The same day that a shooter opened fire at a school in Uvalde, Texas, I attended my son’s fifth-grade graduation.
The same day that 19 students from that school died, along with two teachers, I stood next to my husband and applauded after our camera-shy son took a certificate from his teacher.
The same day that parents gathered outside a civic center, waiting for news of their children, we hugged and congratulated our son and talked about what we might do over the long weeks of summer vacation.
Life ran on split screen, throughout that same day.
There’s nothing I can say or do as a columnist or opinion editor to shift how our country deals with firearms. There’s nothing the Kansas Reflector can publish that will likely change a single mind — of an everyday Kansan or a politician representing them. The right to keep and bear arms was enshrined in our Constitution, and successive generations of politicians and judges have enlarged the scope of those rights to the point that the United States averaged more than five school shootings each month of 2022. That includes one in March at Olathe East High School.
Across the country, 332 million Americans went through their own split screen experience yesterday. They shopped for groceries or watched “Doctor Strange” or exercised. All the while children died at the hands of another child, an 18-year-old who bragged to a woman he barely knew on Instagram that “I got a lil secret.”
Politicians will say this is not who we are.
They will say we’re better than this.
But this is who we are.
This is the reality we’ve settled for.
As a state and nation, we can’t be bothered to feel the slightest speck of empathy or outrage on behalf of someone else. We can’t rationally debate measures to support mental health services or curb deadly weapons. We instead waste month after month debating books about LGBTQ people and those whose skin color isn’t white. Even then, we don’t care about those books. We certainly don’t care about LGBTQ people or people of color. No, the dominant political party in Kansas cares only about accumulating power, no matter the cost to transparency or our own residents’ health.
You may already have forgotten that less than two weeks ago, on May 14, another 18-year-old went into a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and killed 10 Black people. He targeted the store and his victims by race. Those slayings were split screened with bigotry, as conservatives from Tucker Carlson on Fox News to U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York increasingly tout white supremacist talking points.
This is what we’ve chosen as a people. After a gunman killed 26 people at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School a decade ago, we could have done something. We didn’t. After a gunman killed 49 at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla., we could have done something. We didn’t. After a gunman killed 59 at an outdoor festival in Las Vegas, we could have done something. We didn’t.
Instead we have grown comfortable with our own split screens.
Liberals and conservatives alike, we sit and shrug.
Our children are safe. Our lives are fine. Our neighbors care about one another. The world outside appears too complex and scary to deal with. Plus, politicians will just do whatever they want. They’re all the same anyway. The news media overplays negative stories. You can’t trust what you read or see if it doesn’t agree with your take on the world.
We’re fine with our lives. So we’re fine with the state and country we have. Which means we’re fine with 19 children being gunned down on a Tuesday morning in Texas.
I want to offer some words of hope. I want to write that all of us, working together, can make a difference to stop such senseless carnage.
But I doubt I can. Not when it comes to guns.
When it comes to other issues in Kansas and the United States, sure. We can address our shared challenges in new ways, find new leaders, encourage civic participation. As I wrote this week in detailing the work of the nonprofit Prairie Roots, winning elections comes down to turning out votes. If an activist can find the supporters to elect candidates and lobby those candidates effectively, they can accomplish big goals.
Controlling weapons that kill children, though? That seems all but impossible. We shrug at our split screens, momentarily sad for those who lose their lives but going about our business. We’re numb.
Perhaps that’s the best we can manage. Perhaps the best we can do is love our children, like I love my son, and assure them that this unthinkable violence takes place far away. It won’t happen to them. It can’t happen to them. We hug, we celebrate, and we move on with our lives.
Until the next, inevitable massacre.
Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. Visit Kansasreflector.com