Walking up Harvard Street toward Beacon Street last Friday, I noticed the large American flag flying in the distance above Coolidge Corner was at half-staff. It took me a couple of minutes to make the connection that it was to honor the victims of the heinous San Bernardino shooting from a few days before. I was embarrassed that I did not come to this conclusion more quickly. I do not live in a hole. I had watched the coverage of the Californian tragedy on television and read about it online and in the papers. I had even stayed up later than usual on the evening of the shooting to follow the latest story developments and to learn more about the motivations of the attackers. Why did I not instantly make the connection between America’s most recent mass shooting incident and its most recognizable symbol flying low, rather than in its full glory?
The only answer I can devise is both simple and sad. I have become immune to gun violence because it is omnipresent in our society. Mass shootings are a part of our everyday discourse as Americans – right up there with the weather outlook and what teams are going to make the playoffs. There have been over 350 mass shootings in the United States (defined as incidents in which four or more people are killed or injured by guns) this year. Last week, it was San Bernardino where the attackers purchased their four guns, including two assault-style rifles, legally in California. The week before, it was Colorado Springs where a man used an assault weapon to kill and terrorize innocent people.
We could fly the flag at half-staff every day given the sheer volume of these senseless acts of violence. If we did so, people may take real notice and display the outrage needed to finally keep weapons designed to kill large numbers of people with military precision and alacrity out of civilian hands. Speaking from my personal experience of late, though, flags flying at half-staff no longer automatically cause people to stop and reflect and pray. They are too much a part of the physical backdrops of our schools, city centers, neighborhoods and parks to conjure the emotions and reactions they once did decades ago. We are surrounded by too much tragedy on a regular basis, much of which can be blamed on guns.
Islamic terrorism and radical extremism aside, innocent Americans are dying because the majority of our lawmakers claim their hands are tied by 2nd amendment strings. There is no end in sight to the bloodshed or political hyperbole. During this the most festive and joyous time of the year, I believe our country has never been in such a state of national distress. Forget about half-staff flags, perhaps we should be flying them upside down instead. Maybe, just maybe, such a dire call for help might finally cause people to take the action steps needed to pull our country out of the emergency state it is in due to gun violence.