in solidarity: the only things i'll say about the isla vista shootings

Originally, I wasn't planning on writing this so soon. In May of this year, my university was the victim of a mass-shooting spree, which killed six students and injured thirteen. After it happened, time kind of slowed. The rest of the year felt heavy and overcast as the magnitude of the incident resonated with everyone, and the entire nation paused to wonder how and why this had happened yet again.

The events that occurred were unmistakably devastating, and it was shocking to see something that we often feel very removed from unfold in our own home. And when we said “Not One More,” we meant it. But after the attack on Florida State University, it is clear that nothing has changed. And it's irresponsible and honestly a little stupid to convince ourselves that there was nothing we could do. It starts with a conversation.

 Candlelight vigil for the victims

Candlelight vigil for the victims

I realize that writing something like this invites a lot of controversy. But it’s something that I haven’t stopped thinking about since it happened six months ago, and it caused a whole upwelling of other social issues that weren’t being discussed prior to it. The problem now is that it’s being used to push agendas, many of which are unrelated or separate from the shooting itself. I’ve found that the problem with most of the blogs and opinion pieces written on the subject is that they tend to blame misogyny and rape culture. Granted, there are a lot of ways to interpret the shooter’s behavior. But attributing this tragedy to something so simplified is not only disrespectful to the victims, but also a striking ignorance of a multitude of other sensitive issues and a way of twisting the events to strengthen their own personal cause.

The fact that events like these are a part of our culture is absolutely disgusting. Last month, two students were killed and four wounded in a cafeteria shooting at a Washington state high school. Yesterday, three Florida State University students were wounded in a library shooting, and my former high school was placed under lockdown because someone threatened a mass-shooting via anonymous Yik Yak post. And a month ago, my younger cousin informed me that her school had established protocol in case of violent threats, called “Code Black drills.” There’s a kind of numbness that accompanies these things now. The FSU shooter was killed in a standoff, the Yik Yak suspect was taken into custody, and people have already moved on. “FSU” is trending on Google, but is absent from the conversations on Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo. It’s infuriating that it’s even a discussion, when we are the only country in which this is a problem. But it’s a problem because of the way we handle tragedy and the different factors of these situations, and I think the anger regarding the Isla Vista shootings was particularly misdirected.

The distressing events at our university were somewhat unique, as they sparked a discussion about misogyny and violence against women (and the creation of the hashtag #YesAllWomen). The whole movement highlighted the marginalization and harassment women face on their daily lives; not exactly a new idea, but the first time that an apparently direct link between misogyny and mass violence had been created. Because the shooter had declared a “war on women” and “day of retribution,” as revenge for rejecting him, he was viewed as a living, breathing product of sexism and rape culture.

 Flowers placed in the bullet hole at the site of the shooting

Flowers placed in the bullet hole at the site of the shooting

This is fundamentally untrue. I consider myself a feminist, but I don’t agree with blaming his actions on misogyny or the Men’s Rights Movement. Although he was alarmingly delusional in believing that women owe him something for his genetic makeup, I think rape culture and #YesAllWomen are an entirely different matter. What many news outlets and feminist bloggers neglect to mention is that four of the six victims were male, and that he stated in his manifesto that he intended to punish men equally. We can blame male entitlement as much as we like, but the fact is that these murders were non-discriminatory, not solely a result of misogyny. While it’s true that misogyny has played a hugely important role in shaping a problematic culture in society, positioning the shooter as a manifestation of rape culture is an oversimplification of gender politics, and demeaning to both the problem of rape culture and the incident itself. It’s sad to see the media using these families’ pain as a platform for feminist ideals; there are ways to end rape culture without using mass shootings as a scare tactic. While the shooter was clearly a misogynist, his actions were an indication of more deeply-rooted problems.

Gun control is an issue that is rehashed every time a school shooting occurs. It’s a sensitive topic, one that despite the number of shootings since Isla Vista, we don’t like talking about. I fully support the right to bear arms, but it’s time that we used some discretion. There is no good reason to own a semi-automatic weapon, even for self-defense. A weapon that can fire that many rounds in a short period of time is designed to kill a large number of people quickly, and it is the weapon of choice of school shooters, exemplified by the Isla Vista shooter’s legally purchased Glock 34 pistol, which he had selected for its “accuracy and efficiency.” Currently, there are no restrictions on firearm purchase for citizens, unless they are involuntarily committed to a mental institution. And regulation, like any form of law, is for the safety of a country’s citizens. It is not oppression, nor is it unreasonable to suggest that perhaps keeping guns in the house of a mentally unstable individual is ill-advised. While gun control bills were introduced following the Isla Vista massacre, the odds of them pushing through to Congress are unlikely (such as after Sandy Hook), unless we take advantage of our opportunity to vote and are actively involved in the progress of the legislation.

The media is also very much to blame for the glorification of mass shooters. The incessant coverage was not a representation of good journalism; it was invasive to the residents and students of Isla Vista, and disrespectful to the victims and their families to keep reporters posted at the crime scene 24/7 days after the shooting, hounding random students for interviews. To add insult to injury, while perpetrators are treated as celebrities and profiled by every news source imaginable, the victims are often dismissed or forgotten. This leads to a dangerous fascination with the grotesque, and sends the message to potential psychos that yes, if you shoot up a school, your name will live in infamy and you will receive the attention that you’ve craved and been deprived of all your life. It causes outcasts and social rejects to aspire to this kind of sick behavior, perpetuating a cycle of violence.

 Chalk memorial on Pardall Road

Chalk memorial on Pardall Road

The Onion wrote a short but brilliant piece on the subject, with the headline “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens”, which in typical Onion fashion was both darkly funny and maddeningly truthful. We continue treating these events as “tragedies,” or isolated events of horrific proportions with shattering consequences. But in fact, these things are (to an extent) within our control, and we instead turn a blind eye.

Comedian John Oliver of “The Daily Show” noted following the Boston Marathon bombings: “One failed attempt at a shoe bombing and we all have to take our shoes off at the airport. Thirty-one school shootings since Columbine, and there’s been no change in the regulation of guns.” Sadly, he’s right. I still get my conditioner confiscated by the TSA, and yet, foreigners aren’t our biggest threat—we are. It’s easy to blame radical Islam and random fits of mental illness because we don’t understand them. It’s more difficult to accept that these things are in our power to change, but the first step is a willingness to take responsibility for them. “Tragic” is an excuse. “Tragic” is a way of acknowledging unfortunate events so we don’t seem heartless. But “tragic” implies that we’ve done all we can and it's still hopeless, which simply isn't true anymore, not when it happens over and over.

All photos are by my talented friend Benjamin. Anything I missed? Tell me in the comments, and as always, thanks for reading :).



writer/creator. problem-solver. curious cat.