Cold Blood

Does your activism begin and end with your shirt color? You're not helping.

The news started filtering in from Westwood just as we were settling into our offices, 10 miles or so east in Hollywood. Shooting at UCLA. Campus on lockdown. LAPD on citywide tactical alert.

That was mid-morning Wednesday. By mid-afternoon, the L.A. Times editorial board had the right of it: “Just a murder-suicide in a small UCLA office. And so America shrugs."

They’re not wrong. We did. I’m in charge of passing news stories like these along to MTV's political team for reactions, but I didn't even think about assigning a writer to this shooting, not for hours. Instead, I checked on my friends in Westwood and went back to work. It didn’t occur to me to reflect on why, either, but in retrospect, it makes chilling, galling sense. After all, what is there left to say?

What is there to say, because we’re done with this fight. We’ve been done. A half-dozen elementary school employees and 20 of the children in their care, all dead, weren’t enough. Nine midweek churchgoers gunned down in prayer didn’t do it. 2015 was “The year of mass shootings,” and we’re still here. Happy holidays; next to nothing is different. Gun deaths in America provoke an automatic response now, a reaction that has nothing to do with horror. It's all data entry at this point — where, how many, repeat — and it's become a feature of our existence.

And in between these blinders we’ve so painstakingly constructed for ourselves, each new shooting takes on the spiritual quality of a fender-bender. Just a flick of the ear on the national consciousness. Not a call to action, but a reminder that we’ve decided, as a society, that this is all fine.

We couldn’t bring ourselves to care hard enough, for long enough, to stand with the parents of massacred kids in Connecticut, with the families of literal Christian martyrs in South Carolina, or in honor of hundreds of other dead Americans, all those snapped threads of possibility that never made cable news because they died without a sufficiently glossy narrative hook. We’ve given the barest acknowledgement to the fact that our countrymen doing most of the spree killing are this nation’s fortunate sons. They’re people who look like the people who’re paying the most money to let them keep at it, to satisfy their own broke-dick carnival-mirror notion of masculinity. And then, every time, we’ve looked away, in time to avoid reckoning, really reckoning with the human cost of this lethally narrow idea of the world.

Worse than that: We’ve abdicated our responsibility to care for one another, that sacred inborn duty placed upon us by God or country or both, because what, it’s just too much work? Too much for the outright pacifists among us. Too much for the people of faith who actually enjoy hewing to elementary religious tenets like, “Hey, would you mind not ending quite so many of each other’s lives, being made in My image and all, thanks so much.” Too much even for gun owners blessed with enough self-awareness and substratal humanity to recognize that with kickass firepower should come, like, a tinge of grown-ass responsibility.

I’m not using any kind of nonspecific we here. I’m in that last group. Gun ownership is a matter-of-fact thing in my family, not a political statement. But it’s never been the other kind of political statement, either, and I’ve never tried to make it one. I have to be fingerprinted to chaperone my godson’s preschool class to the fucking petting zoo, but not to stockpile enough killing metal to mow down my neighborhood, if I ever get a mind to. And I'm a happy-go-lucky gun enthusiast, but that’s never not been a stupid way to run things, and I’ve never been moved enough to ask the right people why, over and over and over again, until I get a real answer. In that, I’m complicit. And in that, I have a lot of company.

So! Put on that orange. Rock that hashtag. Spread the word. Pledge yourself to the fraternity of the shocked and the saddened, the frustrated and the furious. And while you’re out there raising awareness, try to be as aware as you can that it doesn’t mean a goddamn thing unless you back it up with action. Stop at a t-shirt, and your day is reduced to wearable clicktivism. Do nothing but sport the socially correct shade and click that “like” button and kick back, and all you’re doing is marinating in a fraudulent sensation that you’ve done something that Matters. Quit there, and the bad news about you is, you’re not going to really care about gun violence until it ends up affecting you directly, in some terrible way.

And the worse news is, at this rate? It’s going to.