First, what do I call it? I suppose mass shooting isn’t correct, given there were no deaths and only two known injuries. That was another Fourth of July celebration in another town earlier in the day: seven people are dead as I write this. I read the definition, and I hate now that I know it has a defined number for deaths and casualties.
Mass terror? Terror might be too charged. What best describes an event that begins with gunshots and ends with people stampeding for safety? Someone glibly said there was nothing more American than running from gunshots at a fireworks display. I am not out to prove them wrong, but that might come across as more flippant than I want.
It was ten minutes into the fireworks display that started at 8:45. We saw a motorcade of police motorcycles head in one direction, closer to the crowd, removing a crowd barricade to get there. Helicopters circled overhead with searchlights illuminated. Something seemed off, but we watched the show. Earlier, we selected a spot of my choosing outside the barricaded area, which was distanced from the crowd’s density but with a good view of the night sky. Later, we would be glad of our choice.
I saw people running. Someone asked the fleeing crowd what was happening. I can’t remember the exact words, but they were clear: there was a shooter, and we should run away in the direction others were. The fireworks were to our back, continuing their bombast—the patriotic display would not be interrupted. People were screaming and yelling. I don’t remember the screaming, but I’ve since watched videos with people screaming in terror.
We dashed behind a wall. It seemed safe(r) than the open grass we were on a minute before. I managed to scoop my oldest in front of me while Sara pushed the baby in the stroller, holding our middle child, too. I don’t know why it seemed necessary, but I realized we’d left behind a blanket—a weighted blanket I got Sara for her last birthday—that we used for a picnic spot.
So I returned with a friend, probably a hundred-yard journey back. I was glad I did: with the weighted blanket, I found our youngest’s blankie, and I would have been incandescent when I learned, later on, we were forced to abandon it in our haste.
I also regret what I did: the terror in my oldest’s eyes when she asked where I was going and was afraid I was not coming back. I did come back, so did my friend, and we—four adults and three children—walked swiftly and mostly wordlessly back. Our words were to agree on where to go and when to turn. We also took turns holding kids who could not keep up with the speed or distance, stopping to ensure we stayed together.
A woman driving a sedan full of people, window down, obviously scared, was blocking an intersection where a police officer directed traffic. He gestured her through—her lingering in the box delayed emergency vehicles. She yelled at him in a way that it was clear to me she was riding the wave of adrenaline I was, albeit with a different approach. A man walking close to us took the time to tell another police officer he and his colleagues were worthless, critiquing the fact that he did not seem to be doing much of anything in this crisis. Most people, though, walked fast, talking periodically about their fear.
Our middle child spoke almost ceaselessly. I interjected intermittently, telling her I was scared, too, but that we were safe. It was more of an incantation than a reassurance, and she might have picked up on that. She said without pretense: this was the most scared she’d ever been. It is hard for me, an adult, to say that, to own it so confidently. Sara posted about her experience on Twitter, and one prolific troll with 60,000 tweets took valuable time to say: You’re full of 💩. Another noted that avoiding the horror was as easy as not going to Philadelphia. Helpful. I think about those trolls before I speak of my own fears.
The horror is genuine and not at all a performance. And, I must remind gun rights apologists that this is not what I want. A minoritarian, dogmatic view of firearms has ensured for at least a generation that the most deadly firearms are freely available (and more freely so most recently).
We are less safe. We are more likely to encounter a shooter anywhere we might go: school, church, the grocery store, a parade, a fireworks display. Even if I wanted to carry a gun to all of those places (as is apparently becoming my right), I hope it is evident that this is no solution.
Stray bullets find innocent people who have every right to choose not to carry a gun because we live in a “free and civilized society.” A free society means not having my right to live my life infringed because the right to carry a gun (any gun) anywhere, anytime, is a super-right. 2A disciples call other rights feelings (my rights don’t care about your feelings!) as if this diminishes them. But isn’t freedom a feeling?
We’ve lost the plot if one enumerated right swallows all other rights (even those preserved in the Ninth Amendment). It would not have been necessary to make a list if only one mattered enough to kill the others.
I know my story is yet another anecdote in something we’ve chosen to frame as a debate. But, our debates are always academic; we know well they change no minds. And, I found no solace in either the refrain to wield my vote or that this is just the natural consequence of letting lawless leftists run cities. Somehow my fellow man refuses to see we have a human problem here: a uniquely American obsession with guns. Even those who focus on the human condition have a reductive frame: it is evil, mental illness, and anything but guns.
The problem is the guns.