It happens after every major tragedy. An outpouring of love and grief and support on all platforms of social media: inspirational memes, profile-picture overlays, petitions, indignant status updates, political hashtags. It’s all just so very…right there. Our collective rage. Our sadness and terror and wishes for things to be different. On our screens and in our feeds: over and over and over again. And each time it happens, I have to admit, it bothers me. I really struggle with it. Each time social media goes wild–about a mass shooting, a gorilla, a parent who needs eviscerating–I take a step back from all of it and try to understand what’s happening.
We are all so used to instant gratification now. Click a button and there it is: proof that you’ve said something–done something. And not only do you have the proof but all of your friends, followers, and stalkers have it as well. There, I stand with Orlando. Or Paris. Or rape victims. I wrote a meme about how I will raise my boys to respect women. I have done something helpful.
I just can’t help but wonder what any of that does, truly.
Since the shooting in Orlando early last Sunday morning, there have been a lot of declarations about the need for gun reform. I could not agree more. Personally I hate guns and would love to see assault weapons outlawed–actually, I wouldn’t mind if the 2nd Amendment (written in reference to the right to form a militia, not wield an uzi) was repealed and all guns were outlawed. But let’s take a minute to get the facts straight before we go diving into our online indignation. I’ve seen so many posts about the AR-15 and how awful it is and how it needs to be banned. Again, I could not agree more–but that wasn’t the gun used in Orlando. What was used was a Sig Sauer MCX, a weapon that, according to the Washington Post, is very similar to the AR-15, but not quite the same thing. These details matter. It matters that we get the facts straight before we go rushing in to demand change and vocalize who we hate and who’s to blame.
Here’s why the details matter: because they’ll matter to the NRA. Because if all those petitions that are circulating on social media work, and somehow Congress actually does its job and passes legislation that bans all “assault-weapons,” the NRA will say, “Ok no problem. Oh and btw, the term ‘assault-weapon’ only applies to fully automatic weapons, so we’re still all good with semi-automatic ones” (like the Sig Sauer MCX and AR-15).
Or, the NRA-bought politicians might write the law–as they did in the 1994 assault-weapons ban H.R. 3355–to exclude any weapon that has already been manufactured, so that while making new ones would be outlawed, buying and selling the ones that already exist would be perfectly legal. Are any of the social media petitions explicit about wanting both future and present weapons banned? Do they make it clear that we want the new legislation not to be riddled with loopholes like the 1994 one was? Is anyone demanding that this new legislation apply to more than just the 18 specific semi-automatic weapons that were listed in 1994? Gun manufactures simply worked around the bill last time, and they’ll do the same again if all we want to do is feel good about ourselves for a moment as we click on a link and type out our names. (Check out the 1994 bill here. It’s fascinating.)
My point is that there’s a difference between motion and action. There’s a difference between an emotional gut-reaction that will fade by next week, and a thoughtful, nuanced conversation. It doesn’t seem to matter what the specific issue is–we hand down verdicts and demand justice so swiftly and automatically these days that there isn’t time to allow for actual change. Because there isn’t time for actual listening.
I’m at a loss, and I think it’s ok to admit that–I think it’s ok to say “I’m not sure what The Answer is.” What I do know is that one, single, swift motion is rarely productive. Sometimes depraved, marginalized people do horrific things that speak to more than a single problem. But we don’t like grey areas because grey areas are hard to meme. We don’t like nuance or complexity because they get in the way of immediate and loud action. Each side just continues to ring the same bell over and over, each tragedy just serves as further proof of how right they were in the first place.
And I understand the need to feel like you have a voice that matters and that can be heard. I understand the need to pass stories back and forth–to connect with other people who are as confused and startled and terrified as you are. I stand with you. I see you and I see your pain. And sometimes that’s exactly what people need. I get that.
But meanwhile, when was the last meme posted about the gorilla from the Cincinnati zoo? How long will it take for the outrage about the Disney crocodile to subside? How long until our attention is needed urgently to eviscerate another set of parents? And what about Orlando and guns? How long until the next news cycle brings along something else to scream and yell and post about?
A few days? A week?