Sexual abuse is not the stranger in the alley, Gun violence is not the stranger in the movie theater

Sexual abuse is not the stranger in the alley, Gun violence is not the stranger in the movie theater

(a work in progress)

I’m 52. I grew up in a gun-owning household in a Midwestern gun-owning environment. We all grew up learning to shoot, most men and boys hunted. We all ate animals that were hunted: deer, rabbit, squirrel, dove, the occasional wild turkey. Guns meant food. And trophies – not in my house, where we ate what was killed, but in the homes of friends, yes, animals hunted and skinned and stuffed and posed to show some man’s manliness.

Guns were also just part of an overall background of violence.

A woman up the block would regularly come hide at our house when her husband got drunk and violent. I remember being hustled to our basement because when she came he was coming after her with a gun. I was really young, I don’t remember what happened, I don’t know how he was stopped that night. I can’t imagine my father brought out a gun although he had plenty. I know she always went home again by morning. Every time.

As a child in a town of 1100 there were two gun suicides that I knew of, or that I remember.

In second grade, the day of the Homecoming parade, all the floats left the high school and went the few blocks to the town square, around it, and back to the school. “Floats” were wagons pulled behind tractors or decorated pickup trucks. The second grade float was a wagon and we were all on board – and by all I mean every child in second grade, all 32 of us.

Small town. Really really small town. We all knew each other, our parents all knew each other, the web of cousins and in-laws was thick.

Our wagon had a frame of 2 x 4s with chicken wire strung around, and “flower” wads of white tissue paper shoved in each hole of the chicken wire. Over the white puffs were large posterboard circles, each painted bright yellow and sporting the two black circles and upward pointing curve of the ubiquitous Smiley Face that shared my year of birth and by the time I was 8 decorated every possible product. On board the wagon each of us held a paint stick with a paper plate, 32 little smiley faces. I remember being excited, and thinking the smiley faces were cool.

I think I could still name at least 20 of us, but for right now only Glen Brown matters. Glen Brown, and the fact that as we headed back from the town square the entire parade stopped. And then stayed stopped. There were sirens in the distance, and worried adults telling us everything was ok. Then Glen Brown’s grandmother, a 3rd grade teacher, appeared and called him down off the float and they left. Later, what seemed like forever to wagons of squirming children, we pulled into the school yard, where a car was parked on the playground, door open. I don’t remember how we found out what happened, maybe our teacher, maybe our parents.

Glen Brown’s dad had pulled his car onto the playground, while all of the kids were safely away in the parade, stayed sitting in his car, and shot himself in the head. By Monday, when we came back to school, the car was gone and Glen was out of school for a while.

No one blamed the gun. That whole family was cursed, so the story went, with uncles dying off equally young in freak accidents involving farm equipment and a cement truck.

The other suicide I remember was a man, a father, who lived in a small white house next to my cousin’s back yard, who stuck a shotgun into his mouth and pulled the trigger. I don’t remember what the rumors were about why. Probably money, maybe wife leaving him – as a child I would have been pushed out of the room when that was discussed. I do remember the women talking about how his wife had to clean the blood and brain matter off the walls.

Because someone always has to clean the blood off the walls. Or the cars. Or the desks.

If you grew up without either of these kinds of gun violence—domestic violence and suicide by shooting—then you are oddly far-removed from the reality of gun violence in the U.S. Because gun violence is the angry assault rifle yielding stranger in the movie theater in the way that sexual assault is the angry knife-wielding stranger in the alley. Yes, both happen, but sexual assault and gun deaths happen most often in the most intimate settings – the home, the bedroom, the in-law’s house, the parking lot outside of work.

Take a breath, then take this in:

Fully 70 percent of mass shooting incidents occur in homes, but we don’t generally hear about them because these crimes are considered a matter of private, not public health.(1)

70%. And in those shootings 64% of the victims are women and children.

Take a breath, then take this in:

More than 2/3 of mass shootings happen in homes. 2/3 of the victims of those shootings are women and children.

