Because now is the time, today is the day, and enough is enough
The Heart of a Neighborhood Under Attack
The Table Mesa King Soopers has been a staple of my life since I was born. Neighborhood grocery stores are like the heart of suburban enclaves, the veins bringing in shoppers, circling them around, and pumping them back out, laden with reusable bags full of food. I know every entrance and exit to that King Soopers. There’s the skinny, winding, uphill entrance like a bend in the river that pops out onto the delta of Gillaspie. There’s the wide entrance opening out onto eastbound Table Mesa just uphill from the bus stop and across from Bear Creek, which meanders through the grassy median. There’s the busy entrance out onto Broadway adjacent to the old gas station that they knocked down forever ago. I’ve ridden in a car seat, walked, biked, bussed, and eventually driven through all these exits and entrances more times than I count. I know the parking lot of the Table Mesa shopping center better than any other. So it was haunting and surreal to watch aerial footage of such a familiar sight aired on national television on Monday.
Is it weird to feel like a grocery store, one you’ve always taken for granted, is actually the backdrop to many of your memories? To feel like a grocery store helped raise you? Because that’s how I feel about the Table Mesa King Soopers. So it is shocking, mind-boggling, utterly impossible, and unimaginable that the heart of my Boulder neighborhood is now front-page news for the latest mass shooting. Even as I search for the right adjective to adequately describe how I feel, even as I listen to newscasters interviewing survivors and describing their pain and shock with the same adjectives I used above, especially that last one: “unimaginable” it is actually, in fact, all too imaginable. It just happened last week at a string of spas in Atlanta. And before that at a gas station in Missouri. And so many before that if I wrote them all they would fill this page and the next and the next and the next. So despite feeling shock and wanting to utter what I keep hearing survivors say: that they can’t believe it happened here, the truth is: of course it did. Of course it happened here. It happens everywhere. All the time. A dizzying, deadly merry-go-round of U.S. cities that take turns suffering the next senseless rampage of violence.
Haven’t all of us who grew up in the post-Columbine world where the number of mass shootings only seems to accelerate each year until heart-wrenching headlines stating the number of dead, the motive, and the type of weapon lead to massive cries for gun reform only to be shushed by those who say, “Now is not the time for gun reform. Let us mourn the victims,” or this week’s plea from pro-gun CO Representative, Lauren Boebert, to not divide by discussing gun reform at this time or the ridiculous, nonsensical argument that, “Only someone with a concealed weapon can stop a mass shooting in the moment,” only to have all of these headlines eventually fade away as people just like you and me tire of the grief, the rhetoric, the arguments, and the helplessness. A few moments or days or weeks where other headlines dominate until the whole cyclical process repeats itself when yet another terrorist wielding another lethal weapon shoots up another location in another state and another tragedy unfolds as politicians tweet out their thoughts and prayers while families discover that a loved one who went to pick up eggs or coffee or pizza lunch was killed at the local grocery store. So even as I write this and struggle to wrap my head around the fact this shooting happened in the most familiar of parking lots, I also know deep in my bones that of course it did. Nowhere in the United States is immune to this senseless violence until we follow the lead of other countries and ban semi-automatic weapons. That is the only way out of this mind-numbing cycle of violence and pain.
An Ode to King Soopers
Thinking back on my memories of this King Soopers, it’s hard not to imagine how these memories would’ve changed had a man with an assault weapon entered the store while I was inside. I spent last night sifting through memories of this King Soopers, its parking lot, and the surrounding businesses and have listed some of them below. I am just one human in this tight-knit Boulder community with a lifetime of memories at this store. I can’t imagine the pain that the actual employees must be feeling, especially after losing three of their own. Again, local grocery stores are the heart of a neighborhood.
