I was in Kansas City on Wednesday, February 22nd to spend time with our EnGraph crew. Google maps told me that Austins was the closest bar and grill where I could watch KU win their 13th straight Big 12 title. Turns out, I never saw it happen. At 7:15 PM, just after ordering my nachos, I heard “POP! POP!”, then screams, yelling and more “POPS!” Like water breaching a dam, people flooded out of the adjacent room and into the narrow hallway where I was sitting at the bar. I ducked under my chair, struggling to get any sort of grip on whatever reality this was. I felt a pull on my arm, looked up and saw a back door open with people ejecting the building. I jumped a chair that had been knocked over, a person that had been knocked over and sprinted through two sets of doors until I was breathing outside air. Still not feeling safe in the parking lot, I kept running until I found a group of people. I recognized the logo on the waitresses’ shirts as the bar I had just fled and felt safe. As a group, we ran out of the shopping center and down a street until we had distance between us and what was now a crime scene. Sirens were wailing and the reality of it sunk in. It wasn’t a joke, it wasn’t a misunderstanding. Those were gunshots and the fear for my life I was feeling was the appropriate reaction. We knocked on doors up and down the street until somebody let us in.
Everybody was freaking out. The guys were pacing back and forth, adrenaline boiling over, looking for any additional danger. The girls were sitting down, crying. They saw it happen. They knew the victims, they saw the shooter and they knew the backstory. One of the girls was pregnant. She and her husband just got married. This was supposed to their first baby. She was hyperventilating, trying to get her husband on the phone. The medics were unsuccessfully trying to calm her down. I’ll always remember the look on her husband’s face as he was running up to us and realized it was his pregnant wife in the ambulance behind him. Everything important to him was slipping through his fingers. He nearly ripped the doors off the hinges trying to get to her. Later we would find out that he went to the bar to find her, instead found his friend that had been shot, and field-dressed the wound before joining his wife.
Another waitress in the group was the one that kicked the would-be shooter out of the bar. She was racked with guilt and self-blame. She felt like she pushed him over the edge, because the backstory goes like this: The shooter had been harassing a couple of guys. Calling them names, using racial terms to disparage their heritage (he thought they were Middle Eastern). The staff and other people sitting nearby had enough and they got a manager to remove this man. That was around 6:45, which, according to my Moves app, is right when I walked in to Austins. Thirty minutes later, he returned, this time with a gun to escalate his previous verbal attacks.
So we sat; ten strangers brought together by an individual who felt he should be permitted to spew hate. Then, when that right was challenged, felt the need to LITERALLY KILL SOMEBODY.
Police came and police went. Helicopters circled ahead. Our block was barricaded by police cars and trucks. At one point, SWAT officers with very big guns told us to close the garage door and stay inside. They proceeded to march into the backyard and look for the shooter. Nobody knew what to say, nobody knew what to do.
The rest of my story isn’t important. I made it home safely. Yes, I’m shaken up. Yes, I’m overwhelmed emotionally. No, I cannot relax and I have a headache that will not go away because every muscle fiber is tensed and ready to go. But that is not important. I will recover, because I’m not dead. And if I really wanted to, I could mostly forget. Because as a white male, I have that privilege.
Here is the important part of the story: one man is dead. Two more are in the hospital with GUN SHOT WOUNDS.
Because somebody SHOT THEM.
It is not normal. It is not okay.
We live in a world where intolerance toward minorities and foreigners is encouraged from the top down. “Get out of my country!” – That is a real thing, that a real person said to another real person on February 22nd before shooting him. There are people that think that other people are less worthy of living here because of their skin color, accent or religion. Our sitting president ran on a campaign of hatred and fear toward minorities and immigrants and is delivering on each and every one of his despicable promises.
We live in a world where the rights of guns are more important than the lives of people. Guns, instruments whose sole purpose is death, are more important than providing a culture of acceptance for our brothers and sisters. Many people voted for Trump strictly because he said he supported guns. They willfully ignored (or silently encouraged) the groundswell of intolerance that he was generating.
There are going to be people who accuse me of snapping to grid. Gun control, positioning myself against Trump and speaking out against hate are each individual hills that I have climbed up many times. So this could be the perfect trifecta and people will dismiss me as a libtard or whatever flavor-of-the-month label Republicans use to insult us left-leaners. But please push through. If you are still reading, then stay with me because we are building up to something important here. People will want to dismiss this as a mental health issue. People will want to find another reason to allow the existence of guns. People will use the 2nd Amendment as a battle cry. But there is a bigger story than that.
This version of America endorses hate and glorifies guns. Hate crimes are a daily occurrence. LGBTQ rights are being striped away. Literal walls are being built to keep people out of our country. Mass shooting after mass shooting occurs and nothing changes. Children continue to accidentally shoot their siblings in the face with guns they found in their parent’s room. Where is the outrage? Where is the fulcrum that will tip our priorities towards love and protection of life?
Some people say, “But we need guns to protect our families.” According to the CDC, a gun is more likely to inflict damage on you or a member of your household than be used to stop a bad guy with a gun.
“But what about those bad guys with guns? If we make gun ownership illegal, won’t only criminals have guns?” Well, maybe at first, but what about in 20 years, or 50 years? Maybe in 100 years, guns will be so hard to get that my great-great-grandson won’t literally be running for his life.
“But hunting is a beloved sport.” Gladiators fighting each other to the death also used to be a beloved sport. So was dog fighting. Over the years, we have evolved our opinion on what we find barbaric and have changed our tastes in sport.
“But my neighborhood is overrun with foxes/deer/coyote and hunters help keep the population down.” Well, maybe if we stopped taking land from animals for our houses, the animal population wouldn’t get moved around so much and natural predatory relationships wouldn’t be disrupted.
“But I eat the animals I kill.” Good for you! It is much better to be connected to your food than to get your meat from factory farms. Use a bow and arrow, though. It’s not much of a sport if the animal never really has a chance, right?
I know several gun owners who are responsible and are advocates for responsibility. I know gun advocates that I consider my closest of friends. And honestly, I wish there was a compromise. I wish that gun control would work. I hate that I don’t have a solution that contains any middle ground. I understand that they are being punished for the crimes of others and lumped into categories that they do not belong in.
It’s not fair that responsible gun owners can’t have guns, but I don’t see any other way.
Sometimes the rest of the class can’t have bubble gum because little Johnny won’t stop putting it in Susie’s hair. Except in this analogy, Susie’s tangled hair is actually a family burying their 32 year old son.
I can write this post and send it out to my 709 twitter followers and 334 facebook friends. Some of them will read it. After Trump was elected, I promised not to stay quiet anymore. And I haven’t. Maybe the news will pick it up because it is current and fresh. But then what? The story will lose its legs and most people will forget.
Or maybe it won’t. Maybe this can be the turning point. Maybe we can finally see that geographic boundaries are man-made, while the people who occupy those boundaries are God-made. Maybe we can finally see that the allowing of guns in our culture is a net negative.
My story isn’t important. On February 22nd, I survived. But if we keep allowing guns to be part of our culture; if we keep voting for hate and against acceptance of others, then these events will keep happening. I might not be so lucky next time.