The untold story of mass shootings in America is one of domestic violence. It is one of men (yes, mostly men) targeting and killing their wives or ex-girlfriends or families. The victims are intimately familiar to the shooters, not random strangers. This kind of violence is not indiscriminate—though friends, neighbors and bystanders are often killed alongside the intended targets.

We found that in 57 percent of mass shootings, the shooter targeted either a family member or an intimate partner. According to HuffPost’s analysis, 64 percent of mass shooting victims were women and children. That’s startling, since women typically make up only 15 percent of total gun violence homicide victims, and children only 7 percent.(2)

To paraphrase one of the more stunning bits of jingo-based gaslighting from the NRA, guns don’t kill women. Men that women know intimately use guns to kill women with alarming frequency, accuracy, and ease.

Men also use guns to kill themselves with alarming frequency, accuracy, and ease.

More than 60 percent of people in this country who die from guns die by suicide. 51% of people who commit suicide use guns. Men are 4 times more likely than women to die by suicide, even though women attempt suicide 3 times as often as men.(3) 4X more likely to die because men here use guns. White men, in particular, die by self-inflicted gunshot wounds, at a much higher rate than men in any other racial/ethnic/cultural group in the U.S. Middle-aged and older white men, in fact.

To stat that in a slightly different way, if you like being statted at:

“Suicides among white males accounted for nearly half of the [total number of] deaths from firearm violence during 2012, and suicide among white men is increasing,” Wintemute says. “The increase offsets any decline we might have seen in overall firearm-related mortality during the 21st century.” (4)

While the overall rate of gun violence in the U.S. has been dropping steadily, the percentage of those deaths that are suicide is going up. And up.

Rhetorical strategy moment – let me repeat what needs to be repeated because it goes utterly against the “reality” we soak in from the media. THE OVERALL RATE OF GUN VIOLENCE HAS BEEN GOING DOWN FOR TWO DECADES. In real life, not in tv shows or movies or the nightly news, which form what we “know” so profoundly.

The social panic level of an issue seems to be in reverse proportion to actual facts and analysis in my country. 95-ish% of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, even though knowing the assailant becomes evidence against the victim in the legal process. The actual rate of abduction and murder of children has dropped enormously, but the fear is at such a fever pitch that parents who let their kids walk home from a park are charged with neglect. The actual sexual danger to children is rarely a stranger offering candy, is nearly every time the uncle, step-dad, older cousin, mom’s boyfriend.

I don’t have any information to know if Meghan’s Law and similar statues are ultimately helpful or ultimately used to target minority and poor people. Most high-profile post-crime laws are more the latter. What I do know is that such laws don’t address the statistical realities of what they claim to address; Amber Alerts do not do a goddamned thing to stop adults that parents invite into their homes.

Which is leading me to something complicated I’m trying to formulate inside my head about how my communities think and talk about gun violence and gun control. Which is, of course, deeply about Race. And Racism. And the terror of the “Black thug” that lurks on the edge of all of these conversations.

But first, in order to understand the nature of gun violence in our society, a detour into the history of school shootings in the U.S.


School shootings in the U.S. – that is, shootings that happen in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, or at school events, date back much farther than I had ever considered. In an exhaustive, well-documented list compiled on Wikipedia, the first shooting is listed as 1840, when a male student killed a male teacher in Virginia.

Yes, 1840. School shootings are part and parcel of our national history, and their death toll climbs with each new innovation in gun technology. The long gun was hard to disguise, but Samuel Colt’s revolving pistol was not. Semi-automatic pistols let shooters shoot faster, and the intro of the fully automatic handguns and smaller rifles let the blood flow fast and free.

Before we go, I invite you to take a quick quiz I’ve devised, multiple choice, on the history of shootings in schools in the U.S. logo


Notice how mind-numbingly repetitive and dull these stories are? How nearly none involved “crazed masked gunmen”? How nearly all the violence is ordinary U.S. violence? Accidental shootings. Jealousy. Rejected suitors showing up at the love-object’s workplace to murder her (mainly her, a few times him – women are more than capable of enacting male-pattern violence)(5). Teachers who violently assault students and are killed by family members. Students who shoot teachers. Teachers who shoot students. Gang members attacking one another.