Two and half decades ago, King Soopers had a sign that read “Free Cookies for Kids!” posted on the front of a glass cabinet and kids could carefully use tongs to place a bright pink cookie into wax paper to nibble on for the rest of their shopping experience. I still remember the devastation I felt when my mom suggested that maybe as a 7th grader, I wasn’t exactly the type of “kid” they meant anymore. I sold girl scout cookies in the West Entrance on more than one occasion, my palms sweaty with nerves as I shyly asked departing customers if they’d like to buy some cookies while diligently avoiding any semblance of eye contact. I remember when the store underwent a remodel and frustrated my overworked mom to no end as she suddenly couldn’t find anything and we rushed through the aisles looking for one last thing on the list. I remember following my parents down the ice cream aisle, cradling my recently broken arm, as they tried to make me feel better by buying any and all the ice cream I wanted. I remember how grown up I felt, riding the city bus, The Skip, with friends in early middle school and having the freedom to just mill about the aisles, looking at all the things there was no way I could buy on my 6th grade allowance. We spent countless after school hours walking around in that parking lot, loyal, albeit very broke, customers of many of the strip mall establishments next door to King Soopers. Friday afternoon Abo’s — that was the place to be as a Southern Hills 7th grader in 2004. I remember waiting by myself at the bus stop in front of that King Soopers as an 8th grader and uncomfortably moving away from an older man asking me if I was still in high school and then looking embarrassed when I answered I was actually in middle school. (Hey, no memories of a place would be complete without at least one regarding the ubiquitousness of unwanted sexual harassment, would they?) In high school, I remember impersonating the self check-out machines and thinking my humor was pure genius. I remember my best friend yelling at me and another friend for deigning to use a plastic bag for our recent purchases (What about the environment!? she scolded).
As an adult, I remember my neighborhood jog necessitating more than one emergency trip to the public restroom in King Soopers. I remember preparing for a through-hike along the Colorado Trail by pushing a squeaky grocery cart down the aisles and filling it to the brim with Clif Bars, Pasta Sides, and candy bars. I remember buying up all of the store’s sunflowers for my best friend’s memorial service in 2017. These are all memories that stood out for one reason or another, set on the top of a deck of endless forgotten trips to the store that I can’t recall because I was only there to buy a week’s worth of groceries or a forgotten ingredient or chips and guac for a potluck that I was already running late for, or a pick-me-up Starbucks before work or a last minute treat for my students — memories that aren’t memories at all because they’re so ordinary and habitual and mundane that they’re forgotten as soon as the automatic doors shut behind me.
Can you imagine if a terrorist wielding a semi-automatic weapon had entered in any of the above memories? Because that’s what happened on Monday. The people inside that store were going about their days in the gloomy weather and now 10 of them are dead, their loved ones’ lives changed forever. It could have been me. I was there Sunday. It could have been you. Even worse, it could still be me or you. In the future. At the gym or grocery store or work or school or movie theater or doctor’s office or bar or restaurant or pool or any other public place that people frequent.
The American Normal Is Not One We Can Accept
How can it be that as we excitedly move towards post-pandemic normalcy — 25% of American adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of this writing — we come to the realization that the horrific cycle of mass shootings has been hibernating alongside schools, vacations, weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, and many other social events we have all desperately been missing. But, with the accelerating approach to normalcy, we must suddenly confront the reality that in the unique fabric of the American normal, we accept attending movies, grocery shopping, getting our nails done, going to a place of worship, and even teaching/learning in the classroom as places where cruel, senseless death may pursue by the hands of someone grasping a semi-automatic weapon. Must the waking and stretching after a year of pandemic-fueled hibernation also mean triggering the cycle of mass shootings?
Notice I did not mention the potential motive of said hypothetical shooter above, only that his hands carry an assault rifle. It seems the news and politicians hyper-focus on the motive when, really, does it even matter? In light of the lives lost, who cares what the motive was? Don’t give airtime to that. There is sick fascination with the perpetuation of mass shootings and prolific dark corners of the web that house forums for potential mass shooters to pay tribute to and learn from other mass shooters. Copycat mass shootings are a thing and the media should not play into them by highlighting motives. Instead highlight the object the mass shooter holds in his hands. Highlight the fact that in all likelihood, the murderous shooter bought the murderous weapon in a completely legal fashion. Highlight the fact that in many U.S. states it is easier to buy a gun than register to vote. Highlight the fact that after a mass shooting, gun manufacturers routinely prepare for a surge in gun sales. The U.S. is the only country with this frequency of mass shootings because we are the only country that allows its citizens unfettered access to guns. There are plenty of angry, dangerous people in countries across the world who don’t kill 10 people at a neighborhood grocery store because they can’t. Because they don’t have access to guns. It is as simple as that. Republicans, your whole “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is ludicrous. A person without a gun can’t kill 10 people in the few minutes it took for the Boulder Police to arrive on the scene. As Parkland survivor, Emma Gonzalez, so heart-wrenchingly said in her speech following the horrific mass shooting at her high school, “You can’t kill that many people with a knife!”
