Ever since October 1, 2017, everything has felt different. The Las Vegas Strip feels different. Mandalay Bay definitely feels different. Large events feel different. Public spaces feel different.
For those who experienced the mass shooting attack firsthand, and even for those of us who just chronicled the aftermath, life just seems different in the nearly two years since 1 October. With this being said, I can only imagine how life will change for Gilroy, California, and the people who attended a festival there, only to become part of the latest American gun violence tragedy.
As we discussed during our one-year commemoration of 1 October, it’s far too easy for us to become desensitized to gun violence. Mass shootings may still be among our worst nightmares, but they’ve also generally become our daily nightmares. And then, there are the shooting deaths that aren’t mass shootings, but are just as tragic for those left behind, yet they quickly fall out of the headlines and out of public consciousness because “it’s just some domestic violence incident” or “it’s just another suicide”.
But again, for victims and survivors, it’s not just “another suicide”, “another accident”, “another domestic violence incident”, “another officer-involved shooting”, or “another group of crazies doing crazy stuff”. Someone’s dead, and those left behind pick up the pieces.
After such a tragedy occurs, it’s natural to grieve the loss, process the suffering, find a way out of such sorrow, and move on with life. What’s not natural or unhealthful is attempting to avoid the entire grieving process altogether. While such desensitizing may seem like the best way to move on with life by “not getting caught up in the drama”, it’s just a temporary numbing of the pain that indicates greater injury in need of healing.
Just last November, Southern California suffered a mass shooting attack in Thousand Oaks, at a bar that happened to be frequented by local 1 October survivors. This time, a shooter opened fire on the Gilroy Garlic Festival. At least three were killed and thirteen were injured, and police have identified the likely shooter who himself was fatally shot by police. And now, we know the shooter legally purchased an AK-47 style assault weapon here in Nevada.
Like many of the other communities that have suffered mass shooting attacks, Gilroy had been thought as a place where “something like that would never happen”. Once a rural agricultural outpost, Gilroy has become more of a Silicon Valley exurb in recent years, though it remains a top producer of boutique wines, mushrooms, and garlic. The Gilroy Garlic Festival is supposed to be an annual fundraiser for community nonprofits and a food event featuring all sorts of edible creations featuring garlic (even ice cream). It’s supposed to be a “family-friendly event” with cooking competitions, concerts, and all sorts of food and drink vendors.
Now, that’s all changed. Just ask anyone familiar with the Route 91 Harvest country music festival, which is slated to return to Las Vegas later this year. What was once an upstart festival featuring top-notch performers is now short-hand terminology (along with 1 October) for the nation’s deadliest mass shooting, one targeting country music fans and Las Vegas Strip workers. And as the companies behind the festival, such as MGM Resorts and LiveNation, seek to revive the festival at MGM’s Las Vegas Resorts Festival Grounds on the north end of The Strip, questions (and lawsuits) remain about the lack of safety of the 2017 festival, and whether survivors and the community have enough resources to recover from 1 October and prevent future tragedies.
A Congresswoman. A movie theater. An elementary school. A Cici’s Pizza and a Walmart. A church serving African-American parishioners. A community center to help people with developmental disabilities. A nightclub serving the local LGBTQ+ community. A country music festival. A high school. A synagogue.
These aren’t even all the mass shooting attacks that have occurred in the last decade, and that’s one thing that makes this incomplete list even more disturbing. And again, it’s not just mass shootings. It’s all the shooting that occurs all around us every day.
And yet, whenever confronted with this public health crisis and national security threat, we hear calls for “thoughts and prayers”. Even when states like Nevada take baby steps toward strengthening their gun laws (such as our state’s recent moves to expand background checks and enact a “red flag” program), opponents use extreme language decrying “tyranny”. And while some of the Democrats running to challenge President Donald Trump next year are releasing plans of action to do more, it remains to be seen if voters will demand and succeed in enacting the kind of change that will likely be necessary to see more sweeping changes in our gun laws in our lifetime.
We’ve known for some time that “thoughts and prayers” will not solve this crisis. So when will we act? When will we demand better? Absent doing better for our communities, Gilroy won’t be the end of this list.