other Americans. That shared humanity can and must unite us in the pursuit of a shared right to life.

  • Jordan and Andre Anchondo were killed in El Paso. They were out shopping for school supplies with their two-month-old son. His name is Paul. Andre jumped in front of the gunman. Jordan shielded Paul. Now Paul will grow up in the house his father just finished building, but without the parents who would make it home. A family. A house. Jordan and Andre had their own small slice of life. But now it’s gone.
  • Raul and Maria Flores were killed in El Paso. They were both 77. They retired to El Paso twenty years ago after raising a family. They were shopping for airbeds. For visiting relatives. They had been married for 60 years. But they won’t get to share another year together.
  • Angelina Englisbee was killed in El Paso. She was a widowed mother of 7 who worked multiple jobs to keep food on the table. She was 86. She had over 20 grandchildren and great grandchildren. She always welcomed visitors with a warm meal and fresh pot of coffee. But now the coffee pot is empty.
  • Juan Velazquez was killed in El Paso. He and his wife, Estela Nicolasa, were shopping for groceries. He died protecting her. He was 77. He moved to El Paso recently after receiving US citizenship. He came here to fight for a better life. But all he got was a shorter one.
  • Nicholas Cumer was killed in Dayton. He was a 25-year-old graduate student at Saint Francis University. He was in their cancer care program. He was interning as a trainer at the Maple Tree Cancer Alliance. He was a week away from completing the internship. He’d just been offered a full-time job running two of Maple Tree’s new offices. He was the favored candidate because he developed close relationships with many of the patients in his short time as an intern. But now those patients will need someone else to comfort them in their time of need.
  • Saeed Saleh was killed in Dayton. He was a 38-year-old immigrant from Eritrea. He moved to the United States three years ago with his wife, Zaid Eseyas Nuguse, and their five-year-old daughter Randa. Saeed worked every day, often for more than 12 hours, to support his family in Dayton, two daughters in Eritrea and a brother in Egypt. But he finally took a day off and it turned out to be his last.

These are just small glimpses into a few of the lives that were lost in El Paso and Dayton. Every victim has a story, every story is important, and you can find those stories in other places. Their stories are unique, but also tied together by their shared pursuit of life. They all had something to live for. But their deaths serve as a reminder that the fundamental right to life is under siege in this country. Mass shootings are just one element of this horrifying phenomenon. There are so many things that we cannot accept. We cannot live in a country where students worry more about lockdown procedures than their math test. We cannot live in a country where shoppers are constantly assessing their nearest exit. We cannot live in a country where the pigment of one’s skin is the difference between a speeding ticket and a funeral. We cannot live in a country where children are taken from their parents in the name of national security. We cannot live in a country where the size of one’s wallet could keep them from receiving life-saving treatment. We cannot live in a country where retirement planning seems pointless because human life on Earth after 2050 is looking increasingly improbable. And yet, we do.

But if I’m being completely honest, none of these issues are what worry me most about my country. My greatest concern is a number: 53.4%. That’s how many people voted in the 2018 midterm elections. It increased by over 10 percentage points from 2014. Maybe I should be hopeful. Try to look on the bright side. But that number is too low. Too many people have died for 46.6% of this country to think it’s ok to not vote. And there’s certainly something to be said about making voting easier, but that’s a conversation for a different day. The point is that you don’t get to not care. We are well past the point where apathy and ignorance are acceptable. No matter who you are or how far removed you may feel from these issues, they affect you or someone you care about in one way or another. And pretending that they don’t is no longer an acceptable option. In the debates between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas for the 1858 Illinois Senate seat, Lincoln stated “Judge Douglas declares that if any community want slavery they have a right to have it. He can say that logically, if he says that there is no wrong in slavery; but if you admit that there is a wrong in it, he cannot logically say that any body has a right to do wrong”. If you respond to these horrors with indifference, then you void all moral judgment. If you do nothing, if you choose to stay silent, if you refuse to take action, you are endorsing the country in which we cannot live. You are letting the victims of El Paso, Dayton and the countless other mass shootings that have traumatized this country die in vain. You are part of the problem.

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this nation a new deal, conceived in crisis, and dedicated to the proposition that a government should protect its people in their hour of need. Maybe it’s time to honor that legacy.

– L. Squirrel