How many more AR-15 massacres?

by Teri Carter, Kentucky Lantern

About 48 hours after a mass shooting in a Louisville bank left five victims dead and eight injured, including a young, newly sworn-in police officer fighting for his life with a gunshot to the head, I was standing in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport security line, witnessing massive waste in the name of safety.

The frail, elderly gentleman in front of me had a walker. He was traveling alone. The long, rush-hour line came to a halt. Could he walk with a cane instead? the TSA agent wanted to know, easing the walker from his grip, handing the man a wooden cane that was almost comically too tall for him. And did he have any metal plates that would set off the metal detector? A phone or change in his pocket? Metal belt buckle? 

The man rubbed the back of his neck, explaining a surgery. He then patted his shirt and pants pockets and lifted his sweater vest to show the TSA agent he was not wearing a belt. Still, when he walked unsteadily through the detector with the too-tall cane, alarm bells rang. He backed up and walked through two more times, confused and flustered, before he was finally allowed to retrieve his walker.

Then, I set off the alarms as well. I was randomly selected for TSA to check my cell phone (yes, only my cell phone) by a machine looking for traces of explosive materials. Like mice stuck in a maze, I waited and people waited behind me.

This is how we spend our energy and tax dollars in the name of safety.

I am an optimist to the bone, one of those odd, wide-smiling people who runs to hug strangers because isn’t everyone a potential new friend? This suffocating hopelessness I feel is new. I can not remember a time when my heart — in a very literal sense — has felt so heavy. Spending the last few months with our petty, cruel, do-nothing Kentucky GOP supermajority in the legislature did this, I believe. Then came the Nashville school shooting, with an AR-15, and the bank massacre in Louisville, with an AR-15, followed by the standard, cut-and-paste, thoughts and prayers from elected Republicans.

Do they not feel the heaviness the rest of us feel? The overwhelming need to grieve, to think, to talk, to try something new, to scream? 

I have written so often following mass shootings that I title them like this in my laptop: Gun column after Parkland shooting; Gun column after Covenant School shooting; Gun column after Louisville bank shooting. 

“And so it goes,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote in “Slaughterhouse Five,” “and so it goes.”

Once through security, I waited to board my flight while reading articles in my news feed. One was titled, “The Grim Truth: The War on guns is Lost.” 

Another, by Maria Popova in The Marginalian, read “we only live once, with no rehearsal or reprise — a fact at once so oppressive and so full of possibility that it renders us, in the sublime words of Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, ‘ill-prepared for the privilege of living.’ All the while, we walk forward accompanied by the specters of versions of ourselves we failed to or chose not to become.”

There is so much I am failing to do, I thought, with my heavy heart, so much I am not doing to help stop the plague of gun violence. What can I do? 

In mid-February I met with my representative in the Kentucky House, James Tipton, to talk about common sense gun legislation. He basically shrugged and said “but mental health” as casually as spitting out a mustard seed. 

I testified in committee against Kentucky becoming a Second Amendment sanctuary state, which passed through our Republican supermajority without so much as a blink, ironically providing the sanctuary for guns that the self-described “pro-lifers” continually refuse for human beings they’ve dubbed “illegal.”

The day after the Louisville mass shooting, I called my best friend with a frantic idea. What if, I said, and this is going to sound crazy, but what if I did a sit-in at the Capitol every single day until the legislature does something? I could get people to join me, do interviews, film it, write about it.

God love her. She listened. Who among us hasn’t thought of this, and more? And then she stated the obvious, with grace and under the weight of her own heavy heart. That’s a huge commitment, she said. What about your work, your life, the summer, your grandkids? The fact that the legislature isn’t even back in session until next January?

She’s right. And yet how many more shootings, including mass shootings, will there be before next January? Before the Kentucky Derby? During the summer? After school starts? 

Meanwhile, as Popova wrote, we will continue “forward accompanied by the specters of versions of ourselves we failed to or chose not to become,” insisting that elderly gentlemen be stopped and scanned at our airports under the witless guise of safety. 

We will mindlessly cooperate when chosen at random for extra screening and pretend we are safe.

Our hearts will grow as heavy as the great grey whale while watching Republican politicians go on TV to regurgitate party-line bullet points — Bullet. Points. — about the sanctity of their beloved Second Amendment with an arbitrary Bible verse or two thrown in. 

There will be a push for more armed security guards with bigger guns and the building of fences around our schools to, as one politician recently described, make them into fortresses.

And I will open up my laptop and title a new document, “Gun column after ____________ shooting.”

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kentucky Lantern maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jamie Lucke for questions: Follow Kentucky Lantern on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo: A makeshift memorial outside the Old National Bank in Louisville, where five were killed Monday in a mass shooting. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Abbey Cutrer)