A new shooting rocks America

Posted: 15th December 2012 by Keith MacKenzie in Uncategorized
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The news came as a blip on my smartphone:”Connecticut elementary school district in lockdown”. I closed the window thinking it was just another thing in the news, maybe some yahoo had fired a bullet into the air or there was an orange alert, or something else.

I went on with my day. Taking care of my baby son, taking him in for vaccinations, and overall whiling away the hours as a stay-at-home daddy.

Then the text messages came from my wife. “Did you hear about a shooting in CT?”

No, I didn’t.

“26 dead.”

“Everyone in the office is upset about it.”

Uh. 26 dead? I looked at Google News and saw the numbers. More damn statistics. 26 dead in a fresh shooting to rock the United States, and 18 of them were kids. Like, young kids.

And the chill that went up my spine – this was in Newtown, which I quickly learned from Google Maps was just 2.5 hours down the highway from here.

Uh.

I’m a Canadian, fresh off the boat in the United States, and have heard about these sort of shootings since, like, forever. Columbine, none the least. Virginia Tech. The Batman movie shooting.

But they were all across the border at that time, in another country. I would be sad at these news, disgusted at whoever took it upon themselves to do something like this, and mystified at to why.

But then I’d get back to my day.

This time, it was different. I went out to Woburn centre with my baby boy in a stroller to gauge the local reaction. After all, it seemed an opportunity to gauge the local feelings about this kind of stuff. Gun control? Why is this happening? Who’s doing this? Is America sick? What, where, how, why?

First, I approached a mother – one of two together with three kids nearby – and explained that I was a journalist from Canada and was hoping to ask some questions about what happened.

The curt, but polite, response: “I don’t know what happened.”

Not sure if I got the nuance, I continued: “Connecticut?”

The reply: “Yes, I know.” And she nodded in the kids’ direction. Only then did I realize that she had done this already the first time.

“Oh, no problem,” I said. “I totally understand.”

She was appreciative and we wished each other a good day, and I moved onwards.

Went into Marco’s Italian Cold Cuts, just a few blocks north of my home. I go here often, for calzones – some of the best in Woburn – and sometimes a chat with the owner. The owner, Tullio Sessa, is a serious Boston Bruins fan and his shop is decorated beautifully with Bruins stuff. An autographed, framed photo of Bobby Orr’s famous Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal on the wal. A replica of the 2011 Stanley Cup banner from when the Bruins beat my hometown Vancouver Canucks in seven games. All kinds of other stuff, Esposito, Orr, Lucic, Chara, all the Bruin mainstays. We often chat about the miserable state of the NHL these days, and once in awhile throw a gentle jab at each other about our respective hockey teams.

I went in to interview him. “I’m here as a journalist today,” I explained to Tullio.

“Oh?”

“Yeah, it’s about what happened in Connecticut.”

He arched his eyebrows. He had no idea. “I haven’t heard anything.”

“Uh…” I stammered. I didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news,. But there you have it. “There was a shooting.”

“Shooting?”

“Yeah. 26 dead. At an elementary school. Something like 18 kids.”

His response? An honest, emotional, simple reply: “Shit.”

I explained that I wanted to interview him. But because I was rusty and out of practice, I didn’t think to take out my recorder. I just chatted with him about it, explaining that I was feeling chills about it. It was true. I could feel my armhairs standing on end, and my spine tingling as I realized the reality of what happened.

I then reverted to journalist mode. Asked him what he thought about gun control.

“Well, you can get a gun for $50 on the streets. But I don’t want a gun.”

I then asked him why he thought this kind of thing was happening.

He looked me with that Italian-American look on his face, an honest, hard-working shop owner: “People are fucking crazy. I don’t know.”

Why is this happening? Why does this seem to be happening more now than before?

“I dunno, people are being raised differently.”

We then talked about what could be done. Gun control? Not bloody likely. You can get a gun on the street no matter what the laws are. And to solve the problem? Well, put a guy on every street corner, at every school, lock all the doors and only one door open for people to enter, and only one door for people to leave.

“But then,” he continued, “what about fire hazards?”

We chatted for a bit more. He has kids of his own. He doesn’t seem to have a very clear answer – no more than I do – to all of this. I thanked him and moved on.

I then went to the Brazilian corner store that sells all kinds of Brazilian foods – beans, sauces, spices, breads, meats, everything. We love to go here, and I’ve gotten to know the woman behind the counter quite well during my frequent stops there.