As a society, we have an astounding ability to construct a false truth, to praise social conduct codes based on our false truths, to have public hysterics based on the violations of our false truths, all while living with the EXACT OPPOSITE of that false truth and being totally unbothered by the denial and dissociation. In this case, the false truth is that children are precious and innocent and asexual and that protecting them and guarding their innocence is a primary social value. Which everyone reading this knows is hogwash.

But the anxiety between the false truth and the lived truth makes all issues having to do with childhood potential flash points. Nearly all books that are “challenged” in the U.S. each year are books for children. Issues around the sexual abuse of a few children explodes across the national attention span and pronouncements are made and laws are passed—pronouncements and laws that in no way affect anything that would protect the vast majority of children being sexually abused. So why does it surprise us that shootings at schools also explode across our attention spans but that from the attention no real change can ever come? No one in this society is going to take away the guns in the homes that are responsible for the majority of deaths any more than they are going to take away the penises/fingers/hands/mouths in the homes that are responsible for the majority of sexual assaults.

I felt like the most awful, “nothing is ever going to change” bitter cynic when my friends and community members were so sure that after Sandy Hook surely, surely, over the bodies of first graders, something could be done. In many ways I am a deeply embittered person, as a survivor of sexual assault in my childhood—at a profound level, I can’t believe adults actually care about what happens to kids. Activists and communities of color, especially Black communities, have always known that the people in charge don’t care about their kids. Perhaps the level of disbelief among white friends was caused by a very public discovery that the deaths of white kids was also not going to change anything. The same toxic-stew-fed monster of violence, profit, and greed that has always chewed up children of color came for the white suburban kids.

And surprise surprise, those who create the monster and profit from it were not going to lose sleep or profit, even for “innocent kids” from a “good neighborhood.”

So we worked through the public scripted ritual of the wringing of hands, the wailing, the fury at the shattering of how children are supposed to be protected and innocent and safe. Then nothing changed. Because gun violence in schools is, in the land of the lived truth, absolutely no different from gun violence outside of schools. In false truth, killing kids is a kind of breaking point after which change must come. In lived truth, kids are killed every day, and we’re all consoling ourselves by eating chocolate-coated child slave labor.

(more to come)

1. “Mass Killings in the US: Masculinity, Masculinity, Masculinity” by Soraya Chemaly

2. “We’re Missing The Big Picture On Mass Shootings” by Melissa Jeltzen

3. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

4. Gun Deaths In America: Suicides Outnumber Homicides 2-to-1

5. “Male-pattern violence” is a phrase invented by Jennie Ruby in a conversation about domestic violence. The phrase helps cut through the argument “but women do it too.” Yes, women can, and do. But the pattern is connected to masculinity and how our society understands “male.” She coined it from “male-pattern baldness,” which women can also have, but which is nonetheless overwhelming connected to the male body and hormone system. Read her article.


An Autobiography of My Life as Mass Shootings at Schools

An Autobiography of My Life as Mass Shootings at Schools

October 1, 2015, Roseburg, Oregon: 26-year-old student Christopher Harper-Mercer opened fire in a hall on the Umpqua Community College campus, killing eight students and one teacher, and injuring nine others. When police arrived he killed himself.

At the time of this shooting I am 52. I live in Dublin, Pennsylvania but will be moving back to Philadelphia sometime soon. I can’t honestly say the news of this shooting is triggering shock or grief or horror. Just exhaustion, after a lifetime of such shootings.

A lifetime I find myself needing to document because “a lifetime of such shootings” is a reality. Is my reality, forcing me to acknowledge how deeply the history of school shootings has shaped my life. How these shootings are the story of my country and I am its citizen and how the contours of even my most intimate self have grown around these acts of violence as a tree planted beside a barbed wire fence envelopes the barbs and keeps on growing.

So I am today writing this autobiography of the school shootings I remember in my lifetime. I was born in 1963, meaning I was old enough to be aware of the outer world and remember things from it starting in the mid 1970’s. Today I am searching my memory for all these acts of violence I can recall, starting with those I know only as remembered snatches of evening news or conversations at school or between my parents, and working my way forward. I know there are many many stories that happened but will not be on my list. For this is my autobiography. Everyone reading this will have their own, and it will be unique. Some events will overlap but with different resonances or utterly different meanings. Some lists might seem to be from completely different times and places though they, too, are from citizens of my country.

