I answered the phone yesterday afternoon and heard the distraught voice of a friend of mine from Omaha. She kept repeating, over and over, as if her impromptu mantra would change history and peel back time: “This doesn’t happen here. This happens there. Where you are. Not here. Not here. Not here.”

Even though I live in Jersey City, I knew my friend was talking about Robbie Hawkins — 19-years-old, 5-foot-7 and 128 pounds — who, after getting fired from his $800.00USD a month job at McDonald’s on suspicion of stealing $17 from the till, took to out his rage on the world by picking up a AK-47 semiautomatic rifle and shooting, Sniper-style, eight people dead and injuring five more at the Westroads Mall before finishing his death spree by turning the gun on himself and fulfilling his wish to give meaning to his life in death by setting the record for the most killings during a single day in Omaha.

I understood my friend’s concern and I wasn’t insulted she felt that sort of murder belonged in New Jersey and not Nebraska. She moved to the Midwest from Chicago looking to get away from high crime rates and killings in the urban core. She thought she was safe. She was wrong.

While Omaha is a tough town full of pockets of minority poverty and despair, my friend had been able to craft a quiet, safe, life there for her children and the general Midwestern assumption is big-time murder sprees belong as the currency of the extreme East and West Coast city centers.

It was certainly a shock to see Midwesterners, in the blossom of their afternoon, running from a department store with their hands raised. As a native Nebraskan, that’s an image you never saw growing up and one you never hoped to see in the future.

The Midwest is changing. Where once the prairies were considered “fly over” territory that the real movers and shakers would only visit as they “flew over” us in airplanes on their way to something better — we must now begin to realize no city or hamlet or village is safe in the modern era where guns are aplenty and arguments are made with bullets instead of reason and morality is of-the-instant instead of being sustained in the being. Where are we headed as a nation when a gun is viewed as an inalienable right, and if you disagree with that notion, your life is threatened with buckshot?

How do we protect ourselves from the bullets fired from that perceived right to bear arms? Are all gun owners naturally angry and rage-filled and scared? Do we all need to carry guns and wear Kevlar clothing as the cost of current living?

Are we naive in thinking there are still safe havens in America where one can reasonably raise a family and live a quiet life without the daily threat of urban violence seeping into the everyday mindset?

21 Comments

  1. A line from God of Small Things (a book I read despite myself):
    Anything can happen at any time; it is better to be prepared.
    And another from Nick Hornby’s less lofty About A Boy:
    Everyone needs back-up.
    I think pretty much sums up life. 🙂

  2. Those are good phrases, Shefaly, but for those born on the farm and for those who are used to cattle and barns — dealing with this sort of randomized, urban, violence is a hard thing to consider in your life because you’re taught to wake up, work, go to sleep and attend church on Sunday. You have a rifle for hunting, but you’d likely never turn it on another person even to protect the farmhouse.

  3. I can see how neighbors would try to “outdo” each other when it comes to the urban arms race. If you have a revolver, I have an automatic and then you get a shotgun and I get a flame thrower and you buy a box of grenades and…

  4. It does seem like a never-ending “loss of innocence” story, Anne, and it is still leading the local NYC news as well as the national cable news stations. I suppose it’s always news when the unexpected happens in unusual places.

  5. Guns aren’t the problem. I hate to sound cliche, but guns don’t kill people. We need to address the issues that cause people to think they need to kill people. Besides, restricting access to weapons will only hinder law-abiding people. If you really want to buy a gun, there are ways to get one without going through a lawful dealer.

  6. Hi David,
    It’s 8:30 AM in the morning – local time. I just read the news in the local news paper.
    The whole thing is beyond my imagination as I am quite familiar with the culture of Midwest.
    Not only the Midwest is changing, the whole world is changing – pretty fast.
    An eye for an eye…?
    Finally it will leave the whole world blind – I fear.
    I pray for everybody there.

  7. Katha!
    There you are!
    Yes, you are probably more aware of the Midwest than a prairie native because you are more sensitive to the sometimes odd and often keen ways those folks relate to the world. 😀
    You’re absolutely right about the power of retribution. There’s no forgiveness any longer. Only revenge merits effort.

  8. We have a gun ban and a knife ban – doesn’t stop people being killed every day by them. Maybe there should be a ban on their manufacture – as opposed to ownership? The trouble is too much money is made from the manufacture of weapons – of all kinds for that ever to become reality.

  9. That’s a fine point, Nicola. Even if we banned the manufacture all the millions of guns and knives and other implements of death manufactured to only kill people — there would still be many left in the world and the Black Market would boom with their sales.
    Bullets, however, might be easier to stop manufacturing. Or at least making bullets incredibly expensive to buy might help as well.
    A gun is useless without bullets so we might be able to quiet the shots if we control the result of a trigger pull.