It is surreal when a mass shooting happens in your city. Like most American burgs, Jacksonville figured it was only a matter of time before it was us, yet it came as a terrible surprise when we heard the news on Sunday: three dead, including the shooter who committed suicide, nine injured by bullets and two in the panicked escape.
Thus began the production that we’ve all seen too many times, only the scene was The Jacksonville Landing, rather than Marjory Stoneman, Mandalay Bay or Pulse.
This is how the aftermath of a mass shooting plays out: First, breaking news, then a flurry of local reporters race to the scene to interview cops and witnesses—some honest, some not—and emote shock and anguish with varying levels of sincerity as they angle to be chosen for prime time. National and international media start regurgitating the story, sending inaccuracies, rumors and sensationalism flying over the airwaves and internet, inspiring a predictable chastisement by law enforcement.
Next come the politicians and pundits to weigh in from street corners, social media and over phone lines as media inboxes fill with reaction statements to be read aloud or cut-and-pasted into copy. Across social media “thoughts and prayers” multiply exponentially and locals start marking themselves “safe.” Your city will get hashtags of its very own; will the one that sticks be #TheLandingMassShooting or #JacksonvilleStrong? Time will tell.
Then you’ll be regaled with hospital scenes, interviews with victims and their loved ones, and photo-ops for up-ballot politicians, perhaps a presidential tweet. We never got one, but J’ville is ever the redheaded stepchild, even of mass shootings, it seems.
In this act, the gun control debate will be loud and constant; same with mental health reform; and let us not forget catchalls like the ever-popular respect for human life. Each shooting has its own side debate; Parkland’s was school safety, Pulse’s was homophobia, Jacksonville’s is violent video games. That this doesn’t make a lot of sense, as they were playing a football game, not Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto, is of no consequence; in such circumstances, common sense is usually the first to go.
The next morning, it will begin anew, though with less urgency and far more news trucks lined up like ducks in a row. Personal observation: Someone should’ve told national media that the best shot of The Landing is from the other side of the river. More and better-prepped (and coiffed) politicians will treat the press to five minutes of their time and the top cops will give up the last deets deemed suitable for public consumption. This phase includes some of the most harrowing accounts from witnesses and the bereaved.
Finally, an epilogue of think pieces many and varied, for every opinion, a thousand-word screed such as this.
Aannddd that’s a wrap. Until it happens again in a few days’, weeks’, or months’ time. America has been through this before, and we’ll go through this again, albeit with a different backdrop. Then a new city will serve as the setting of another remake of Mass Shooting: The Movie. It’s hard to believe that will ever change.
Please don’t think me coarse or unfeeling; as I strolled near our Landing on Monday, a place I regularly walk and dine, and had visited fewer than 24 hours prior to the shooting for some pre-Jags-game merrymaking, I felt sick and broken-hearted. This is my city; these are my people and I love both dearly.
The shooting at our Landing is a tragedy that this town will not soon forget. The rest of the world, however, will have moved on by the time you read this.
I don’t know what started the mass shooting epidemic and I don’t know what will stop it, if anything. All I know for sure is that there is no simple solution, no matter what the talking heads would have you believe.
Yes, we can pass gun safety legislation, such as the universal background check Senator Bill Nelson lobbied for steps from The Landing on Monday morning. Yes, we can increase funding for mental health treatment and screening. Maybe the cult of celebrity, and farce of the redemptive power of fame, should be dispelled. We could structure our schools as if actual human beings, rather than robots, attend them. Our film and television and, yes, video games could scale back on the graphic violence. Bullying obviously has to go. The media could do something other than embark on a 24-hour spree of screeching repetition for each mass shooting. Everyone else could ease off the hysteria, put down our damn phones and have an actual conversation.
Each of these changes alone would have, at best, the impact of a drop in the bucket. But maybe, just maybe, if we get all those drops together, we can make a sea change. For once, can we at least do something more than just wait for the sequel? Enough innocent blood has been spilled.