But this is my autobiography told in mass shootings at schools, and it starts in 1979.

January 29, 1979, San Diego, California, 16 year-old Brenda Spencer opened fire on Grover Cleveland Elementary School from the window of her home across the street, killing two adults and wounding nine others, eight of whom were children.

I was 15, in my local high school of 110 students. I remember the details about someone shooting out a window and of many kids being shot. After this, I started having nightmares about being in my high school as a group of heavily armed men came in, of running frantically, trying to hide in lockers, heading for the third floor to save my beloved English teacher, sick dread as the tiny little school building offered nowhere to hide.

May 16, 1986, Cokeville, Wyoming: In a ransom scheme, David and Doris Young took 150 students and teachers hostage. Their demand for $300 million came to an abrupt end when Doris accidentally set off a bomb, killing herself and injuring 78 students and teachers. David wounded John Miller, a teacher who was trying to flee, then killed himself.

I was 23, in grad school in California. In my memory this story of was all tangled up with the bus full of children who were kidnapped in California ten years earlier; the combination of guns, bombs, and rooms full of terrified children became this canyon in my brain, carved deeper by flood of violence since.

May 20, 1988, Winnetka, Illinois: Laurie Dann, 30, shot and killed one elementary school student and wounded five others, then took a family hostage and shot a man before killing herself.

I was 25 and living in Minnesota after growing up in Illinois and going to college in Wisconsin. Because this story was in my homeland I noticed it, but, honestly, I now remember almost none of the details. That the shooter was a woman did stick in my mind, as I was deeply involved in radical feminism and this story defied the norm of men doing this combination of intimate and public violence.

January 17, 1989, Stockton, California: Patrick Edward Purdy, 24, fatally shot five children and wounded 32 others at the Cleveland School. Purdy then killed himself.

Still 25, still living in Minnesota where I was finishing an MS in Women’s Studies. In my memory this was another Room Full of Terrified Students, and tangled up with many other shootings in California through the years. I still sometimes had the dream of being in my high school with gunman in all directions, but less often, now eight years away from that building and that town.

December 6, 1989, Montreal, Canada: Twenty-five-year-old Marc Lépine, armed with a Mini-14 rifle and a hunting knife, shot 28 people, killing 14 women, before committing suicide. He began his attack by entering a classroom at the university, where he separated the male and female students. After claiming that he was “fighting feminism” and calling the women “a bunch of feminists,” he shot all nine women in the room, killing six. He then moved through corridors, the cafeteria, and another classroom, specifically targeting women to shoot. Overall, he killed fourteen women and injured ten other women and four men in just under 20 minutes before turning the gun on himself.

I was 26. I taught Women’s Studies in a small university and small city where I and my friends were THE known Feminists. We were demolished by the grief, and living in terror. Just walking in to teach the next month or more would send us into near panic. The women killed were our age, and our identification with them was instant and chilling. Even now teaching in a classroom with only one door spikes panic, panic I can finally almost completely shove back down under the pressing weight of rational reasons why I’ll be ok. That day of murder keeps living along with me. I mark the anniversary in some way every year, I recite the women’s names, I try to imagine them growing older as I grow older. I refuse to let their absence from the world go unnoticed; even writing this brings tears welling up.

And of course the nightmare started up again. I don’t know now how long its frequent recurrence haunted my brain. I do know that dream and the murders in Montreal became intertwined, I do know that my mind would not believe that they were separate.

December 14, 1992, Great Barrington, Massachusetts: Wayne Lo, 18, shot and killed one student and one professor, and wounded three students and a security guard at Simon’s Rock College.

I was 29, living in Philadelphia, but this memory is wrapped up in my involvement with The Women’s Peace Camp in Romulus, New York. A close friend there had gone to Simon’s Rock only a couple years before, and I watched her grief as this tiny community of kids who had been outsiders and loners in their high schools but had created family at this college were now slammed with disbelief and grief and loss. Another rush of clusters of terrified students through my canyon, although smaller than the others, more removed from me. I don’t remember the nightmare coming back.

