There was once a time when outsiders would look into Las Vegas and conclude that “it’s not a real city” because “there’s no real community”. Hell, many outsiders still try to say that about our town. But for those of us who live here, we know that’s not the case. And sadly, it took the 1 October massacre to make that clear to the rest of the world.
Earlier this week, I spoke with two of the creators behind a new book on this place “Where We Live”, a place that was hit hard by the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, a place where locals rallied to support each other in the face of tragedy, and a place where we continue to search for answers to some of the toughest questions plaguing America today.
“You hear the statistics all the time of how many were killed, but you don’t get enough discussion of [what’s happened to] the people left behind, the survivors.”
– JH Williams
About a week after the 1 October shooting, Nevadans were just beginning to process this event that shattered the Las Vegas Strip and may have forever changed the landscape of our state. But when it came to national media coverage, reporters were already leaving town and shifting focus to other subjects. In this light, it’s easy for outsiders to assume that “the Las Vegas shooting made no lasting impact”.
And yet, we’re still living with the aftermath here. For nationally renowned comic illustrator JH Williams, that disparity can be quite frustrating: “The enormity of this event was so profound, yet a lot of people in the media don’t think of how many people were truly affected.” He continued, “You hear the statistics all the time of how many were killed, but you don’t get enough discussion of [what’s happened to] the people left behind, the survivors.”
“We wanted to make sure that the people affected still had a voice once the cameras stopped rolling. These people don’t disappear. We wanted to make sure they were heard.”
– Wendy Wright-Williams
This sense of becoming forgotten has been an eerily common experience for gun violence victims across the nation, and it’s an experience that’s become more commonplace here in Southern Nevada in the months since 1 October. For Las Vegas locals like Wendy Wright-Williams, it’s an experience that survivors shouldn’t be having: “We wanted to make sure that the people affected still had a voice once the cameras stopped rolling. These people don’t disappear. We wanted to make sure they were heard.”
Wendy Wright-Williams and her husband, JH Williams, then decided to take action: “We knew that something needed to be done. We knew there would be so much need.” The end result is Where We Live, an anthology of fictional and non-fiction stories curated by the Williams’ that tackles several issues our community has had to grapple with since the 1 October shooting, such as gun violence, mental health care, community compassion, and perseverance.
As Wendy Wright-Williams put it, “As big as everything felt, we didn’t want something superficial. We wanted something to talked to what happened to these people. We can’t [let them feel] helpless.” In addition to sharing the stories of victims and other concerned citizens, 100% of the proceeds from book sales go to Route 91 Strong, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing direct aid to families affected by the shooting.
“It’s only a new normal if we let it be a ‘new normal’.”
– Wendy Wright-Williams
Why is this needed? Why is this book needed, and why are groups like Route 91 Strong still needed? For one, survivors like Christine Caria are still coping with physical injuries from 1 October. In addition, Caria and many more survivors continue to struggle with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems that the 1 October shooting triggered.
JH Williams again pointed to the national media’s rush to forget as an example of ‘normalizing’ things we should never accept as such: “I feel like the way the media moves on so quickly from these incidents contributes to the ‘normalization’ of these [mass shootings] when there’s nothing normal about them at all.” He continued, “The term ‘new normal’ is a horrible, disgusting term that’s applied too often to these situations.”
Wendy Wright-Williams added, “It’s only a new normal if we let it be a ‘new normal’.” That led us to discuss one the other issues tackled in this book, which also happens to be an issue that’s taken center stage in this era of mass shootings.
“The types of guns they’re using in these shootings are weapons of war.”
– Wendy Wright-Williams
As our conversation shifted to the matter of what to do about gun violence, Wendy Wright-Williams described her background and upbringing: “I grew up with guns. I grew up on a farm. My family never had that mentality of ‘the government is going to come and take our guns’.” She then contrasted the guns she grew up with to the AR-15‘s, bump stocks, and other items that have become such integral forces in mass shootings: “The types of guns they’re using in these shootings are weapons of war.”
JH Williams then said,“The general public isn’t quite aware of the damage these weapons do. When you say ‘gunshot’, most people think of a little hole.” He continued, “With these [assault] weapons, they rip bodies apart. They’re designed to destroy you. As long as the general public is not aware of the real physical effect of these weapons, it’s hard for them to understand the point of view of taking a second look at allowing these weapons to fall into the hands of anybody.”
We then discussed the frustrating intersectionality of gun violence, mental health, domestic violence, and other societal problems that are often tied together by these mass shootings. JH Williams acknowledged the difficulty of addressing all these problems at once as he also explained the need for a book like Where We Live: “We try to address all these topics through the book. Hopefully by addressing these issues through stories, we can receive this information and absorb it more easily.”
“When [people] start reading it, they want to share it. They see the value of the stories being told, and that’s what we wanted to do with the book.”
– JH Williams
As we continued our conversation about the issues that drove the creation of Where We Live, JH Williams described how we wants the book to go viral: “When [people] start reading it, they want to share it. They see the value of the stories being told, and that’s what we wanted to do with the book.” He then went on to say, “It was designed to start a conversation and get people talking. If it does that through story, then it’s achieving its goal. We can’t do anything unless we talk about it.”
Wendy Wright-Williams then described the book this way: “We wanted this to be human. We wanted you to think about how the decisions we make have a human cost.” She continued, “All too often, it becomes a shouting match and we just shout each other down. Hopefully, this will lead to a more rational conversation.”
Fortunately, we had ourselves a long rational conversation this week. If you’re up for more of this conversation, check out Where We Live. It’s available at Amazon, Google Play, and at comic book shops across the nation, and 100% of the proceeds go to Route 91 Strong.