I have had a gun pressed against my head. And as much as I want to describe it, I find it almost impossible to do. For me, sound distorted and it was like being under water. Yet my senses were so acute that I could feel the prickly flow of blood as it tried to decide where it was needed most. There was numbness, horror, dread and sadness. There was an instinct that tooks over all at once. It happened twice. Both were armed robberies. Each lasted no more than 90 seconds. And together they altered the course of my life.
In a strange way, there was some comfort in the knowledge that the events were transactional. I had various items that they wanted. And I could hand them over. Provided I didn’t panic, and they didn’t panic, there was reasonable chance that I would survive the ordeal. And so, I handed over my watch and wallet and my phone and laptop. And I did survive.
Unlike the victims of the Florida school shooting. And unlike the victims of all the school attacks before them. There was nothing that they could do that would pacify the assailant. He wanted them to suffer and he wanted their lives.
The response to the latest killing spree is horribly predictable. Everyone seems to retreat into their “gun control” corners and the victims, although utilised to further causes, are as always forgotten. And whereas there’s little doubt as to the importance of this discussion, I can’t help thinking that we are missing the point. Because surely before we get to the gun discussion we should be asking;
Why is it that American children want to see each other dead?
I can’t recall a school shooting in South Africa – one of the more crime affected counties in the world. And the place where I experienced two gun related incidents.
We are told that Israel doesn’t experience this. Nor Japan. And whereas parts of Africa have been decimated by the violence of Boko Haram and others, and where children are often recruited to fight adult wars, fellow students don’t seem to walk into a school and kill each other, just because.
What is it about the environment in the USA that causes children to believe that killing other children (and teachers) is a viable option? Forget the guns for just a moment – they are the means of death. They are the result. The debate as to whether removing access to guns would reduce the instance of these events is important but far from the essence of what I believe should be the discussion. Rather, I believe that we should be seeking to determine what lies beneath the surface and that allows children to see killing others as an option.
We need to understand what causes children to experience the degree of loneliness and alienation and pain that is so massive that they plan and execute the horror that has become so common.
The answer has to be complex. It is unlikely that it is simply violent games, or the lack of God in schools or bullying or mental health. It is unlikely that it is simply that emotional hurt has been elevated above all else and that it creates a moral equivalence; hurt my feelings and I can hurt you. It is unlikely that it is purely about guns and Republicans and Democrats and Obama and Trump and the lobby and the hypocrisy.
What is certain is that whilst we continue to have the same conversations about all the same things, there is a kid somewhere who feels that it is acceptable and indeed justified to murder other children. And is planning to do just that. Whilst we debate whether Obama or Trump is to blame.
My incidents resulted in no one’s death. And yet it has taken years to mend. To some extent, because the events happened within a short period of each other, the “complex” nature of the trauma might never fully leave me.
It is hard to imagine how the survivors in Florida will recover. And even harder to imagine the families of those who did not. But the one thing that is certain is that if we don’t begin to have real conversations about why this is happening instead of with what it is happening, we can count on it happening again.