There are the sirens. The police cars. The SWAT team. The yellow tape. The media trucks. The overhead shots of the crime scene. The people fleeing through the back door. The livestream. The tearful interviews. The embraces of survivors. The shot of the bloody suspect. The police chief on CNN. The shock. The hashtags. The grief.
Didn’t we just go through this? In Atlanta six days ago. In five other mass shootings in the last week. In Colorado Springs, Aurora, Littleton. Las Vegas, Orlando. Newtown, Parkland.
No, it feels different. It’s Boulder. It’s us.
It’s our turn.
It’s shocking to see the roof of our neighborhood grocery store on the national news, and the sidewalks of Broadway tinted by the red and blue lights of cop cars out our office window. It’s shocking to see our neighbors struggle in front of dozens of news cameras; struggle to make sense of how a normal day in Boulder, a trip to the grocery store, became, in an instant, an indelible moment in history.
Shocking to see our home, from the locked doors of our South Boulder office, become another entry in a long list of mass shootings in the U.S. A name on a Wikipedia page. Boulder, 10 killed.
Ten people. Eric, Denny, Neven, Rikki, Tralona, Suzanne, Teri, Kevin, Lynn and Jody. Ten souls taken from this earth. Any one of them could have been us, could have been you. Someone you know, or someone you love. Maybe you do know them, maybe you do love them.
And maybe this feeling is familiar, because you can’t live in the United States of America without being affected by gun violence.
March 22 was just another day in this country. Just like any of us could have been in that store that day, a killer with an assault rifle could have opened fire in any community in the U.S. That’s the country we live in. And the question we must ask ourselves as we grapple for meaning and cope with our grief is, would our reactions to this shooting be different if it happened in Omaha or Phoenix or Grand Rapids?
Of course it would. Because our reaction now to this shooting so close, with our neighbors and loved ones and public servants involved, is different than our reaction to shootings elsewhere. And so we ask ourselves next: Does every town need to endure a mass shooting in order for change to occur?
The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who so swiftly and efficiently launched a national movement to change gun laws did so because they were burdened with the weight of grief from a mass shooting in their community — the burden that we now carry.
They were representatives of a generation that was finally going to say, “Enough,” and the media lauded these young catalysts. But it’s clear now the focus was too much on the messenger and not the message. And we put too much on them. We looked at these motivated young people and handed off the impossible burden of reversing centuries of U.S. gun culture. And the events of the past few days are evidence we didn’t do enough.
When soulless people called them crisis actors, and when those same opportunistic halfwits did the same to the Sandy Hook parents, did we do enough to engage and challenge our neighbors, family members and friends who were “just asking questions” in group chats and at family gatherings? Did we push our lawmakers enough, support other communities to push their lawmakers enough?
Of course we didn’t. Maybe we couldn’t. How could we sympathize with survivors of mass shootings who must cope with unique grief, carry a unique burden?
Now we know. And we can leverage the resources in our community to effect change. Though there is a complex array of factors — mental health, socioeconomics, social support —that contribute to every mass shooting, one thing is constant: the ease with which those who want to kill people can get a gun.
And there is a tragic irony in the fact that the suspected killer used an assault rifle, according to the arrest affidavit, and just a week prior, a judge struck down Boulder’s assault weapon ban — not that the ban would’ve prevented this shooting given the suspect didn’t live in Boulder and we don’t yet know where he bought the gun.
We may not know all the answers that will prevent another shooting like this in another community or our own, but we have places to start: ban assault rifles, expand background checks, remove officials beholden to the gun lobby and its hardline supporters from office, invest in mental health resources and find novel ways to reach those on the fringe before they commit acts of violence.
You, like us, may be feeling a lot of things right now — and the shock may not have even worn off yet. But a look around social media indicates righteous anger is one such emotion. Anger that this happened, anger that many of the officials we elected to protect us are failing, anger that we didn’t do enough to hold them accountable until gun violence came for us, and anger that we, too, must now carry the burden of changing gun culture.
Let’s turn it into action.
We’ll do our small part at Boulder Weekly by examining the causes of this tragedy, exploring the solutions, tracking the impact of the violence in our community, and holding lawmakers accountable for action. We’ll do it long after the TV crews leave town and another story takes over the news cycle. And we’ll widen our scope on this issue to cover events and actions beyond Boulder County because now we’re certain: gun violence anywhere is gun violence here.
You may notice we aren’t providing much coverage of the incident in this week’s paper, as there are plenty of local and national sources to find the limited details yet released — and plenty of conflicting and erroneous information flying around the internet. But like so many of you, we’re religiously following this as it unfolds. We understand our role in Boulder’s media landscape — to dig deeper and contextualize breaking news to help the community understand and process what is happening.
As journalists, we’re committed to covering this story for the weeks, months, even years ahead. As people, we’re grieving.
But the burden of change is lessened if we all carry some weight. Tell us what you’re doing to make change. Tell us how we can help you.
And take care of yourself, Boulder. Take the time you need to cope and then look forward. We are not victims. We are all survivors — it could have been any of us, and it always could have been.
And so we will make change. We will dawn a new day in America.
A verified fundraiser for the families of those killed on March 22 is open for donations.