The ten victims in Boulder and the eight in Atlanta were survivors. They had managed to weather the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime: an insidious and relentless virus, that for twelve months has decimated the planet and taken the lives of our a half a million Americans with terrifying velocity and breathtaking brutality.
They had endured lockdowns and shutdowns and job losses, they had made it through isolation and fear and grieving, they had navigated school closings and social restrictions, they had tirelessly evaded a pervasive sickness that so many others had succumbed to. They had lived through an unprecedented planetary pandemic, but they could not survive this: they could not outlive America’s gun epidemic. That proved more fatal than the virus.
As they navigated grocery story aisles and went to work and waited on vaccines and imagined a life that was heading toward something that resembled normal, they were assassinated by a heavily-armed stranger, who in an instant did what the coronavirus could not manage in a year: destroyed them.
That is because for this nation more than any other, that quick and senseless self-inflicted destruction has become normal. We’ve been collectively sick for a long time now. Before a single case of the virus had been diagnosed, we’d already been mortally wounded by Columbine and Sandy Hook and Charleston and Colorado Springs and Las Vegas and Orlando and Parkland, and countless other mass murders, followed by a fierce flood of outrage that eventually subsided.
Long before we ever knew the words coronavirus or social distancing or flattening the curve, we’d been well acquainted with AR-15s, God and Guns, and thoughts and prayers—and the steadfast and strident resistance by Conservatives to changing anything.
And after the vaccines have done their work and allowed the world to leave behind so much unnecessary death, we here in America will be adding more and more victims of a man-made disease we could not inoculate ourselves from because too many of us were willing carriers of it.
In the end, that is the story here: that moving forward, America’s greatest threat will continue to be an inside job. When the entire world has put this pandemic in its collective rear view mirror and begun to find some normalcy, we will be left with this very specific shared sickness as our default setting.
We will still be a nation held hostage by a blood-lusting political party whose adoration of guns has rendered them defiantly unwilling to address their proliferation, their sadistic worship, or their contagious brutality. We will still be steady witnesses, first to senseless mass executions and then to politicians and pastors and friends who are not moved by them in the least, because to be so would not be profitable nor comfortable.
We will still be hopelessly afflicted with NRA zealots and thoughts and prayers pageantry and soulless gun lobbyists and complicit politicians and God and Guns religious fervor and military-grade weapons—and with war zones in grocery stores, churches, schools, and shopping malls.
And soon, the eighteen beautiful original human beings whose lives were snuffed out in a millisecond in Atlanta and Boulder this week will be a barely-remembered statistic, quickly replaced by more numbers that have names and stories and lives that will not be properly heard or grieved or respected. They will be the acceptable collateral damage of a willing addiction to plentiful tools of rapid carnage that is big business in Congress, in the pews, and campaign coffers.
The coronavirus has historically brutalized the planet, but in the end it will pale in comparison to our greed and our fear and the sickening truth that nearly half this nation treasures guns more than than people. This national epidemic will keep killing us until we stop it.
The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com