"Auntie Tally's church was shot. But she's not dead."
That small voice from the back seat shocked both of us Sunday morning as we listened to the radio while driving our granddaughter to our house. News reports of still another mass shooting slipped into the background as Bonnie and I looked at each other in both surprise and sorrow.
Without prompting, Ellie Pearl Howard put things in perspective as she, too, heard of the latest tragedy in a city that henceforth we'll all identify by a simple name. Dayton, El Paso, Gilroy … in the span of less than a week they joined the litany that started 20 years ago with Columbine and since then has added places like Aurora, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, Parkland and far too many others.
Just four years old and starting pre-school in a few days, EP was trying to wrap her little brain around decades of mass shootings we presumably smarter grown-ups also still puzzle over. It's already personal to her.
Tally Bercovitz and Ellie's mother, our daughter Jessica, spent 11 years together at Miss Match, Tally's Ocean Beach, California, boutique they both learned to manage on the fly. Tally was very special to Ellie. She let her "help" between naps in the office, rearranging the shoes before she grew tall enough to reach tabletops of jewelry and clothing. "Auntie Tally," whose home church is that bullet-scarred synagogue in Poway, just north of San Diego, is definitely in Ellie Pearl's heart.
The rest of that conversation last Sunday morning is a blur. Bonnie and I were at a loss as to how to reassure a four-year-old about something she really shouldn't have to worry about, something that's an unfortunate reality as she thinks about entering a classroom for the first time.
Collectively, we persist in kicking the can down the road, professing concern, offering prayers and condolences, lamenting anew another 36 dead and dozens wounded. Actions speak louder than words. So far, silence.
Since I began commenting in the Sentinel nine years ago, I've written at least a column a year about mass shootings and gun violence. Last Sunday, after Gilroy, I considered doing so again but wondered what was left to say. It took a four-year-old to remind me.
Here are some random thoughts, in no particular order:
I don't think much of Beto O'Rourke as a presidential candidate but he's right on target about military-style weapons and large capacity magazines. Put me down as also believing that we should "… keep that shit on the battlefields. Do not bring it into our communities." In private hands, my experience is they're more about self-gratification than self-defense, even among those who profess to fear their own government. Do they really think a military that can target lethal drone strikes from continents away can't overcome a few AK47s or AR15s?
Yes, video games and movies and music are sometimes graphically violent. They're also a handy excuse for avoiding what could quickly be done, such as standardizing background checks and making them more effective, banning large-capacity magazines nationwide as well as guns designed specifically for killing people all too efficiently.
We might all think mental health issues must be behind such senseless acts. But why are we not so quick to assign that particular cause to other crimes such as assaults, domestic violence, or deaths caused by driving under the influence? Perhaps, as the author of a Psychology Today article wondered, the body count isn't high enough?
The unavoidable common denominators are easy access to weapons of mass destruction, uneven and inadequate gun laws and the unwillingness of lawmakers, especially Republicans, to address those common issues. Background checks, magazine limits and red flag laws have overwhelming support from the general public. Meaningful legislation has passed the House but is blocked by Senate GOP leaders.
That's not a partisan comment, just a fact. Instead they mourn and lament, then switch focus from readily available short term responses to harder to implement longer term changes. We need both, not one instead of the other.
Otherwise, as I demonstrated by not writing about Gilroy, these mass shootings become our new normal. Our rationalizations and cognitive dissonance will drown out worried whispers from the back seat when the inevitable "next time" occurs.
Someone's "Auntie Tally" died unnecessarily a few days ago in Gilroy or El Paso or Dayton. We all share the blame.
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