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Columnist: Society’s response to gun violence should include daring to feel again

By: Mark McCormick

Surgeon General David Satcher stood amazed at the story I shared shortly after his speech to a  audience years ago. I’d told him a 12-year-old boy, unfazed by a quadruple homicide scene he’d discovered in 2000, had blankly stepped over bodies and began unhooking a Nintendo.

Satcher, riveted, asked that I mail him articles we’d done in The Wichita Eagle about the boy’s astonishingly pat testimony. It spoke loudly, he said, to the then-novel concern put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how violence had become a public health concern.

It’s past time the rest of us recognize it, too, as an entrenched cultural complexity and a challenge that lies beyond the passage of any gun control measures.

Given the killing of 58 people and the wounding of more than 500 more at a Las Vegas concert in October, such violence is no longer unique or amazing. Columnist Peggy Noonan wrote following the massacre that the fact that she was not shattered frightened her.

She, like the boy and the country, seemingly have become increasingly unfazed by one mass shooting to the next. In 2016, the United States saw more mass shootings than days of the year. In 2012, the nation stood legislatively motionless over 20 slain Sandy Hook first-graders.

And mass shootings, as common as they’ve become, are just a small part of the gun violence in this country. A Kansan is killed by a firearm nearly every single day. About 33,000 Americans die in shootings each year, two-thirds of them suicides, according to fivethirtyeight.com. The violence is constant.

It’s just as the CDC has warned.

“Violence is a serious public health problem,” reads a website statement from the agency. “From infants to the elderly, it affects people in all stages of life. Many more survive violence and suffer physical, mental, and/or emotional health problems throughout the rest of their lives.”

What shocked Satcher was the dosage of psychological violence the boy likely had ingested to produce such a mild crime-scene reaction. The boy must have been exposed to other dead bodies, beatings, stabbings or drive-by shootings.

He must have seen so much that he’d grown numb.

And strangely, so has society, which can hardly distinguish the last horrific case of child abuse from the last domestic-violence case or the last rape or the last case of elder abuse or gang violence.

We’re on course for the same kind of desensitization as that boy.

My Eagle reporters covered that quadruple shooting. I edited the stories. But years later, I was surprised by what I’d forgotten.

“I love you,” were Raeshawnda Wheaton’s last words, uttered to her killer, Cornelius Oliver, as she sat with her back in a corner, clutching a pillow to her chest. Her three friends already lay dead in another room.

So whether it’s Oliver or the Las Vegas massacre, there’s no corner in our society where any of us can hide from this violence.

It’s not just about video games, bump stocks, silencers or high-capacity rounds.

It’s about a society that produced a preteen unfazed by a scene so ghastly that at least one investigating officer stumbled outside and vomited. We must confront what we have become, abandon our search for easy solutions and dare to feel again.

Mark E. McCormick is the executive director of The Kansas African American Museum in Wichita.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit http://kansasleadershipcenter.org. For a subscription to the printed edition of The Journal, visit klcjr.nl/amzsubscribe.

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