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A community grieves at the site of this weekend’s mass shooting in El Paso. This photo comes to us courtesy of Jonathan Ng Chun Kit (Instagram: @jonathanngchunkit).

Voices / Viewpoint

We are free, we are told

The cost of our freedom is that all of us live with targets on our backs, thanks to a small minority of voters and their beholden and craven leaders in Congress

Kevin O’Keefe is artistic director of Circus Minimus, which brings the magic of circus arts to kids and to schools.

West Brattleboro

Two back-to-back mass shootings in the United States within 24 hours.

One of them was clearly terror from the white nationalist fringe of Donald Trump’s Republican base — if not actually sanctioned, then at the very least, partially motivated by the hatred spewed from the top of the party.

In two other countries (Australia and New Zealand) following similar incidents, those democracies enacted a ban on assault rifles. In New Zealand, they did so within six days.

Imagine that: six days from today, we wouldn’t have to wake up to news of another senseless tragedy in another American town or city.

An effective national gun registration program (similar to car registration) and a ban on assault rifles: these are two effective, minimum-response measures from a representative government. No action, despite the 60 percent of Americans who’ve embraced sensible guns laws and 90 percent who support enhanced background checks.

In this country, we are held hostage by the distorted view of freedom by a small minority of voters and their beholden and craven leaders in Congress.

Moscow Mitch McConnell, that’s you and your NRA A-rated colleagues I’m calling out.

* * *

Instead, six days from the date of these tragedies, they will have been replaced in our newsfeeds by other, more recent stories and, for most of us, forgotten.

But for thousands of American families, the tragedy will never end. They have lost their parents, their siblings, their children. They walk through every day, knowing that others will soon lose their loved ones, too.

Survivors and their families don’t even get the small comfort of knowing that the death of their loved ones — who died way early, violently, unnecessarily — will lead to real change in our country’s gun laws. They walk through every day feeling the holes in their hearts, caused by the weapons of war, still out there waiting to destroy the next family.

Freedom, we are told, isn’t free. The cost of that freedom is that all of us live with targets on our backs.

We used to be able to comfort ourselves by thinking, “Well, that was in [fill in the blank...i.e. the big city, faraway, the deep south, etc.].” We know now that it can happen here, there, or anywhere.

As it has happened in El Paso, Dayton, Gilroy, San Bernardino, Baltimore, Orlando, Newtown, Las Vegas, Virginia Beach, Sebring, and on and on.

As it has happened in shopping centers, churches, a yoga studio, schools, and synagogues.

As it has happened on streets, parks, backyards, or offices, at the movie theater, post office, or concert venue.

None of us are safe, but according to some, we are all free.

* * *

We are free to protect our family, although the fact is that owning a gun makes our family members 10 times more likely to be shot, either on purpose or accidentally.

We are told that “the only to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” although gun ownership means that an innocent someone is 25 times more likely to be shot than a criminal.

I read recently on Facebook (by a writer who did his best to appear neutral) that the assault weapons ban in effect for 10 years didn’t work.

It didn’t work perfectly, I’d like to say. There were still mass shootings, but the number dramatically increased in the year the ban lapsed due to Republicans and the NRA terrorists. Don’t tell the hundreds of families whose members died in automatic-gun fire that a ban on assault rifles wouldn’t work.

We are free, we are told. Free to buy more and more guns to assuage our fears, stoked by gun manufacturers and their terror promoters at the NRA. We are free to protect ourselves “from the rapists and criminals flooding our borders.”

But, no — alas, we are not free. How can any of us be free when terror is just around the next corner, in the next moment, at the next church picnic, softball game or bar?

Terror from the fringe? Terror from a white nationalist? Terror from Trump’s base?

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Originally published in The Commons issue #522 (Wednesday, August 7, 2019). This story appeared on page E1.

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