I asked if she heard about what happened and whether I could ask a few questions. She did – after all, she had a TV on and she’d been watching it on the news.

But she had changed it. She has an eight-year-old son, she explains to me with a Brazilian accent, and she didn’t want him hearing anything about this.

I understood. I then interviewed her, asking her her thoughts on what happened.

“It’s terrible,” she said.

And why is this happening?

She couldn’t think of a thing to say. “I don’t know, I can’t tell you why. It’s….” She stops, her eyes welling. I press on, gently. “It’s scary.”

I asked what she thought could be done.

“Better security. At all the schools. Don’t just let anyone in. We just need our schools to be safer.”

And?

“And our kids, we shouldn’t let them play with guns. We shouldn’t teach them about guns.”

I asked about gun control.

She didn’t really have a direct answer. She pressed on about security and about properly raising children.

I then turned off my smartphone recorder and thanked her, just as her son and – I presumed – husband walked in with pizza.

Went out again. I didn’t feel so good asking people questions about what happened. The nerves seemed too raw. People seemed too rattled. And being the bearer of these kinds of news to someone like Tullio – that just made me not want to go on with this.

So, I just went into a flower shop to get a bouquet for my wife. As I was waiting for the florist to assemble a bunch, there was an older man chatting with another florist. “You have kids?” “Yeah, I do.” “Terrible what happened.” “I know.” “I don’t know what’s going on.” And so on. It was obvious what they were talking about.

The old man left. I looked at the florist. “I guess you know what happened,” I said.

“Yeah.” And it was a geyser, a dam that broke. This time I wasn’t a journalist. I just said I was a Canadian. I was just interested in having a chat, not being a journalist. “I’m new here. I’m just dumbstruck,” I said.

The florist then went into a speech. He was in shock about it too. Out loud and clear came his words. It was a blur, even though his words reverberated through me, as one world citizen to another.

Then I had to ask. “Why do you think this is happening?”

“I don’t know. I … I don’t have an answer. This guy had a mental problem, or something… it’s not …” And he went on about behaviour, upbringings, parental responsibilities, and so on. Mental issues – that’s something beyond our understanding, he explained. It’s something we need to catch before it’s too late.

The other florist came back with a beautiful bouquet. “How’s this?”

“Oh,” I replied. “That’s beautiful.” I thanked him for it, and, somehow, went into the topic of the Connecticut elementary school.

He shook his head. Dumbfounded, just like the rest of them – and us. We had a good, long chat about guns. I explained I was from Canada and this sort of thing seemed quite foreign to us in Canada, despite a few anomalies including the University of Montreal massacre in 1989.

He told me he had a licence to carry firearms, but that in Massachusetts, it’s very, very hard to get ahold of a gun. And that one solution – if there was an easy fix – was to have all 50 states have the same gun laws. Right now, he explained, it’s easy to get guns in one state and just drive across the border into another state.

But in New England, gun laws are pretty strict. It’s tough to get a gun here , although he did go up to Maine once to a gun shop and enquired about purchasing a gun there. Just a normal, standard gun – not assault rifles that are only good for the military. His words. Hunting, hobbies, that stuff is OK, but we don’t need automatic weapons.

He explained, also, that people can buy a semi-automatic weapon and turn them into fully automatic weapons – which of course isn’t OK.

He also told me about all the things we can do to make guns safer. Lock up the guns carefully. Have everyone take a course on gun safety before they can get a licence – they have this in Massachusetts, and he likes that, a lot.

Banning guns? No, that’s not the solution.

And what about security? Schools? He said right now, even at the nice Catholic school across the street, you have to buzz in if you want to enter, even with a bouquet of flowers. Security checks you through a camera, you wave at them, and they let you in. And that kind of thing.

I shook my head, and told him how when I was a kid, it was so easy to just walk several blocks to school and just walk in. None of this craziness.

He agreed. Same thing for him as a kid, also.

He didn’t have an answer, either, for this new incident.

Incident? Development.

Development? How about tragedy?

The great tragedy, to me, is how this used to never happen. Ever. To pick up a gun, load it with bullets, and go to a public place – an elementary school full of kids – and open fire on them?

Never heard of it, until I grew up.

And now? Solutions are going to be thrown around again. Gun control, security, mental health programs, etc., etc., etc.

But the problem is so complex. So deep. So widespread. So undefinable.

I don’t know how to solve it. I don’t even think people like Obama know either.

You tell me. The questions are so easy to ask: What’s wrong with society? How do we fix it? What compels people to do things like this? Etc?

