On Sunday night, like everyone else in California and most everyone else around the country, I sat transfixed by the news of the latest mass shooting, this one closer to home than any before. The events in the closing hours of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, the ultimate small-town food and music bash that sends its proceeds to local nonprofits and draws an estimated 100,000 people a year, are unshocking in a shocking way: three innocent people, including a 13-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy out for a day of fun with their families, are dead, and the latest angry man with a gun – a 19-year-old Gilroy High grad with a penchant for racist and misogynistic ideology – who killed them with an assault-style rifle he purchased legally in Nevada, is dead too, shot to death by Gilroy police within 60 seconds of him opening fire on the crowd. More than a dozen other people were wounded.
“We had thousands of people there in such a small area,” Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said at a press conference the next morning, on July 29. “It could have gone so much worse so fast.”
Of course it can happen here. Did any of us ever think it couldn’t? That it could have been so much worse, had Gilroy Police not acted swiftly and efficiently, is of little comfort.
So I sat with the television tuned to CNN, and I sat with my Twitter feed and my phone blowing up from text messages from various people seeking news and clarity (I had little of either to offer), when a much beloved former colleague messaged. William-Arthur Haynes and I worked together at a business paper in San Jose, him covering finance and banking and me covering technology. We took lunch walks once a week or so, and we commuted back to the East Bay many nights. I referred to him as “Skippy,” because despite the tattoos, he dressed like a high-fashion prepster, prompting him to call me “Buffy,” because why not? We were the newsroom’s platonic odd couple.
“You’re the closest thing I have to there,” his text read. “You OK?” I told him I was, and so were my kids, and then together we despaired.
“What’s it coming to, man? I’m infuriated every time, for a few days, until life carries on, and it happens again and again and again,” he wrote via text. “I’m so mad and sad, Buff. Just mad and really sad.”
We’re living in a world of hate where the guy who screams loudest wins, I told him. All you can do is love your kids and try to give them the tools they’ll need to navigate the insanity.
Except how do you teach them to navigate the insanity of an angry man with a high-powered weapon? Active shooter training in schools? Bulletproof backpacks for them to wear as a safety measure in the hope they won’t get slaughtered in school? One of my co-workers had an ad for those backpacks come through her Instagram feed on Sunday and she said it made her want to throw her phone across the room.
“And yet those who have never uttered a word find their voice with a gun,” Haynes wrote. “A child, no matter who teaches them, will never understand. It’s adults who’ve failed another generation.
“It’s going to get a lot worse. You know that, right?” he wrote. “What we’ve known and expected will be gone before our children reach our age.”
I think what we’ve known and expected is already gone. I know it’s gone for my kids, who are now adults in their 20s. They were born years after Columbine, but according to a database put together by Mother Jones, there have been 95 mass shootings since my older son was born in 1994, totaling 739 dead. The largest number of victims in a single incident happened less than two years ago, when an angry white man with a gun, motivated for reasons that will never be known, killed 58 and injured 546 when he opened fire from his hotel window on attendees at an open-air country music festival on the Las Vegas strip.
I have no answers. Since I started at the Weekly in 2010, I think this is the fifth or sixth mass shooting column I’ve written. I know there will be another because our government is unable and unwilling to act.
Maybe the next column will be a 750-word scream.