The night before my youngest child – whom we call Little Brother – leaves on a four-day eighth-grade field trip to Washington D.C., I double-check his suitcase against the school’s packing list to make sure he has everything he needs. He has packed too many shirts and pants, and not enough socks and underwear. He forgot deodorant, a critical item for eighth-grade boys. The long-sleeved green school t-shirts that the students will wear at all times during the trip are in the dryer. The batteries for his camera and phone are charging in the kitchen. I tuck a box of musubi into his day pack as a snack for the bus. I remind him to brush his teeth every day and to text me every night.
Then I tell him what to do in case of a mass shooting.
Stay calm. Barricade the door. Duck behind furniture. Keep moving. Get out. Just get out.
Little Brother is thirteen years old.
And then, so that he does not worry, I lie to my son.
I tell him that since the president will be out of the country the week of his trip, Washington will probably be quieter while he is there.
I do not know if that is actually true. But, I do know that even if he were here, at home, he would not be any safer. Any of us could be caught in a mass shooting or a random act of violence anytime, anywhere.
Last week, freshman Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) ended a marathon fifteen hour filibuster demanding that Congress finally do something — anything — about the gun control issue. Just days prior, a gunman committed one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern American history when he stormed into the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida with a semiautomatic assault rifle, shooting and killing 49 victims and wounding 53 more before being killed by police. Most of the Orlando shooter’s victims that night — the twelfth of LGBT Pride Month — were Black and Brown LGBT clubgoers out for a night of drinks and dancing at Pulse’s weekly Latin night.
When Omar Mateen, Orlando shooter, attacked Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning, he did so with a legally purchased Sig Sauer MCX and Glock17 handgun. The rifle was first developed at the request of US military to accept a range of ammunition types, and its specialty is its built-in silencing technology. On June 12, Mateen used his MCX to fire a still unknown number of bullets at a rate of 24 rounds in 9 seconds.
As this gun enthusiast blog raves, “it really does look like SIG Sauer took the concept of the Honey Badger and ran with it all the way to the finish line. And then decided to make it available for sale to the civilian market and not just for military contracts.”
When I first moved to the United States from Canada, I was shocked by the casual normalcy with which Americans treated their guns. Canada is no stranger to guns — we rank 12th in the world in gun ownership with about 1 gun for every 3 Canadians — but we lack a culture of firearm fetishism. Few Canadians feel an urge to purchase a gun for non-hunting purposes, and Canadian gun owners just don’t feel the need to walk around strapped. Efforts to circumvent our gun control laws were an anathema; I remember as a child reading a two-page spread in the Toronto Star dedicated to an investigative story about a homicide committed using an unregistered firearm: it had been purchased across the border in America.
The first time I saw a gun, I had just moved to the United States. I was shopping for athletic clothes at a local sporting goods store when I wandered over to the outdoors section. There, within a display counter, were a collection of handguns. I stared in horror at them: lying just inches from my face behind a wall of plexiglass — a weapon that existed only for the purpose of killing another human being with a quick pull of a trigger. This was a machine invented only for ending life, easily purchased for a few hundred dollars.
I couldn’t help wondering, “is human life worth so little to Americans, that the means for taking it can be found on sale next to the sleeping bags and ice coolers?”
I was sixteen at the time. Nearly two decades of living in America has done little to blunt this initial reaction I had to American gun culture. I’ve been in the United States — where most people love their guns — all of my adult life. I’ve lived in Arizona — where most people really love their guns — for several years, during which time I met many people with Concel & Carry Permits and who never went anywhere without a gun in their purse or holstered at their hip. I’ve fired a .45 (which, admittedly, was pretty fun).
But, I’ve never stopped wondering why Americans place so little value in human life that we are unwilling to do anything about this country’s senseless hyperproliferation of guns.
Dr. Vivek Murthy was nominated by the Obama Administration in November 2013 to replace acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, who held the position from July 2013 in the wake of former Surgeon General Regina Benjamin’s resignation. Murthy, who holds both an MD and an MBA, was born in Huddersfield, England to parents hailing from Karnataka, India; the family moved to Miami, Florida when Murthy was three years old. Murthy earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and his medical degree from Yale School of Medicine in 2003, and was one of the founding members of Doctors for America — a group of physicians supporting comprehensive healthcare reform. In addition to this group, Murthy has founded several other non-profits and organizations aimed at improving healthcare in this country.
Murthy is everything one might look for in a surgeon general: a physician committed not just to his medical practice but also to political advocacy, all focused towards improving healthcare access. So why is it took over a year for the Senate to approve this highly-qualified nominee?
When I first heard about the incident yesterday, I scoured the web, hoping that the victims or the perpetrator were not Asian American. Something about Elliot Rodger — who is biracially Asian American — and his deadly shooting spree in Isla Vista had me hyper-sensitive. I just couldn’t help thinking: “no, please, our community can’t take any more tragedy”.
On Facebook, Albert Lee, Paul Lee’s brother, posted about his anguish:
“At a time when we feel a level of loss, grief, and pain we couldn’t have ever imagined, we are so overwhelmed by all of the thoughts and prayers from the community.
“At this moment all we can ask is to continue to remember Paul and all that he has left behind for us. Thank you all for blanketing us with your kind words, we will thank you all individually in due time.
“Paul, you handsome shekki, we miss you and love you more than you know. Keep dancin’ in heaven.”
The term “shekki” is an expletive in Korean, but between friends it’s used as an endearment.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the Lee family. The loss of yet another young man — barely older than a child — by gun violence, wounds deeply. That he is now the fourth Asian American man to die in relation to a mass shooting on a college campus in the span of two weeks is unfathomable and senseless.