Land of the free.

I’m playing this game with a friend the other night where we try to predict what Google will automatically fill in after we type a series of words.

“I like to –” or “My face smells like — ” or “How do you –”

We land on a Reddit-like forum after one particular hygiene-related search, giggling for awhile at the kinds of things people were seeking advice on: what does happen when your farts smell like rotten eggs, or is it normal to pee after sex?

My friend stops laughing suddenly. We both see it at the same time: a username that incorporates both of the phrases “Sodomize” and “Little Girls.”

“I don’t want to look at this site anymore,” she says.

**

A shooter opened fire at a community college in Oregon this week. Ten are dead.
A shooter opened fire during a live television broadcast in August. Three are dead.
A shooter opened fire in a movie theatre in Louisiana in July. Three are dead.
A shooter opened fire at a church in South Carolina in June. Nine are dead.
A shooter opened fire at a home in Tucson, Arizona in May. Five are dead.

I typed those sentences just now because I liked the way the sentence structure felt, in just illustrating the bare facts of those cases. I typed those sentences almost cavalierly, then went back and looked at them again, feeling shame creep up my body at how easily those sentences rolled from my fingers onto my keyboard. I just listed thirty deaths. That’s thirty people who aren’t on the planet anymore, the size of a too-full classroom, or three crowded elevators. Thirty is a good-sized house party.

That’s thirty families who are grieving.

I also handpicked those few examples, but the truth is that in the United States, in 2015, there have been 10,079 deaths by gun violence. 559 of those deaths were children under the age of eleven. 2,005 of those were teenagers between twelve and seventeen. It is, of course, only October.

Ten thousand. I can’t quite comprehend what that number looks like. There were slightly less than three thousand students on my college campus when I attended. So: if one day I woke up and the entire campus, times three, was dead. I’m trying to picture that and I still can’t quite imagine it, what ten thousand dead people looks like.

A shooter opened fire at a school. A shooter opened fire in an office. A shooter opened fire on the street. A shooter opened fire in a parking lot. A shooter opened fire and ten thousand families, this year alone, are going to have an extremely shitty Christmas.

A shooter opened fire and I maybe paused for a second when I heard it on the radio. A shooter opened fire and I thought, “not again.” A shooter opened fire and it was sad, but I’ve heard all this before and I’m no longer shocked. A shooter opened fire and I googled, “How to Buy a Gun,” because I wondered how easy it would be, and I learned that I could go to a gun show (there are fifty happening just this weekend across the country; the nearest to me is in Wilkes-Barre) and I could purchase a handgun, no background check required.

A shooter opened fire and teachers practiced huddling with their children in silent, locked classrooms.

A shooter opened fire, and in Missouri, students from the Troy High School Drama Club pass around containers of fake blood and baby wipes, learning how to create bullet wounds with makeup as part of their extra-credit participation in a fully-realized active shooter drill.

A shooter opened fire again and again and again and again, and I wonder how it is that in order to own and operate my car, I need to pass a driver’s license exam, register my vehicle with the state, provide proof of insurance, require that the car pass an inspection to make sure it is not a danger to myself or others. I wonder how it is that we have spent billions of dollars on the prevention of terrorist attacks and yet ten thousand people this year alone are dead at the hands of our own countrymen. I wonder how it is that we can consider ourselves the land of the free when those freedoms seem to come at such a price. How in the home of the brave, we hail the teacher who charged at the shooter, while not really recognizing the horrific cost of bravery by necessity.

I look at the internet. I look at other posts from other, smarter people: who compare gun legislation to abortion laws. Who point out that it only took one failed attempt at a shoe bomb for us all to take our shoes off at the airport, but gun deaths seem to change nothing. Who point out that we shut down factories for listeria contamination, we push to ban travel to foreign countries after vague threats of Ebola, but this? We’re sorry, there’s nothing we can do. Our hands are tied.

It is so frustratingly, blindingly obvious that we’re sick of this shit, that it’s insane that more Americans die from gun deaths than auto accidents, that we are only 4.4% of the world’s population but own nearly half of the world’s civilian-owned guns. That a Congress who has yet to prosecute the bankers whose illegal activities caused a financial meltdown, a Congress whose bills currently still in committee include a resolution to designate the month of May as “National Lacrosse Month,” perhaps is simply uninterested in keeping weapons out of the hands of people who are interested in using said weapons to kill other people.