And the easy answers come quickly: People are fucking crazy. People are being raised differently than when I was raised. Guns are out of control. Guns don’t kill people, people do. Our society is screwed. We’re screwed.

And so on.

But the questions demand better answers than that. Responses and reactions are quick and easy and justifiable in the face of such horror. But real answers – the ones that come with a proposed solution – are hard. For instance, how do we go forward from here?

For me, as a Canadian living in Massachusetts, with a family of my own, I felt a heaviness in my spirit as I contemplated the magnitude of what happened. As a guy with a career in the Canadian media, I was urged to make headways to Newtown, Connecticut, and, with my unique Canadian perspective, do some very valuable reporting and journalism right at the spot.

Instead, I spent this Saturday with my family. We three went to a cafe in Somerville for a coffee and muffin, then went to the Museum of Fine Arts for a quick exploration of its renowned Egyptian collection. After that, we had lunch in Melrose, and then we went home.

It was a beautiful day. Blue skies with a considerable chill in the air.

If there was such an answer – and honestly, I don’t have an answer – this was it. Take sombre note of the horror in the state south of us, and consider its implications and, perhaps, lessons. Talk about it with fellow community members and reflect on the way things are done in society that could have contributed to such madness. Consider the possibility that strange obsessions such as the right to bear arms may not have the relevance today as it once did.

Shake our heads at the insanity, and then look at the people around us, and realize that 99.99% of us seem practically normal.

“Don’t leave,” the florist urged me when I said we had just moved to Woburn from Canada three months earlier. “It’s normally pretty good here.”

I was very quick to reply: “Oh, no, no, it’s OK. I know.”

And that was the honest truth.

  1. Hey Keith,

    Great post!

    I did my own little piece on this as well. Just shocked the hell out of me yet again what happened yesterday. I honestly believe they need to repeal the ‘right to bear arms’ aspect to the constitution, but that won’t happen. There are apparently somewhere in the vacinity of 300 million guns in the US alone. Yes, I know if you want a gun up here in Canada, there is a black market out there and now with the internet, it has become easier I suppose.

    I was thinking about some of the questons you poised to the locals. Why is this happening?
    Oddly enough when I read that I immediately thought how islolated we have become from one another. When I grew up I knew all of my neighbors a few blocks around me. I didn’t know all of them well, but I could tell you their names and any gossip that may have been floating about.

    We were connected to each other and we understood that.

    I know a few of my neighbors now, but not like before. I try and make it a point to get to know the area I live in, and I have. I have been in New West for 2 1/2 years now and have gotten to know restaurant and pub personnel. I have gotten to know people through the writer’s group (thanks to you),I have gotten to know shop keepers, etc.

    But for many they are cut off and isolated. They don’t feel that connection. They sit behind their computer screen talking to the world in a manner that I don’t believe was ever intended. Amazing to me that we have the mass communication that we do and yet so many lonely souls exist out there.

    And yes, they desperately need gun control in the US. But more than anything, they need to change how the view guns. Fundamentally that is the biggest difference between Canadians and Americans on this issue is how we view gun use and ownership. The US has it in their constitution, and many firmly believe they have a right to own a gun.

    Up here guns are something that are feared to a certain degree and rightly so and there is a weariness as well. I personally cannot stand guns. They give me the heebee jeebees. The tolerance for their existence is not as acceptable in our society as much up here as well. At least that’s my point of view.

    Just from your words and speaking to shop owners and when you mentioned gun control, that was immediately shot down. And yes, the pun is intended.

    There are no easy answers for a solution. But lets really start talking to one another.

    Glad I found your blog.

  2. BlackCatz says:

    Well done Keith. I’ve been lurking on here for awhile, just reading and so forth.
    My best to you guys for the holidays. (It’s Carly btw)

  3. HI Keith…we are just home from our American home and like you being a Canadian and a guest in the USA, the thinking is often so foreign to us. The right to bear arms, the easy access to guns and the notion of protecting themselves and their property with weapons. The statistics speak for themselves.

    I find it very unsettling to think that my neighbors have guns in their bedside table drawers, their glove compartments or under their beds…..at the ready to protect their families and their property.You think twice about the folk sharing the road with you and even eye contact with fellow shoppers gives pause for thought.

    What role does the media play? How did the use of a gun become an option in the basket of responses?

    Sitting in Calgary saddened once again by a school shooting. Somehow we parents feel it through our hearts.

    Hug Alex and Fer for us,
    Love, Lois