What happened in Sutherland Springs, Tex. last Sunday is, in one word, unbearable. For a mass shooting to come so soon after double tragedies in Las Vegas and New York is unbearable. To think that this happened in a town where everyone knows each other is unbearable.
The shooting suspect, Devin Patrick Kelley, is a terrorist. Anyone who enters a church and massacres those in worship is one. There is no room for debate. White killers are often designated the “lone wolf” murderer instead of a “terrorist,” recognized as a person whose entire life and upbringing and mental condition must be taken into consideration in order to make sense of his actions. But that is a two-faced claim, simply because these actions can never be allowed to make sense or become normalized into the human condition.
On an utterly different note, it is confounding why white killers are spared the labels that befall minorities who commit similar acts — a mentality that mirrors the way the world likes to see white people versus everyone else.
And yet, this debate is only a superficial one — one that provides little room for effective solutions to ending mass violence. Actual change, which nowadays supersedes almost anything when debating access to guns, is something that can only be catalyzed through swift and urgent action in Congress.
The suspect in the New York attack, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov from Uzbekistan, is still alive — his actions deemed terrorism by President Donald Trump. Saipov uttered “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” at the scene, according to witnesses, and it was discovered that he was “providing material support to ISIS,” according to CNN. After the events that day, in which Saipov killed eight with a truck, there began a brief campaign on social media about the term “Allahu Akbar,” how it derives from a feeling of love and everyday usage instead of the fear many Americans may associate with terrorism — a campaign justifiably needed in order for the public not to conflate one man’s actions with an entire religion of people.
The tragedy in New York did not revolve around guns and has little to do with gun control, but everything to do with a culture of mass violence in America — one in which guns are an inherent part and contributor. One thing about the news cycle is that it wheels by quickly, rolls on without a second glance, tragedy after tragedy falling into memory in favor of covering the next one.
Perhaps that in itself is one of the greatest contributors to the overwhelming sense of horror that can settle into numbness in the wake of mass violence — it becomes so that a person moves on just as fast as the news does. And that is, entirely too quickly.
The shooting that took place in Texas continues to disturb and devastate as more intimate layers of the tragedy are peeled back and revealed: The act happened in a small town, in a place of worship, the details landing in arguably the deepest place that heartbreak can occur. One understands this from reading the descriptions of those who died and who was injured: according to Joe Tackitt, Sheriff of Wilson County, “I think nearly everyone [at the church] had some type of injury.” The deceased include children, a pregnant woman, and some even from the same family. A New York Times article lists this devastating statistic: The massacre left about 7 percent of the people who lived in the rural Texas town dead.
As long as individuals with records of instability or violence like Kelley’s can access obvious weapons (most dangerously, guns) that can wreak mass destruction, it will never be enough to designate who is a terrorist and who isn’t. All culpable individuals commit equally unthinkable acts against American society. All threaten American lives and the lives of those who want to live at peace in this country. It is time for change.
I have never believed politicians and commentators who say it is “too soon” after tragedy to take action, because how is one to believe they are so wallowed in emotion that they are paralyzed, unable to activate real change in legislation? And yet, it is impossible to bend like this — tragedy after tragedy after unimaginable tragedy — without breaking. Sometimes it does feel like too much. But empathy and passivity can never be conflated into one.
For all this administration’s talk about threats and protecting Americans from what’s outside, it is becoming excessively clear that a large source of danger is harbored inside American borders, inside laws that refuse to mold to a reality grown frantic and fearful of mass violence.
Context can never be diminished here. The timeline of how soon the Sutherland Springs shooting occurred after Las Vegas and the New York vehicular attack is mind-numbing, and that is exactly the feeling this nation and its lawmakers must do everything to avoid. Numbness is a sensation to overcome by understanding that mass violence is not normal, not normal, not normal. It is nothing to succumb to and nothing thoughts and prayers can alleviate. It is one of the greatest shames in American politics that people are made to believe nothing can be done.
Zoe Cheng is a junior majoring in writing for screen and television. Her column, “Cross Section,” runs Tuesdays.