Getting guns out of the hands of criminals is something we can all agree on, yes?

Good. Let’s talk about the people holding the trigger.

**

When we teach children about how freedom of speech works, we describe it like this. Imagine that you’re standing outside of a movie theatre, talking to the people walking by. You’re allowed to say anything you want! The sky is orange. Aliens with butts for faces are coming to beam us all to planet Zorptron. Whatever. You’re allowed to say that! How great is that?

But imagine you were saying something else. Suppose you stood and yelled, “I’m going to punch you in the face” at a stranger, over and over and over again. That stranger could call the police, and the police would likely detain you for threatening another person. Your right to free speech does not trump the rights of that other person to walk down the street without fearing a punch in the face. America is great — you can say whatever you want! But what you say has consequences. Your speech isn’t protected, say, when planning a criminal act. It’s punishable as conspiracy.

I spent a good deal of today scrolling through 4chan, the website where the Oregon killer allegedly posted his intentions to commit murder, and where a series of copycat posts have emerged, celebrating victory of the “betas” over the “normies,” and glorifying Santa Barbara misogynist killer Elliott Rodger. 4chan, in addition to hosting some innocent forums about anime and video games, is also a place where people — overwhelmingly angry, white, and male — go to seek validation and companionship. A place where the lonely can find refuge among the lonely.

And before you go jumping towards conclusions, please allow me to assure you of the following things. I hold these truths to be self-evident: that I believe very deeply in freedom of speech, that I am wholeheartedly uninterested in an Internet that resembles China’s, and that all men who dwell in basements are not monsters or murderers.

Back to 4chan. Much of its content is vile, and I hate so much of what I find there, and yet, to paraphrase yet another American icon, I will defend to the death their right to troll.

But when rape and violence threats are posted, I can’t help but wonder why we don’t treat it in the same way that we treat that stranger shouting at another stranger on the street. Why when the cops are called, after revenge porn leaks or after women are doxxed, there’s just “nothing that can be done.” Why our constitutional right to safety is trumped by the rights of internet trolls to harass, to bully, to intimidate.

I’m just wondering why it is that we haven’t figured out how to legislate online speech in the way that we legislate other threats. Why it is that Anita Sarkeesian was threatened with rape and with death, why it is that Lindy West was trolled repeatedly by men claiming to be her recently deceased father, how it is that thousands of women have had their lives destroyed by revenge porn and doxxing … and yet while the occasional case of prosecution and sentencing does exist, women are much more routinely told that they need to wait until a crime has actually been committed. That they need to wait around to become the victims. How the Supreme Court decision many hoped would define when an online rant becomes a legitimate threat was carefully watched by thousands of people — and how the man who was convicted of making death threats to his estranged ex-wife was set free.

How it feels like my country’s lack of gun legislation is operating under similar, destructive logic. Sorry, but we have to wait until a crime has actually been committed before we can do anything. Let’s just wait until we all become the victims; perhaps then we can file a report?

And I’m wondering what we do about the fact that 4chan exists. That men who are angry, men who are lonely, men who feel isolated and rejected by society — that there is a place where that hatred and rage finds companionship and validation, where misery breeds contempt. How we’ve created a society that drives these men to find like-minded people. How our culture of shame has created a subculture of violence. Of misogyny. Of hatred of others.

And I am reminded that mankind has walked on the moon and mapped the human genome. We have built the great pyramids, and created centuries of culture and music and literature and art. I can, at this very moment, take out a small metal rectangle, swipe my thumb on a screen made of glass, and have instant access to most of the known knowledge of the universe.

So explain to me how the fuck, if we can do all that, we can’t figure out how to keep guns out of the hands of the people posting death and rape threats on the internet. Better yet, explain to me why they’re posting those threats in the first place. Explain to me why we have failed them. Explain to me what we can do to make it better.

