Life in America is seeing a lowered flag and not being sure which mass shooting it’s memorializing.
— Daniel Summers, MD (@WFKARS) March 23, 2021
*Editor’s note: some well-deserved strong language ahead!
There are only a handful of world events where I can remember exactly where I was when I learned about them. Here are the most prominent ones:
>> 9/11: I was woken by a phone call from my husband telling me what happened and that his plane had been grounded in Chicago, but that he was okay. In my slumber, naivete, and inability to imagine such an atrocity, I mumbled, “Some pilot is going to be in trouble.”
>> When we (America) bombed Iraq: I was at my grandparents’ farm in rural North Dakota, fearful that perhaps this is how the world might end. Probably also when I diverted from my family and left the Republican party.
>> When 28 children were killed in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut: I was sitting at my desk, where I was practicing Ayurveda, and then panicking about my own children, both currently in middle school.
That last one, I also remember what I was thinking—that this was the watershed moment in which our country would finally come to its senses about gun control. Murdered children had to be the tipping point. If not this, then what?
I guess we’re still asking that question now that we’ve seen two mass murders in the last week alone.
As you’d expect, Biden is currently calling on Congress to tighten the gun laws. But I’m not holding my breath. It feels, sadly, more like theater right now. He can’t not do something in the wake of these tragedies. But even he’s got to know that nothing will likely come out of it.
I don’t care if it sounds like I’m hopeless, I’m merely done wasting my time and energy hoping that maybe, this time, politicians will put people above politics. As many people have said and I agree with, if it didn’t happen with murdered children, it probably won’t ever happen.
Despite the NRA’s recent declaration of bankruptcy, it still has a lot of power. Far too much power. Too many Americans identify themselves by their gun ownership and take pictures with their guns like most of us take pictures with our loved ones. Guns have become synonymous with machismo, strength, and, of course, triggering the libs. And we still don’t seem to have any way of recognizing someone who might be going down this path, let alone get them the help they need before they pick up a weapon of war and kill civilians.
My husband and I just road-tripped from Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Boston, Massachusetts, to visit our youngest daughter at college. To put our timeline in a context that Americans will understand, we did this trip between the shooting in Atlanta and the shooting in Boulder. At some point, we noticed the flags were flying at half-mast.
I’m embarrassed to admit that for just a brief moment I forgot why—what was the most recent tragedy again? A gas station. No wait, a concert; no, that was a while ago now, ancient history. I had to look it up: oh yeah, the murders in Atlanta of Asian women. How could I forget?
Toward the end of our road trip, just when the flag might’ve gone back up again, proud as can be in the breeze, the next shooting took place and down that flag stayed.
Lowering the flag to half-mast, historically, is meant to be a show of respect and collective mourning. That’s laughable now, isn’t it? We’re not collectively mourning the loss of life. We might individually do so, but as a country, no, we’re not. As a country, we polarize. We repeat our mantras about thoughts and prayers and poor young men with mental illnesses and sex disorders. Fuck them. Fuck the politicians who repeat the same canned garbage. And fuck these men—I honestly don’t care what their issues are; there is never an excuse to murder innocent people in cold blood.
Yes, there’s blame to go around. But at some point, there is a person with a gun who pulls a trigger while staring into the faces of their fellow human beings.
So, I don’t see these flags at half-mast and think about our collective mourning. I see them as representations of our collective shame: the head down, the flag down.
From now on, this is how I will interpret the flag flying at half-mast: it’s our shame. Shame at putting money and power ahead of human life. Shame for not addressing mental illness and isolation in this country. Shame for not addressing toxic masculinity—and the patriarchy that creates it—at the root. Shame for being far from the country of exceptionalism we all grew up believing and hoping we were.
And shame, because we all know that once again, no change will come out of this tragedy. Don’t tell me I should have hope—I had plenty of hope after Newtown. I no longer do. We’re stuck with the guns in this country, and so we’re stuck with the mass murders, too. We are stuck with needing to always think of our exit plan the moment we enter any public establishment. We are stuck knowing that at any time it could be our loved ones, or us, facing down a deranged man with a gun.
Let’s keep the flag at half-mast—at least until we are collectively ready to reconsider our priorities. Because I’m not on board with our current priority list.
Currently, we give guns more rights than children who want an education, people who want to enjoy live music, and those crazy enough to want to go buy groceries.
We make it easier to buy a gun than to vote. Scapegoating gets more attention (and money) than solution-finding. Too many find joy in bullying people off of Twitter. These can’t be the priorities of a nation that thinks of itself as a world leader and role model.
What’s the point anymore of raising the flag? As long as guns are so easy to get, as long as the NRA can continue to buy congresspeople, as long as men think the answer to their problems lies in killing innocent people, there will be more shootings in this country.
But maybe, we could raise the flag between mass shootings, right? Let it wave proudly for all the freedom and liberty it represents when people aren’t gunning each other down in places of business, worship, school, entertainment, or shopping?
Then again, just as that opportunity might arise, we’ll probably witness another murder of a Black man by a police officer. Or perhaps we’ll hear a Fox News commentator call the children at the border “a lower level of human being.” Or we’ll see new and more deadly fires in California that we blame on anything and everything except for climate change, or floods in Texas after unseasonably cold weather knocked out their “independent” energy systems and 57 people died, mostly of hypothermia, in the wealthiest country on Earth.
You see, just when we take our eye off the ball of one kind of tragedy in this country, another one emerges. It’s like Whack-a-Mole, but with tragedies, and death instead of fun and games. The only things that never emerge are solutions. Solutions that can only come through humility, patience, listening, and most importantly, valuing human life. Real, honest, workable, powerful, game-changing solutions.
Like taking the goddamn assault rifles out of civilians’ hands and giving these civilians, in exchange, a country to live in that deserves to raise its head—and its flag—up high.
Until then, let’s just keep it at half-mast.