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Call Our Mass Killings What They Are

August 16th, 2019 by dk

If we can agree on only one thing about guns in America, it’s that the debate has become stale. Both sides are entrenched. Every argument is well-rehearsed. Patterns of response have become so predictable that they invite parodies from all sides. The issue must be reframed if there’s to be any hope for change.

The most recent mass shootings might not have attracted so much attention, except that they happened within hours of each other. Twenty-two people were killed and more than two dozen were injured at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas. Hours later, nine people were killed and dozens injured at a popular nightlife district in downtown Dayton, Ohio.

By any objective measure, mass shootings are becoming more frequent in the United States. It was inevitable that two shooters would eventually share a national headline. This is what prompts my modest proposal. If we can’t figure out a way to reduce mass killings, we may need to regulate and schedule them.

We should acknowledge this ongoing horror as the ritualized human sacrifice that it is. Then we can coordinate our nation’s thoughts and prayers. We can schedule our national grieving. Speechwriters can work a new spin on an old topic. We can shop and dance and worship without fear on shooting-free days between scheduled sacrifices.

Some would say religion has lost its hold on modernity. Others see our unquestioned beliefs simply shifting to more material matters.

Think of the superstitions that support our status quo. Any new gun regulations will reduce our overall freedoms and leave people less able to protect themselves from government overreach. Freedom and prosperity have expanded together for generations, so losing a holster might hurt our pocketbook. Our founding fathers had Nostradamus-like foresight into how modern society should be organized, so the 2nd amendment is sacrosanct. Nothing can be changed, even as we all wish things could be different.

Superstitions eventually require oblations. We’ve reached that point.

Author Shirley Jackson has been shocking high school students since 1948 with “The Lottery.” Nuclear holocaust was Jackson’s new fear. Domestic terrorism is ours.

In her short story, traditional families gather in the town square for the annual lottery, disdaining other villages where the tradition has been abandoned. One old-timer warned against change. “Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery.” The person chosen in the annual lottery is stoned to death.

Are we living differently now? We use ritual to mark time, just as Jackson’s villagers.

“Seems like there’s no time at all between lotteries any more.” Mrs. Delacroix said to Mrs. Graves in the back row.

“Seems like we got through with the last one only last week.”

“Time sure goes fast.” Mrs. Graves said.

Time sure goes fast for everyone participating in the ritual, except for the “winner,” for whom time stops altogether. Given our current predicament, we need a fresher and more honest discussion about what we’re doing and why we’re allowing it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at Jackson’s short story can be read here:

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