By Nate Morris
On Monday morning, we woke up to 59 broken families. Fifty-nine fewer citizens. Fifty-nine lives cut short. Fifty-nine candles lit in memoriam.
The nation began to grieve. The President and other leaders called for unity. Sentiments of love and prayer echoed across the nation.
But it is not enough. It is nowhere near enough.
I fear for this nation when the right to own a piece of property is more important than the right to live.
I fear for my heart when the words “fifty-nine lives” no longer shake my very soul.
I fear for our humanity when our prayers are so feeble and hollow that they refuse to grow legs and act.
I fear for my community, for Oklahoma, a state which ranks top 10 in the nation for gun violence deaths, and where nearly 700 people will be killed by guns this year.
In 2017, 36 states have experienced a mass shooting event involving four or more victims. In the past six months, nearly 250 lives have been lost in these mass shootings alone.
This problem is uniquely American.
America is home to roughly 4 percent of the world’s population, but more than 40 percent of the world’s guns. This nation is also home to the highest rate of homicide by firearm, and one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world.
In no other developed country is gun violence so prevalent, or firearms so readily available.
Stephen Paddock was able to amass 42 guns.
He transported 23 of those guns to the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, NV. He was able to have multiple military grade weapons in his possession; weapons which the Las Vegas DA himself labeled as “weapons of mass destruction”.
With those weapons, one man, from a window in his hotel room, was able to kill at least 59 people, and injure more than 500 in the deadliest act of terrorism in this country since September 11th.
It is almost confounding in its scope, and yet this tragedy is our own doing.
Today, the President called for unity, but not for action. The White House press secretary stated emphatically that this “is not a time for politics”. The Governor of Nevada decried “there is nothing we can do” but pray.
In this country, the ability to access a piece of metal that fires smaller pieces of metal cannot outweigh the ability of a mother, a father, a husband or a son to simply breathe.
Every day, we lose nearly twice as many brothers and sisters to gun violence as we did Monday morning in Las Vegas.
In all of these instances, the violence is blamed on an inherent lack of morality; an absence of humanity. We are told time and again that if we love each other well enough and pray a little more, we can absolve ourselves of this epidemic without having to endure any systemic changes as a nation.
The villain is painted as a foreign entity; obscured by blissful ignorance as its face stares back in the mirror.
When we refuse to build a nation rooted in justice; where transformative education and healthcare are valued as human rights, where the wellbeing of a child is more valuable than personal comfort, where the notion of inherent value does not begin and end with a lack of melanin, where a piece of fabric is not treasured more than a human and where a firearm doesn’t carry more worth than a father; when we refuse to build that nation, we are complicit in the continuation of the one we see before us.
And so we are left to wonder: what will it take?
Surely Columbine would have been enough.
Surely Virginia Tech would change our hearts.
Surely Aurora would awaken us.
Surely Sandy Hook would test our humanity; a crime so horrific the nation could not possibly fail to act.
But still we stood silent.
And so came the Navy Yard in D.C, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, military bases in Chattanooga, a college in Roseburg, an office in San Bernardino, a church in Charleston, a nightclub in Orlando, a concert in Las Vegas and 1,510 other mass shootings throughout the country since we decided that Sandy Hook must mark the end.
So, what will it take? What is the next number that will become a “record” and numb us to 59? What is the next city that will become synonymous with tragedy? Who is the next mayor, the next governor, the next president who will take to the podium and once again tell the American people to “pray and look after one another in this difficult time”?
How much longer will we continue calling plays from this same tired book until we demand something better?
Your social sentiments are moving, but they are destined to be repeated.
Your prayers are beautiful, but your faith is dead without deeds.
Your love is glorifying, but without action, it is rooted in a hardened heart.
On Sunday night, 59 people looked in the mirrors of their homes, their cars, and their hotel rooms as they readied themselves for a music festival. They fixed their hair, buttoned their shirts, touched up their makeup and checked their reflection for the last time.
They, and 90 other men, women, and children across this country who did the same on Sunday, are not distant caricatures. They are flesh and blood. They are broken hearts and audacious dreams. They are daring souls and contagious laughter. They are an encompassing embrace and a steady hand.
They are you.
And they are me.
And they are gone.
And tomorrow there will be more.
And we, collectively, are responsible for every subsequent breath.