By Edward M. Eveld
The Kansas City Star
Plans at Star Magazine were to declare 2012 the Year of the Meme.
The Oxford American Dictionary chose “gif” as the Word of the Year, but surely the meme deserved recognition. Memes are catchphrases, jokes, curiosities, even serious ideas that spread virally on the Internet.
The election year spawned an abundance of memes, mostly clever junctures of image and text. The binders, the empty chairs, the texts from Hillary. Would Paul Ryan have become a small-government sex symbol without “Hey, girl”? Outside of politics, there were “Gangnam Style’s” horse-riding dance and Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney’s withering visage, unimpressed.
So revisiting those would have been fun. Pop-culturally topical. But on Friday, Dec. 14, it was clear that 2012 had named itself: the Year of the Gun.
Here in America, some would say the Year of the Gun could describe every year.
But no, this year was different. We know that because of the images in our minds, manufactured but accurate enough, of 20 first-graders slammed by a rain of bullets, terrified little boys and girls crumpled and bleeding on their classroom floor.
Too graphic? Sorry. That was 2012. That was the year that was. Are we willing to own that scene?
My twin daughters are 17 and recently completed a senior class assignment to scrapbook their lives. For the covers, one chose a kindergarten photo with our new puppy, the other a preschool picture with a big red apple. We laughed at their chubby, happy faces.
The two are young women now with long legs and well-studied minds, waiting impatiently for the responses to their college applications.
I choked up, as any parent would, when I first paged through their years in photos. But that was before Dec. 14. After the Connecticut shootings, I reached again for the scrapbooks. Instead of bittersweet tears, my stomach tightened.
The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where six adults were killed along with the children, was at least the seventh such public gun spree of the year. Most of us couldn’t recite the previous six.
Three days earlier, a gunman opened fire in a mall in Portland, Ore., slaying two people before killing himself. On Sept. 27, a gunman committed suicide after gunning down five people at a business in Minneapolis.
On Aug. 5, six were killed by a gunman at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. The shooter died after being shot by an officer and shooting himself.
July 20 was Aurora. At the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” theater patrons in the Denver suburb thought the gunfire fake, part of the premiere. The carnage: 12 dead, 58 wounded.
Five died in May in a rampage in Seattle. A sixth when the gunman shot himself. On April 2, seven were slain at Oikos University in Oakland, Calif.
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No similar shootings occurred locally in 2012. But death by gun relentlessly haunted us. The past few weeks have been horrifyingly typical.
On Dec. 1, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher pulled a gun in the parking lot of the team’s training facility at Arrowhead Stadium and, in front of coaches and the team’s general manager, shot himself. Earlier he had used another handgun to kill his girlfriend.
The Sunday after the Newtown shootings, two Topeka police officers were shot to death at close range as they investigated a vehicle parked at a grocery store. The gunman was later killed.
The next day in a home east of Smithville Lake in Clay County, police found three bodies. Each had been shot in the head, apparently the victims of a double murder and suicide.
The violence continued through the holidays, shockingly so on Christmas Eve, when a man in Webster, N.Y., set fire to his neighborhood to lure firefighters to the scene where he planned to murder them. He allegedly killed two before engaging in a shootout with police that led to him taking his own life.
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Our country tallies more than 11,000 gun homicides a year, not counting suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For reference, about 6,600 U.S. troops have died in 11 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most victims of gun violence know the person on the other end of the weapon. But while mass shootings account for a fraction of all gun deaths, they are the storms of violence that terrify us.
They rage without precursor for us. They occur not in sinister places but happy ones.
We know there always have been sick minds that ventured down destructive paths. But why this? Why this unhinged passion to spray a room with bullets?
Why the desire for a high body count?
And how do we rationalize assault weapons that seem to have this chief purpose, to kill as many innocent people as possible in the shortest amount of time?
As the year ends, pundits and politicians say this one, this first-grade bloodbath, is indeed different and merits a more serious discussion. So far, President Barack Obama has demanded changes, and the leader of the National Rifle Association says he refuses to compromise on gun control. Many say mental health issues must also jump to the front burner.
But we ask ourselves, are we up to it? Will we once again get too busy with living? As time passes, will we file away our horror and fear? How long until I flip through those scrapbook photos without a thought of the Sandy Hook first-graders?
Tom Mauser became an activist against gun violence after his son Daniel, 15, died in 1999 in the Columbine High School massacre. Even for him, weariness has set in.
“There was a time I felt a certain guilt,” Mauser told The Associated Press after the Aurora shootings. “I’d ask, ‘Why can’t I do more about this? Why haven’t I dedicated myself more to it?’ But I’ll be damned if I’m going to put it all on my shoulders. This is all of our problem.”
The year 2012 was the Year of the Gun. But we should consider ourselves out of excuses when it comes time to tag 2013.