What better way to honor the memory of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith than to launch a nationwide initiative examining the issue of mass shootings, collecting and dissecting available data, identifying common threads and possible ways to address the problem.
A week has passed since a gunman opened fire in the offices of the Annapolis Capital newspaper, killing five people.
And while most of the country has moved on, I’m still at a loss for words.
I’ve read the tributes to Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith. They are stories of tremendous people. Individuals dedicated to their community, their coworkers, their families and circles of friends.
Fischman, Hiassen, McNamara and Winters worked in the newsroom. Smith was a sales associate. All were dedicated to community news.
The accused killer apparently had a long-running grudge against the newspaper. None of the people he murdered had even the slightest thing to do with that grudge. Their only connection was that they worked there. Like most journalists, that means they put in tons of hours, telling the stories of people in their community, or working with others on the staff to ensure that the day’s news would be told for all who cared to look for it.
We’ll have to wait for the exact details on the shooter’s motivation, but he apparently had an issue with the newspaper due to its reporting on a court case he was involved with from years earlier. It’s a common thread among mass shootings: Someone has a grudge against someone or something and decides that the answer to their problem is to pick up a gun and kill as many innocent people as possible.
From Florida to Las Vegas, Charleston, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Columbine and scores of others, incidents of mass murder have become an accepted norm in our society today.
Sure, there are cries to “do something” after each shooting, heartfelt offerings of “thoughts and prayers” and much hand-wringing, but all too quickly we move right along. Communities impacted will forever remember the horror thrust upon them, but for the rest of us, well, we’re much too busy to do anything with lasting meaning.
It’s like that little problem with wheels falling off a truck at high speeds and the manufacturer’s refusal to issue a recall that served as an interesting item when you read about in the news. But wheels falling off takes on an entire different meaning when it is your truck.
How many people died in last year’s Sutherland Springs church shooting? How many people did Dylan Roof kill in Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church? How many victims were there in the Sandy Hook massacre? When did each happen and what were the details surrounding the murders? This isn’t an exercise designed to shame people for not remembering. It is an exercise to demonstrate just how common these incidents are.
It says something about us, all of us, that these mass killings are not burned forever into our brains and that we have not, even after all these years, made understanding the cause a national priority. Somehow, somewhere along the line, mass shootings went from a dire emergency to something that happens, causes a brief pause, and then we all just go about our normal day.
That has to change.
Media companies across the nation dedicate themselves to telling the stories of people in their communities, delving deep and explaining complex issues and advancing a greater understanding of the world around us. What better way to honor the memory of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith than to launch a nationwide initiative examining the issue of mass shootings, collecting and dissecting available data, identifying common threads and possible ways to address the problem.
Let’s start the community conversation.
In an interview with local television station ABC-13 after the May 18 shooting that left nine students and an administrator dead at Santa Fe High School in New Mexico, student Paige Curry told the reporter interviewing her that the shooting was not unexpected, even in her small community.
“It’s been happening everywhere,” Curry told the reporter. “I’ve always felt it would happen here too.”
Schools, churches, movie theaters, outdoor concerts, night clubs, places of business and now, a newsroom.
It won’t stop. Like cancer, the opioid epidemic or other health issues, it will only get worse until we decide that we’ve had enough, too many people have died and it is time to find a cure.
Jim Lee is Editor for GateHouse Media Delaware. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org