Tell me why we are teaching our kindergardeners how to hide in a closet during a live shooter drill rather than teach them about empathy, trust, compassion, and kindness. Explain that to me. Explain how the right of gun owners to buy a handgun on the internet, no questions asked, can possibly justify the fact that we’re raising a nation of children who fear school shootings, who can comprehend mass murder, who have practiced hiding silently in closets in the event that they are killed, who have learned this in the way that they learn colors and shapes, letter and numbers, plants and animals, hiding places and quiet games, gunfire and locked doors.

Explain to me how this has somehow become the solution.

Explain to me how it can be anything but the problem.

 

**

 

Did you like this post? Help me keep writing. 

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25 thoughts on “Land of the free.

  1. This is an excellent piece – very well-written and very, very true, especially what you write about gun violence. It seems to me that Australians (of which I am one) seem fairly unanimous in their complete bewilderment at American gun laws (though of course the systems of any government are never perfect). It is reassuring to see that some Americans get it too.

  2. Powerfully written and a great part of the much-needed conversation that is being had at the moment. I particularly like the idea that as a society America needs to explain “why we have failed them”…. (‘Them’ being the angry isolated white shooter)… as much as we have failed children and gun victims and women. This is a discussion about gun law and it is also a discussion about American culture. Thanks you so much for raising your voice to be heard.

  3. I really like how this begins. The benign Google search game that somehow loops into disturbing pieces of reality, like the screen names people choose to use. This piece is very well written in its discussion of complex issues: “Tell me why we are teaching our kindergarteners how to hide in a closet during a live shooter drill rather than teach them about empathy, trust, compassion, and kindness.” Such a good question. This is the part that for me is about a deeper cultural disease, disenfranchisement, loss of community, a lack of love and understanding, beyond the fact we have more guns, which is obviously a problem. Also: Background checks are so super reasonable. Yes, we are all sick of this shit. Thank you for this excellent post.

  4. Pingback: Land of the free. | redsnest

  5. This is so well articulated. There are so many like minded people out there, desiring change. How do we organize ourselves? How do we become a force for positive change? I find myself stuck, feeling and thinking as you are feeling and thinking alongside so many of my friends and colleagues. How do we move forward, making this world a more compassionate place? Can we be the momentum? Can we stop waiting for the policy makers to escape their insane reasoning and change their ways? I say we can be; it is the ‘how’ that escapes me.

  6. I don’t know what more I can say, except for this: I am an American, but I recently moved abroad to London, England. And I already feel safer here, in this new foreign city I’d barely spent two days in before my move. And my friends back home tease me, call me a “Tory” and ask how I am in the “land of the un-free.”

    And I’m not sure how to tell them that it’s safer here. And that when I’m out with friends in the evening, I just don’t think that anyone on the street is carrying a gun. That when I heard two drunk guys spewing racist bile on the street, I had the luxury of being disgusted rather than afraid. They still had the right to spew their bile, as they should. But I wasn’t worried that if I looked too angry at them for spewing it, they might hurt me.

    Yes, I am in the “land of the un-free.” And yes, neither I nor anyone here has the “freedom” to buy a nice glock for “self-defense.” But when I can walk home at night without fear, when I can hear and say incendiary things without worrying that violence will soon follow— well, I’m embarrassed to say it, but that feels awfully free to me.

  7. I am so glad I decided to read this post! Just the other day, I was discussing the school shootings with my father and he wanted to know what Americans thought of their gun laws. I’ll get him to read your post tonight!

  8. This is really amazing. Because you’ve taken the scariest part of the American culture in 2015, written brilliantly and passionately, and you never ONCE took political shots or attacked or attempted to divide.

    Not that you care, but I am beyond impressed with you. (I’m sure your mom is too.)

    In the world of politics, (like all the political compass tests online and stuff), I tend to fall super-close to the middle. I’m not just kind of moderate. I’m ultra-moderate. (I like to say pragmatic.)

    The entire conversation about gun ownership is about freedom and liberty.

    You’ve just written an exceptionally thoughtful piece that I don’t believe any sane person, regardless of political leanings, could argue with.

    I’m so glad I read this. Thank you.

    • Matt, what a lovely and sane response. Thank you for taking the time to post it. Not that you care, but you give me hope. ; )

      And thank you, KF, for yet another thoughtful, compelling, moving post.

