Somebody being shot in this country – or two, or five, or 20 somebodies – seems like it’s news now only because something has to fill a 24-hour news cycle. Like structure fires or what the county is going to put on the roads in advance of a snowstorm, nobody really gives a shit because it’s the same thing over and over, but every now and again a detail jumps out to add life to the proceedings.
First off, let’s be clear: We’re not marginalizing the brutal death of a 2-year-old from a 20-gauge shotgun blast. American culture has done a fine job of that all by itself through its preference for gun fetishization over the value of life. If we had our way, a story like this would still have the ability to shock us as a horrific yet exceedingly rare tragedy that occurred despite our best collective efforts. But we don’t get our way, so we resort to the depressingly difficult task of somehow making people see the absurdity of the world we’ve built for ourselves.
This is one of those opportunities.
A shotgun blast hit Abagail Newman in the neck around 9 a.m. on Monday in Henderson County, N.C. A woman who called 911 told the dispatcher, “one of the guns were loaded on the table and I didn’t know it.” Abagail was one of three other children the woman was caring for at the time, ages 7, 3, 2, and four months.
So, to recap, this person was babysitting four very small children in home also populated by multiple guns, at least one of which was lying on a table. Again, four small children, one adult, multiple guns, at least one on a table loaded.
How could that be? The adults involved didn’t notice the gun(s)? Forgot about them? Knew they were there and just didn’t think it was that big of a deal? Maybe it’s possible for the benefit of doubt to be applied. If you have any ideas, we’re all ears.
It could be total incompetence. More likely, though, this latest completely avoidable shooting death is the by-product of a cultural gun worship that has mainstreamed firearms to the point that they’re viewed as toys, status symbols to be displayed and fawned over rather than things designed to kill and deserving of an equivalent level of respect and fear. If guns are locked away as previous generations did, how can they impress your friends when they come over for a beer? Guns are status symbols now, like Corvettes or PS4s. Trips to the range are the 2015 version of poker night.
Which is totally fucked up, but maybe not as fucked up as how this twisted obsession has warped the rationality of the national discussion.
James Fuller Stepp, 31, the gun’s owner, has since been charged with one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, and local media has gone out of its way to play up the what-are-you-gonna-do nature of the shooting. “Man charged in unintentional shooting of 2-year-old” the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News pointedly pointed out with its online headline. Maj. Frank Stout seemed to almost be apologizing for the arrest when he told the newspaper, “I want people to understand that this one charge of involuntary manslaughter does not insinuate that he (Stepp) was there or had the weapon.”
That’s kind of the problem, but pointing it out makes you a communist, so …
“Law enforcement are calling Monday’s shooting death of a Henderson County toddler a tragic accident,” WLOS-TV in Asheville, N.C., reported. “In no way are we trying to indicate … that (Stepp) was pulling the trigger,” Stout stressed to the Asheville Citizen-Times, which apparently is the most important issue here.
The Times-News went on to close its story in one of the most mind-bogglingly inappropriate ways possible by doubling-down on attempts to elicit sympathy for the gun’s owners rather than the child killed or her family by writing “this tragedy is not the first Heather Stepp has had to face” before describing in some detail a car accident three years earlier that left her and her son with very serious injuries
Oh. Well now that you’ve pointed out that completely unrelated incident I think we should leave these poor people alone. They’ve suffered enough.
To its credit, the ACT noted that “so far this year, 582 children ages 11 and younger have died from intentional or unintentional gunshot wounds in the U.S., according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. Additionally, 2,151 children ages 12-17 were killed.” For those of you keeping score at home, that would be 2,733 children – 2,733! – slaughtered, and we still have November and December. No meaningful legislation has even been presented, much less passed, to attempt to combat this. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress has spent more than $20 million on eight investigations into the deaths of four people in Benghazi, Libya.
Undoubtedly, the Stepps feel terribly about what has happened. Undoubtedly, it’s irrelevant. Drunk drivers who kill people usually do too, but rather than being sympathized with in the press they’re publicly humiliated before facing years in prison and financial ruin. For comparison’s take, allowing minors access to loaded firearms without proper supervision is a misdemeanor in North Carolina.
Of course, as we all know by now there is nothing – literally nothing – bad enough to sway gun apologists. It took all of four comments in a discussion thread for one of these simple-minded individuals to respond to a call for fingerprint sensors on firearms with the counter-argument that household cleaners “kill a hell of a lot more kids under 5 … than guns or cars.”
Backed into a logic corner by a false choice. Dammit. They win again.