October 1, 1997, Pearl Mississippi: Luke Woodham, 16, murdered his mother at home before killing his ex-girlfriend and another student and wounding seven others at Pearl High School. The perpetrator attempted to flee police and continue his killing spree at a nearby middle school, but he was stopped and detained by the Vice Principal

34 now, still living in Philadelphia, working with Feminist newspapers. I remember this story more clearly because of my feminist community, and because email had been invented so we could instantly share and discuss news. Another man who had shot a girlfriend for leaving him, taking out others in the process. Another clearly troubled teen with unlimited access to guns. The sheer ordinariness of a man murdering a woman partner somehow didn’t add this one to the canyon, only to the ever-growing mental list of “domestic” violence victims. My mind also collapsed this incident with the one below, coming only months apart and both being defined by Christian groups that claimed a “war against Christianity:”

December 1, 1997, West Paducah, Kentucky: Three students were killed and five wounded by Michael Carneal, 14, as they participated in a prayer circle.

For my community, what both of these shootings had in common was that the men targeted women. In West Paducah all three students killed were women, and four of the five injured were women. In the Feminist media world we all kept running counts of our dead, because they mattered to us and because the mainstream media refused to acknowledge gender played a role.

March 24, 1998, Jonesboro, Arkansas: Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, killed four students and one teacher and wounded ten others as Westside Middle School emptied during a fire alarm intentionally set off by Golden.

About this killing I remember my outrage at what the press wasn’t saying. Three shootings in six months, only girls or women killed, but gender was never part of the discussion. At Jonesboro the boys used scoped hunting rifles to intentionally target first girls who had broken up with them and then the friends of those girls. Only after that did they start firing indiscriminately. I wrote a long impassioned email that was forwarded across my community, I got pieces about it into the Feminist press, but none of that budged the wider world in any way whatsoever. This time my high school nightmare didn’t return, but even now I have flashes of a waking nightmare, one of rifles in the woods and an 11 year old girl’s head exploding. That image is another canyon in my mind, alongside the rooms full of terrified children, just as likely to flood and deepen each year. And sometimes there is a flood so enormous it roars through both channels at once. My shorthand for this: Montreal.

May 21, 1998, Springfield, Oregon:
After killing his parents at home,
Kip Kinkel, 15, drove to Thurston High School
where he shot and killed two students
and wounded 23 others.
He was sentenced to 111 years of prison.

I have no memory of this.
How can I have no memory of this?
It had to have been all over the news.
No memory

April 20, 1999, Littleton, Colorado: Columbine High School, where Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, killed twelve students and one teacher, and wounded 21 others before committing suicide.

If you were old enough to have social memory by 1999 you had to know we were all coming to this point. I was 36. I lived in Philadelphia, I had just started a job I loved working for Children’s Literacy Initiative as assistant to the director. I was getting dressed to go to work when I saw this on the morning news on April 21st. I called my boss – I’m not even sure why except I had to talk to someone. We both said all the predictable things. What I didn’t say was either of the sensations that overwhelmed me – the ever-near-the-surface terror of my high school dream, and a strong pulse of understanding how bullied outsiders could do be moved to violence: They showed those arrogant fucking cheerleaders and jocks. In my high school each senior (all 32 of us) got to choose a quotation to print under our photo in the year book. My choice was not allowed—the Pink Floyd line from The Wall “If I had my way I’d have all of you shot.” I wasn’t angry enough to have considered actually shooting anyone, but was angry enough to feel the resonance of the truth of it enough to say it out loud.

I don’t remember now how long it was before the initial terror of that day faded. I dreamed my own old-version of the assault nearly every night. I followed all the news obsessively—now there was the web and I could read newspapers all over the world. No big web-based media though, so no endless array of blogs and self-published opinion pieces. But access was making stories grow longer. It was easy to go back in time (only a few years at this point) to find the roots of a thing, in this case the Oklahoma City bombing one year earlier*, and easier to hold on to a thing to link it to what would come. The web was the end of the lie of “isolated incidents,” because each of us could sit at home and search for names and dates and descriptions from an exploding variety of viewpoints.