  9. My thoughts exactly! (well, articulated in a more coherent fashion and much more powerful)
    Your words reminded me of Obama’s speech last week. Indeed, gun violence, school shootings in particular, have become so routine that we are now almost numb to it. The American government’s inaction makes that so much worse. It’s a horrifying thought to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: at exactly what point, and how many more must die from gun violence, for the government to see it as a problem/disease and take real action?

    I love the analogy you draw with automobile usage being so rigorously regulated. A further thought though: An automobile in and of itself is not a weapon. It has the potential to created accidents and cause injury if the driver is irresponsible, yes, but that’s not the its intended use. A gun, on the other hand, no matter what the reasons are for using it (self-defence included), will inevitably cause injury. That the former requires so much bureaucracy before operating, and the latter is easily accessible at any time, is what so baffling.

    I am not American, and I’m not trying to make a dig at it, but I often find the country so incomprehensible. Whether it’s on the matter of gay marriages, abortion, or gun violence. The United States of America has made many strides ahead, but in other crucial areas, it has fallen so behind. Is this the failure of the government, or the failure of its people (who elected them)?

  10. Did you know that the U.S. has similar rates of other violent crimes to comparable countries but has much much higher rates of homicide. The most plausible reason for this, according to expects in the field, is one differentiating factor: ease of access to guns. Disputes, it’s been argued, are just much more likely to escalate into deaths when arms are involved. That’s why I don’t buy the whole idea of carrying guns helping protect people- the evidence just doesn’t bear it out. With you on the issues of regulating the Internet. It’s a tough one to control given the transnational nature, apparent or actual anonymity etc. But those challenges can’t become a reason not to try. The stuff suffered by Lindy and co is just not excusable.

  11. I agree with what you’re saying, and it’s really lovely to hear this kind of rhetoric coming from Americans!
    Often I hear about how is different in the USA; there’s too much opposition, it’ll never work. I’m Australian, and I think it’s important to note that, when our government started imposing gun laws, it wasn’t unanimously backed by the public. There were riots, petitions, general outrage, emphatic opinion pieces in right wing newspapers. Many politicians had to choose between their political careers, or regulating gun ownership.
    It was a right clusterfuck, but they did it anyway.
    It was worth it.

  12. Very nice post!
    When it is too easy to make something wrong or bad, then people might give it a…try. So the State shall think of making more difficult for the people to be bad…
    I know, it is easy to say, but difficult to implement.
    Or probably the society should focus on more positive aspects and models.

  13. Pingback: Land of the free. | ALL ABOUT LIFE

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  15. What a breath taking post you have written. The idea of regulating gun violence is a very important and delicate matter. People argue that because there are too much guns on the streets that is the reason why people are killing each other. I agree with you on the fact that guns should be regulated. People should not lay their hands on guns as they will with their clothes. It is a pity to see that the Land of the free and the greatest country in the world will fall short on matters like these. Children should be learning how to draw and paint and use their imagination not expect that something bad might happen to them.

    Human rights is been preached everyday but, what about my right to walk the streets peacefully and not worry of been shot or killed by some psycho?

    Is my right limited on that?

    As much as I will like to see a tight regulation on getting guns, I also want to remind us here that guns existed since the beginning of time. Those people who lived on farms and suburbs know that there were guns everywhere but people did not go about shooting people. The problem now is that we are in a society where people have no regard for human lives. People have no respect or value for each other. Everyone live a life not giving a dame about what anyone thinks.

    Crime is high because some one is going to kill knowing that some lawyer or judge is going to send him/her to a mental hospital where he/she will be taken care of on tax payers money. Why won’t the world be fucked up when people who committed crimes are left with impunity? I will just say this here because it gets me so mad overtime I read about yet another story of some shooting somewhere.

    If you want to kill just go in your basement and kill your self. Your life must be pretty messed up to want to take someone else’s life so, do us all a favor and kill yourself so that the world can be a better place without you.

    The American legal systems needs serious work. Now been caught stealing cars earns you a cell with murderers. We all look forward to the day when people who are jailed for committing crimes or even hailing those that commit those crimes. Freedom of speech is the reason why the internet is full of hard core serial killers communicating and hailing each other. Something must be done fast or the next generation will be worse than what we are seeing now.

  16. Pingback: Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA +Bonus Read | lara

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