The El Paso and Dayton Shootings Remind Us That Americans in Public Feel Like Targets
Over this weekend—just before the mass shooting in El Paso, TX, which was just before the mass shooting in Dayton, OH, which was a few days after the mass shooting in Gilroy, CA— I’ve been at a music festival called All Together Now in the south of Ireland. And as I walked into the festival grounds for the first time, an unusual but faintly familiar thing happened: I walked in.
The guy at the gate made sure I had a wristband, but that was it. No metal detector. No pat down. No wand. If you brought a cooler, they took a quick glance inside, and what they were looking for was glass.
That was it.
If you’re reading this in America, doesn’t that sound peculiar to you now? Charmingly passé, as though I’d said we arrived via horse and buggy? When was the last time you went to a big music festival and didn’t get searched for guns on the way in? Or a sporting event? Or increasingly, a movie theater? When was the last time you did a goddamn 5K fun run and didn’t think for one second about where the shooter might be?
It was actually startling. I asked my friends about it—“Can you normally just…do that?”— and it is a testament to how fundamentally different our otherwise similar lives have become that I had to get specific about “that”: “Can you just walk right into an event like this and not get frisked and scanned and have to empty your pockets?”
After a pause and a search for the correct word, one of them patted my back and spoke up: “Yeah, we tend to not annihilate each other over here.”
With that, I looked around at the vast festival area, hearing the distant drumbeats from the various stages and seeing the pockets of dancers and the families and the food stalls and the liquor brand activations and the unarmed Garda, and it hit me: the thought that this might be a soft target has not entered one person’s mind.
As an American in 2019, the thought will not leave mine.
As an American in 2019, I write these words and there’s a part of me that thinks: please don’t let me be giving some nutball an idea. Please don’t let me be fucking up Ireland with my bloody American bullshit.
As an American in 2019, I think this thought, and within twenty-four hours there are two separate mass shootings in my country, in a busy nightlife district and a Walmart, casualties well into the double digits for each. Before I finish writing this, there might have been another. This might be your reminder about El Paso and Dayton.
The idea that I might get shot every time I leave my house is not always at the top of my mind. But it’s in there. It streaks through. How can it not? 215 days into 2019, we have had 250 of these things. They are nearly constant, the very white noise of 21st century life in America, and we are even desensitized to hearing that we are desensitized to them.
We are often warned not to politicize these things, but they are a direct result of politics, and I am currently in a country where the people are exactly like us except that they don’t have guns, so I am going to go ahead and politicize it: It is getting worse, and it is going to keep getting worse, and one of the major reasons it is going to keep getting worse is that our President is an infant. We have more guns than people in the United States, and now we have a president who is pitting us against one another because he is lonely and bored. He is stoking white nationalist anger, and for all the tweedy Sunday-show analysis over his political strategy for doing it, you know and I know that he will only ever say the thing that gets him the quickest and loudest round of applause. It’s no more complicated than that. He is validating and turbo-charging angry young white men’s most racist and violent fantasies, and he is doing it because it gives him a little squirt of dopamine, the way love might have.
It is not my opinion that Donald Trump is making things worse. It is a fact that Donald Trump is making things worse, and if you think it is not a fact, I want you to name one way in which Donald Trump is making things better.
I have written about this many times, and I will repeat I have said before: I would love to take your guns. I want a giant magnet to cover the United States, suck up all the guns, melt them down, and turn them into a sculpture, one of those big, stark Richard Serra deals that we can go and look at and think about what we’ve done. I want them gone. Now.
I also know that that’s not rational. It’s based in my emotions, primarily anger and fear. It’s unworkable. It’s hysterical. I know it.
But if you are reacting to more mass shootings by digging your heels in, by stockpiling more guns, by donating to the NRA, by begging people not to politicize it, by in any way defending the status quo, you are also being hysterical. The idea that there should be no meaningful impediment to a young guy getting a goddamn assault rifle is also irrational. You too are acting out your fear and anger. For all the gritted-teeth Charlton Heston drag pageantry, the message is still steeped in emotion. Your way is equally unworkable, and the death toll of your way is increasing exponentially.
We have been fucked when it comes to guns for my entire life on this planet. Now we’re fucked and angry. Now we’re fucked and we don’t trust each other and our guns are deadlier. Now we’re fucked and our driver is drunk. If you don’t think we’re fucked, do me a favor: go to a place that’s not fucked and take look around. Look at the way people are able to relax. Look at the way they gather when they’re not worried they’ll get slaughtered.
That was us just a few years ago, I swear.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.