(* actually it was four years earlier – I remembered it as being only a year before)

In my memory, Columbine is all caught up in 9/11 too, via Michael Moore and backlashes against gun control and the 1999 presidential election. The first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and Columbine and endless air strikes against Iraq and Bush and 9/11 are one continuous story about men and violence and Whiteness and bullying and consequences. Columbine, that should be my own ultimate example of The School Shooting, somehow exists simultaneously inside of the school shootings narrative and yet also outside of it, in a larger, international narrative, in the same way the gunmen in trench coats worn to hide guns and bullets exists inside Columbine and outside of it, entrenched in our culture of cowboys, gangsters, spies, crazed loner killers and crazed loner killers of killers.

March 21, 2005: Red Lake Reservation, Minnesota: Jeffrey Weise, a 16-year-old student, killed his grandfather and grandfather’s companion then drove his grandfather’s police vehicle to his Red Lake Senior High School. He shot and killed five students, one teacher, one security guard, and then committed suicide. Seven other people were wounded in the shooting.

42, still in Philly, still with strong ties to Minnesota and a few friendships with Native women there. This shooting I remember because it was on the Reservation, because Indian Country is small and everyone I knew with ties to it was in shock. So many Native young men go down under addiction, poverty, police violence, but never like this. I don’t remember my dream coming back then, but by then I was fighting against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was deeply involved in Jewish groups organizing for Palestinian civil rights. Maybe my dreams were already full up with grief and fear.

September 27, 2006, Bailey, Colorado: Duane Roger Morrison walked into Platte Canyon High School and took six girls hostage and sexually assaulted them. As police entered the classroom he killed one hostage and then shot himself.

October 2, 2006, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania: Charles Carl Roberts IV, a 32-year-old milk truck driver, shot to death five Amish girls and wounded five others before killing himself in an Amish school.


April 26, 2007, Blacksburg, Virginia: Seung-Hui Cho, aged 23, shot and killed 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech, and wounded another 17 students and faculty members in two separate attacks on the same day, all before Cho committed suicide. It was the deadliest attack by a lone gunman in US history.

How many times can one continue to be shocked? This time I stepped sideways, took up another angle. The media kept referring to this as the “biggest massacre in U.S. history,” but I knew that wasn’t true because I’d had a Native Studies class and I knew about Wounded Knee – where 300 Lakota people, mainly women and children, were killed within hours using the Hotchkiss canons, the newest killing technology. The letter I wrote to my network of friends and activists talked about the technology of killing, the fascination with numbers of clips and rounds and how fast bullets could leave the gun.

Only in going to find that letter, part of which was posted on someone’s blog, do I remember what I had blocked remembering –that this, too, was Montreal¸ for the shooter first murdered his ex-girlfriend, after which the campus hadn’t been notified and locked down because that murder was “only domestic violence.” I ended my letter like this:

So as I hear and read the news, a ticker tape of other shootings runs across my internal screen, with a soundtrack chant of “Wounded Knee, Wounded Knee.” So I have to write this, and share it. Because the truth matters. Because the silence around the history of racist and sexist violence in the U.S. matters. Because, if violence is domestic, I need to be wild to survive and challenge it, and I want all of you to be wild, too.

February 14, 2008, DeKalb, Illinois: Steven Kazmierczak, 27, shot multiple people in a classroom of Northern Illinois University with a 12 gauge Remington Sportsman 48 shotgun, killing five and injuring 21. He then committed suicide.

DeKalb I’ll always remember, because an old friend taught there, and as the story developed I realized that, as Chair of the Sociology Department, the murders happened in her classrooms. I tried calling for hours, finally got her partner on the phone, who said she hadn’t been at school but was there now and might not be home until tomorrow or the day after. We finally talked, briefly; all I remember is the shock and exhaustion in her voice.

And as the number of times reporting from NIU kept bringing up Virginia Tech grew steadily, I remember thinking, DeKalb has been Sonny Bono’d.

