On April 20, 1999, I remember watching the news from the comfort of my couch in my apartment in Boston, being broadcast from a high school in Columbine, Colorado. Fifteen young students and teachers were killed by disturbed children with access to guns. Just a day before I would have thought this unthinkable. While I’m sure I cried for the victims, I was protected by the secure buffer of a TV screen. I could turn it off. It was 2,000 miles away from me.
March 21, 2005. Another school shooting, this time on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota. Ten dead, including the shooter. Another disturbed young person with access to semi-automatic weapons, a shotgun, and a pistol (from his policeman grandfather no less). As with Columbine, I’m sure I cried for the victims, but it was still happening far away from me.
October 2, 2006. Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Five young Amish girls shot and killed. Not as far away this time. Harder to ignore.
April 16, 2007. Blacksburg, Virginia. Thirty-three dead because of a mentally unstable man with the legal right to purchase weapons and not have to go through a background check.
February 12, 2010. Huntsville, Alabama. Three dead.
December 14, 2012. Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty-eight children and their heroic teachers. The number is again unfathomable. The act is inconceivable. The images of crying parents on the TV screen, the computer screen, the news feed on the Jumbotron in Times Square…it’s everywhere. Newtown is less than 80 miles from my home. This is not far away, and it’s not in a Red State. I don’t know how to process this. Two years later I still don’t. Why haven’t more public figures been motivated to take action? Conservative senators from Iowa and Virginia – even members of the NRA – have voiced public support for legislation. So why did the effort stall? I find that even harder to process.
May 23, 2014. Isla Vista, California. Seven dead, shooter included. Always young students and their teachers. Why does this happen? How do things get that far before someone takes notice of you?
August 20, 2014. Westfield, New York. One dead. Mary Whitaker. A friend and a colleague. A pacifist, a partner, an artist, a generous person, a generous colleague. Someone who inherently brought joy, light, and remarkable attentiveness not just to her close friends but to people she’d never met previously in her 61 years. Mary was shot, stabbed, and killed by two “men” who had no appreciation for human life. Two men whose lasting contribution to this world will be destruction. Again, this is not in a Red State. And this time it’s not happening on my TV. I’m getting text messages from friends. I’m getting phone calls from work. This is not far away, and I cannot hit the off button to make it all go away.
So why should we care about gun violence? Why should you care? I couldn’t answer that myself for a very long time, until the answer finally forced its way into my personal life. And there’s the rub: we almost never care enough until it’s in our life, and when it is, it’s usually way past due.
It almost feels shameful to use these instances, these people’s lives, to validate pitching a cause. But, as a community – a community of people who are tired of seeing our friends, family and colleagues get taken from us by the heavily armed and mentally diseased – we have strength, and the ability to fund people who represent our beliefs.
The midterm elections take place on Nov. 4. Although many ignore this vote, it is vitally important. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives will be contested, along with 33 seats in the Senate. There are 38 state and territorial governorships on the ballot, as well as 46 state legislatures and numerous state and local races.
People who earnestly stand up for the right to procure fully automatic killing machines – devices whose only purpose is to kill a lot of people in a very short period of time – are running to gain full control of the legislative agenda for the next two years of this president’s term.
I lost a friend in August largely because of our government’s failure to take killing machines off our streets, out of our Walmarts, out of the hands of children, and out of the hands of mentally unstable individuals. Moving humanity forward means we have to commit to valuing human life, and representatives who stand in the way of that progress mostly believe in the power of the pocketbook more. But why is their pocketbook worth more than ours?
Some brave people give their lives for a cause. Can we at least sacrifice a few dollars for a cause? For a representative? I’ve lost one person in my life to gun violence, and that’s far too many. Can we make a commitment and see it through?
Violist Dave Fallo has been a member of Local 802 since 2002.
The opinions expressed by guest commentaries in Allegro do not necessarily represent the views of the officers, staff or members of Local 802. We value the diverse opinions of our membership. To submit a guest commentary or letter to the editor for possible publication, e-mail Allegro@Local802afm.org.