Mass shootings are part of American culture. It is time we owned up to it.
We had hoped that these acts of violence could not weave their way into our nation’s fabric. We tried to hold this grim reality at bay, hoping that each incident could somehow remain an anomaly.
But so far, we have lost every battle against guns in our society, and slaughters are now part of our norm.
So is hatred.
Most of us would denounce anyone who blatantly expressed disdain for another based on his or her race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. That’s what decent people are taught to do.
But few of us have ever seen hatred up close. It remains a vague concept only observed from a distance, from the viewpoint of someone else’s eyes. And too often, our thoughts of it are fleeting.
Some Americans naively believed that we had long buried this demon, but hatred is a formidable foe. The moment we let down our guard, it rises and grips us by the neck, wrestling us into the dirt, where we wallow until we find the strength to pull ourselves up.
What happened at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last weekend was the merger of two evils that have been allowed to flourish in our country. It was a marriage of convenience between hatred and guns that would inevitably lead to tragedy.
The gunman, who authorities said had been spewing hatred toward Jews online for months, was able to obtain 21 guns registered in his name. He used an AR-15-style assault rifle and three handguns during his rampage.
When the victims of mass shootings are young, as they often are in this country, we mourn the loss of innocence and the shattering of dreams not yet achieved. Sadly, we have become accustomed to the theft of our babies. But what, when the victims are old?
The irony of this shooting is that elderly people died as they were gathered to bless the young.
The 11 victims had more than 800 years of combined wisdom between them, and according to those who knew them, each had so much more to give.
Rose Mallinger was the oldest. At 97, she was described as spry and vibrant with “a lot of years left.” Melvin Wax, 88, was said to be always full of jokes. Bernice Simon, 84, and her husband, Sylvan, 86, died together in the same synagogue where they were married 62 years ago.
Perhaps it was a coincidence that this partnership between hatred and guns would be revealed during a traditional baby-naming ceremony, where Jewish children are given a Hebrew name that will follow them through every major cycle of their life.
From the consecration ceremony, to their coming-of-age, to marriage to their burial, this name will be used as a testament to who they are. The people had gathered to offer their wishes for a life filled with loving relationships and performance of good deeds.
Maybe the shooter wasn’t that conniving or even that clever. Perhaps he just stumbled upon this symbolic occasion that bridges the gap between the young and old. Perhaps, as a bigoted killer, he might just consider himself lucky.
Though his vicious assault has caused the entire nation great pain, the hate-filled shooter did not win. He has no cause to celebrate.
If anything, he has made our nation more resilient. He has forced those of us who support gun control to pick up the mantra yet again and vow to keep it in the forefront. He has made people who detest hatred of any kind more determined to stand up against evil.
On Monday, Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers said his synagogue would rebuild and “be back stronger and better than ever.”
“You can cut off some branches from our tree, but Tree of Life has been in Pittsburgh for 154 years. We’re not going anywhere,” he said on CNN. “I will not let hate close down my building.”
If we are to change our nation’s course, all of us must be as committed as the rabbi to being stronger and better than ever. We cannot allow this deadly union to strengthen. We can not allow these evil deeds to forever define who we are as a country.
We must fight harder for stricter gun laws. And we must scream out so loud against bigotry that it silences the voices of hatred.
Dahleen Glanton is a Chicago Tribune columnist.
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