And now I remember that at the time this latest round of shooting in a classroom didn’t set off my high school nightmare. I can’t be sure, as memory is never sure and dreams are slippery, but I think I never had that nightmare again after the Columbine terror receded. I remember the dream, still, but I haven’t had the dream. When reality tops nightmare does nightmare give up and go out to pasture?

December 14. 2012, Newtown Connecticut. Sandy Hook. 20 first-grade children aged six and seven were killed, along with six adults, including four teachers, the principal, and the school psychologist.

I was 49. I was in a job with people I thought I didn’t like, and this day and its aftermath proved it. I feel like there is no part of this I don’t remember. In part because it was so horrifying. In part because the script was so predictable and everyone said their part right on cue, including vowing, “Change!” when there would be no change. Internet culture did allow some new scenes to be added to the script, including a whole community of people dedicated to proving this never happened, that it was some kind of Obama-staged plot to take away their guns. A community of people who still send death and rape threats to family members of the murdered children.

Because there are always way the horrific can get even more horrific.

May 23, 2014, Isla Vista, California. 22-year-old Elliot Rodger went on a stabbing and shooting rampage just outside the main campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Rodger stabbed to death three men in his apartment. Leaving the scene in his car, he drove to a sorority house, where he shot four people outside, killing two female students. He drove to a nearby deli and shot to death a male student. He then sped through Isla Vista, shooting at bystanders and striking four people with his car. After crashing his car he committed suicide.

51 now, my life split between two households, one in Philadelphia and one in Center Valley, PA. I wasn’t watching tv as this story unfolded, and don’t actually remember a lot of the exact details. What I do remember is the fight that erupted around how the cops and parents and friends and media ignored or tried to downplay the role his hatred for women played in his violence, including his targeting of a specific sorority. Public conversations erupted about men’s rights groups and trolls and friend-zoning and how women are stalked and terrorized online. These conversations have kept on happening around certain cultural icons – Gamergate, Anita Sarkeesian, #NOTALLMEN, #YESALLWOMEN, PUA.

And now something I find challenging to write – I see how my memories are strongest of events that fit into my political narrative about gender and violence against women. I know why all of these events play against a soundtrack of the Judy Small chorus, “Why does “gunman” sound so familiar, while “gunwoman” doesn’t quite ring true? What is it about men that makes them do the things they do?” And I see in my list that the first two shootings I remember were by women. And see how my experiences in the late 1980s trying to help a lesbian being battered (included threatened with a shotgun) by her partner and then trying to get the lesbian community to acknowledge lesbian battering taught me searing lessons about how women can be much better at intimate violence than men ever could. And that nonetheless I hate how the media has adopted “shooter” rather than “gunman” because the former disguises gender, pretending this isn’t part of male-pattern violence. I remember events that fit my narrative and not ones that don’t, which only makes me human. The challenge for me is to figure out how to honor people who remember totally other events, or the same events in totally different ways, in order to fit their own narratives. Because yes, I do think my narrative is more true than narratives that ignore gender or narratives that assert “guns don’t kill people.” But now, at 52, I know I am much less interested in being the one who is right, much more open to nuance and gray areas and complicated answers. I’m trying hard to learn what it means to live with a Niels Bohr insight I discovered through the writings of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan: the opposite of a great truth is another great truth.

Which brings me to this week, October, 2015, and the shooting at a college in Oregon whose name I’ve already backgrounded. Being honest with myself, I probably won’t remember this particular shooting in ten or twenty years. Or maybe I will, because of its ties to the assertion of U.S. right-wing Christians that there is a “war” against them and this shooting is more evidence of that. Because those particular Christians are part of the war against Patriarchy that fits into my own life story.

This shooting isn’t triggering my high school nightmare, nor shock nor grief. But there is horror of a new kind, the horror of acknowledging how deeply these school shootings have shaped my life. How I would not be the same me without them. How they are the story of my country and I am its citizen and how the contours of even my most intimate self have grown around these acts of violence, as a tree planted beside a barbed wire fence envelopes the barbs and keeps on growing.