Sometimes you can’t look away

We are confronted with so many tragedies these days that we hardly know how to respond anymore, and yet it seems we summon up different reactions for each one.

At the massacre in the Charleston Church we were horrified.

At the shootings in the army recruiting center we were shocked.

We were stunned by Columbine, saddened by Newtown, chastened and embarrassed by the killing in Ferguson, and sickened by the ongoing murders committed by Middle East terrorist groups.

Very seldom are we heartsick, but I think many of us felt that way last week when we witnessed the deaths on air of that young reporter and her cameraman. Maybe it’s because they were so young and had their whole lives ahead of them—but then again they shared those qualities with the victims of Newtown. Maybe it was the young lady’s father appearing on television in terrible emotional pain and challenging the president to do more to combat gun violence, but we’ve seen that before too. Or maybe it was the fact that we heard the gunshots and the screams and saw the results, and having been witnesses ourselves made it impossible to erase the images from our minds.

Yes, that’s what it was. Welcome to the world where anyone can buy a gun and record himself killing other human beings with it.

Benjamin Franklin once wrote that experience keeps a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other. For all of us for whom gun violence seldom comprised more than headlines and news reports, the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward near Roanoke last week were our experience.

Close and harsh and horrible.

We can no longer claim ignorance or innocence.

Right now somewhere there’s an earnest and well-intentioned gun owner preparing to remind us that guns don’t kill people—people kill people. That’s not going to work anymore: last week we saw and heard exactly what kills people, and we’re not likely to forget.

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