Mass shootings are uniquely American. They are also completely fixable. We can change this. We need congressmen and congresswomen who are willing to risk re-election in order to stop these senseless murders from happening ever again. Protect afternoon shoppers picking up last-minute dinner ingredients. Protect Planned Parenthood employees providing essential health care. Protect children learning. Protect educators teaching. Protect worshippers of all faiths attending their place of worship. Protect office workers. Protect cinema-goers catching a midnight premiere. Protect concert-goers. Protect night clubbers out for a celebratory evening. Protect women getting their nails done. Protect Congresswomen hunkering beneath their chairs as an angry mob storms the Capitol. Protect massage therapists doing their jobs. Protect overworked grocery store employees. Protect the random passerby in the wrong place at the wrong time. Protect every single American going about their lives from being tragically murdered because someone feels angry about something and happens to have unfettered access to the type of weapons that should only be used in warfare. It is as simple as that.
If you are a politician afraid to vote for common sense gun reform, you’re a coward and an accessory to murder. Representative Boebert, I’m calling you out again. Your March 24 tweet that says “Liberals keep saying it’s easier to buy a gun than it is to vote, but I don’t seem to remember when the government sent me an AR-15 in the mail,” underscores the degree to which you spin illogical lies to fire up your base. You live in and represent a state with one of the best, most well-established mail-in voting systems and I know you are well aware of the power in gutting voting rights because two days later you tweeted support for Georgia’s sweeping voting restrictions, stating “there is nothing sick about trying to clean up our voting systems in this nation.” Let us be clear: voting is the cornerstone to a well-functioning democracy and unlimited access to firearms is not. Those types of lies are killing the Americans you represent.
If you support the NRA, you’re complicit in every shooting. If you are complacent right now, you aren’t paying attention. If you are the NRA, I don’t know how you live with yourself. I saw you tweeted the text of the Second Amendment Monday night at 6:02 pm. More than 15,000 people then proceeded to like this post. This happened at the same time as the Boulder community discovered that a semi-automatic weapon murdered 10 innocent people in its neighborhood King Soopers. It happened a week after Atlanta lost 8 of its citizens and Asian Americans are still reeling from this heinous attack. Have you not an ounce of empathy? Also maybe you lack an understanding of that key adjective ‘well regulated’ that serves to modify the noun ‘militia’ in the text of the Second Amendment. I can name 10 things off the top of my head that are better regulated than gun sales in our country and some of them are deeply personal, like uteruses and middle school girls’ shoulders. Nothing about gun laws in our nation is regulated. That amendment has been co-opted, taken out of context, and would bring shame to the founding humans of our country (even despite their own flawed racism and sexism). Don’t even get me started on the fact the NRA-backed lawsuit against Boulder’s 2018 ban on assault rifles succeeded this past month — a ban that would have prevented the use of the very AR-15 the mass shooter used in his rampage yesterday.
Take Action Because Enough Was Enough a Decade Ago
We need gun reform. Now. Enough is enough is enough is enough.
Use this link to send messages to your Senators to help pass gun reform that would require universal background checks. While you’re at it, call and email your representatives insisting that they eliminate the filibuster as it is actively destroying our democracy by preventing the passage of bills that the vast majority of the American public support. Voting rights, gun reform, and climate change action should not be stopped because of one man with ten chins. I highly recommend Trevor Noah’s segment overviewing the fucked up history and modern use of the filibuster here (spoiler alert: in the typical fashion of American history, it is steeped in racism).
Feel free to share this post if you identified with anything I wrote. My heart goes out to all the victims of yesterday’s shooting and last week’s shooting in Atlanta, the grocery store workers who have already had a rough year, the police officers struggling to cope with the loss of one of their own, and most of all, the families and friends of the victims who are now faced with the daunting path of making sense of a senseless tragedy. Let this be the last one.