When I awoke to the news of a mass shooting in Las Vegas, I paused momentarily recognizing the loss of life then continued my morning routine to head towards work. In my morning meditation, I made sure to include those impacted by the shooting. But frankly, I continued most of the day with the murderous events far from my mind.
Some time ago, I was heavily invested in an activist mindset that led me to see a world of oppositions – competing ideas, experiences and realities. I identified as anti-white supremacy, anti-patriarchal, anti-this, anti-that and anti-anyone who thought this or that. I soon found myself needing to determine what I stand for rather than what I stand against. To save any sight I had of humanity in people, it became necessary for me to see the contradictions between and within ideas as places to build connections from rather than breaking down people based on them. Within each moment, I now seek to understand the perspectives and experiences of others. Thus, while the shooting and its enactor weren’t my focus throughout the day, I carried with me the hope to pull some greater universal meaning from knowing that these events occurred.
In a predictable yet reasonable manner, the issue of gun control quickly fell off of the lips and fingertips of journalists, politicians and other concerned people who sit at various points across the spectrum on the issue of guns. I saw tweets from Hillary Clinton, headlines across Breitbart and the 24-hour television news cycle run the gambit on options from restricting gun access to protecting gun rights.
Recognizing these competing ideas among are centered on this one issue, I sought to find common threads across perspectives that extend well beyond the surface-level topic of guns. Initially, I planned to use various conservative, liberal and progressive media sources as comparable research but after an enlightening conversation with a colleague, I pursued a This American Life podcast episode: “Americans who love their guns and the Americans who hate them.”
This American Gun Life
In this episode of This American Life, there are six stories depicting woeful, exciting, frightful and alluring experiences with guns. Two of the stories struck me as most jarring and complex.
Mike Robbins and Suzanna Hupp both experienced first-hand shootings and lived to become advocates on opposing ends of gun control.
Mike Robbins, a Chicago police officer, was shot 11 times in 1994 after he and his partner responded to a gang disturbance. When shot, Mike felt as though a horse or elephant kicked him in the chest. Neither he nor his partner was able to return fire; his partner noticed Mike was bouncing up and down in the car and if he had fired, he believes he would have shot Mike rather than the assailant.
With the shooter firing directly at Mike, he felt he was going to die. He spoke of his mother appearing in the car, pulling him into her bosom although she had passed years before in 1982. Mike Robbins went on to purge his guns and become a passionate gun control advocate as he spoke around the country – he later died in 2008.
Suzanna Hupp attended a Texas restaurant with her parents in 1991 when she heard gunshots but she did not have her gun. “At this point, he was about 15 feet from us… I realized a few months earlier that I made the stupidest decision of my life. My gun was 100 yards away in my car – completely useless to me – because I had chosen to obey Texas laws,” Suzanna says.
Seeing several people die, her father decided to do something, so he rushed the shooter and subsequently was shot in the chest. Suzanna told her mother they must leave the restaurant, she turned around only to find her mother had not followed her out. Suzanna found out from police that her mother crawled to her father and held him before she was shot in the head. Suzanna became a crucial spokesperson for changing the gun laws in Texas to support concealed carry and was later elected as a state representative.
One Mirror, Many Views
By the end of Mike and Suzanna’s stories, I was left with two major thoughts on the choices presented to these victims of gunfire. In Mike’s story, an officer’s choice to enter gang violence protecting the lives of other almost took his away while his partner chose between accepting his victimhood or firing back at the assailant, possibly killing his own partner. In Suzanna’s story, a father chose between watching his family die or dying trying to save them, a daughter chose between dying with her father or running for her life, and a mother chose between running for her life with her daughter or to dying alongside her husband.
Each of these stories intricately depicts fear, power as well as the desire for safety and to live. Mike and Suzanna each experienced physical disempowerment that stood to threaten their lives – but ultimately each truly sought to know safety. Each person’s relationship to guns is unique whether they felt it provided them protection or was unable to stop the violence they ultimately encountered. But while some of their views are seemingly opposing, these two individuals are strung together by shared human emotions and wanting to experience an element of peace – to exist within the absence of violence.
For Mike and Suzanna, impacting laws around guns were tangible ways to transform those horrifying experiences into protecting lives. Yet listening to each encounter with shooters made me wonder about the series of events and matrix of choices leading up to each assailant becoming an active shooter. It seems to me that the idea of intervening on someone at the point of purchasing guns or actively engaging in a shooting is far too late. But in many ways, their stories serve as mirrors held up to America and the world magnifying the culture of violence that has manifested, yet each onlooker in the mirror walks away with their own interpretation about what meaning is being revealed. One thing is for certain, there is a need to connect the core ideas of humanity beneath those interpreted meanings for the sake of life itself.
Penned by Janessa Robinson