Gerald Fischman, the long-time editorial page editor of the Annapolis Capital, was no stranger to mass shootings. He had written about them for years — moving editorials full of pain, disgust and despair, but also determination. He championed reasonable restrictions on gun ownership. He deplored the lack of resources for mental health care. And above all, he insisted that we must come together as a community, to care for one another. He saw hope in the voices of young people moved to act after the Parkland shooting, but his editorials were colored by mounting frustration that it was a subject he was compelled to address again and again.
He was one of the five Capital Gazette staff members killed in the newsroom Thursday afternoon.
We wish we could know how he would have tried to make sense of the tragedy that struck his colleagues and community so deeply on Thursday. But we can witness the empathy with which he confronted the ceaseless parade of tragedies that has befallen our nation. Here is a sampling of his editorials in reaction to recent acts of mass violence.
Without hope, the violence has claimed us all
(June 14, 2016)
Words will not prevent another Orlando or Blacksburg or Newton or San Bernardino.
We are awash in a tide of words that flows from a desire to explain the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. We must put it in context. We must categorize it, compare and contrast it. We must blame someone, or everyone.
A cynic would say words are just preparation for moving to the next horrible moment, tools to leverage this one safely into the past.
We wish we had more than words. Yet, it is all we have to add today, to share frustrations and feelings universal among us. Maybe there is some small comfort in knowing others feel the same.
Sympathy comes easily for those who lost loved ones at Pulse, the Orlando, Fla., nightclub where 60 people died Sunday and another 53 were wounded. The man who police said came into the bar and started firing, Omar Mateen, was the 50th fatality — shot by police after a hostage standoff.
But how deep is our well of sympathy? The numbers add and add, and make us numb: 32 at Virginia Tech, 27 in Newtown, 14 in San Bernardino, nine in Charleston, five in Chattanooga, 12 at the Washington Navy Yard. Shots are fired and who hasn’t asked “how many?” We are so practiced that even our sympathy is cynical.
Anger is appropriate. Should we be angry with the hate spewed by terrorist groups and outlaw states in the Middle East that appear to have influenced Mateen? Yes. Should we be angry at hate spewed by domestic groups that don’t like an idea, a belief or how someone chooses to live or who they love? Yes.
Should we be angry at the easy accessibility of the AR-15, a weapon of choice for anyone with mass casualties on their mind? Yes. Should we be angry at the failure of our elected leaders to reach agreement on steps to prevent another Orlando? Yes.
Hopelessness, too, is a hard feeling to shake this week. It’s easy to believe we cannot stem this rising tide of blood. Do we ban Muslims immigrants, even though they are not the shooters? Do we punish gun makers until they produce a gun that will take no innocent life? Do we tear down the mouthpieces of intolerance that set the agenda for the weak-minded and violence prone? Do we destroy any enemy who makes us feel unsafe?
Of all the words this week, hopelessness may be the most dangerous. We must believe there is a solution, a way to prevent another mass shooting. We must believe that we can find it if only we try little harder.
Without hope, Mateen and the others behind the guns have ultimately killed us all.
Violence strikes again at the roots of our society
(Oct. 3, 2017)
About 15 ½ months ago, after 49 were killed and 58 wounded at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, we wrote in this space, “Of all the words this week, hopelessness may be the most dangerous. We must believe there is a solution, a way to prevent another mass shooting. We must believe that we can find it if only we try a little harder.”
We still believe that but have to acknowledge that hope gets tougher to sustain with each new outbreak of irrational mass bloodshed. And as horrible as Sunday night’s massacre in Las Vegas was, even worse is the suspicion that after another week, another month, another year, all of us will again find ourselves groping for ways to react to an even worse outrage.
Today every Western nation is the crosshairs of extremists who defame a great religion by claiming to be inspired by Islam. And other nations have had terrible mass slayings committed by psychopaths: Seventeen killed in a school in Scotland in 1996. Thirty-five killed at a tourist site in Australia, also in 1996. Seventy-seven dead — 69 shot and eight killed by the detonation of a car bomb — at the hands of a lunatic right-wing extremist in Norway in 2011.
But only the United States seems to be caught in an escalating cycle of these dreadful events. The death tolls are comparatively small in a nation of 323 million, but people don’t think in terms of statistics. They think that when they go to a movie, they may not be any safer than the 12 killed at a Colorado theater. Or that their children may not be safer than the 20 killed at an elementary school in Connecticut in 2012 or the 33 killed on the campus of Virginia Tech in 2007. Or that they may not be safe at a night club or even a concert on the Las Vegas strip — the national equivalent of a carnival midway.
As this is written, we don’t know the motives of the 64-year-old Nevadan who got an arsenal of at least 10 guns into a hotel room overlooking the site of a country music festival. But whatever is eventually disclosed isn’t likely to offer much comfort to the friends and families of the at least 59 people killed and the more than 500 injured.
President Donald Trump is certainly right that the attack was “pure evil” and that it will not fracture our national unity. But we have to go beyond this and look for solutions — for things we can do. Simply accepting that such atrocities will be a recurring part of our national lives from now on will do even worse psychological damage to our country than that done by the loss of life.
Hopelessness is not an American frame of mind. And falling prey to it is an insult to the victims.
Let’s wake up from our national nightmare
(Feb. 18, 2018)
Ever feel like you’re stuck in a nightmare from which you can’t wake up?
Twenty-eight dead, most of them little children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut less than six years ago. Fifty people dead at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., some 20 months ago. Fifty-nine dead on the Las Vegas Strip four-and-a-half months ago. Twenty-seven dead at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a bit over three months ago.
And on Wednesday, 17 dead — three adult staff members and 14 students ranging in age from 14 to 18 — at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The attack took just six minutes.
Even with gun violence on the decline in the United States, our nation has become a world leader in mass shootings. And the pattern has become agonizingly familiar: horror, grief, candlelight vigils, stories about the victims, stories about missed warning signs from the perpetrator, angry debates about gun laws that go nowhere — and then a wait for the next bloodbath.
The perpetrators are occasionally would-be terrorists or true anomalies, like the well-to-do 64-year-old businessman who carried out the mass shooting in Las Vegas. But usually these events follow a dismal pattern: an angry, unstable young man — known by family and friends to be difficult and volatile, but not necessarily considered insane or under treatment — has no trouble getting his hands on high-powered weapons.
The 19-year-old arrested in the Parkland shootings, Nikolas Cruz, seems to have raised every red flag he could reach. He was expelled from the school. He evidently posted a comment on YouTube — under his own name — about wanting to be a “professional school shooter.” Then, on Jan. 5, the FBI’s tipline was called by someone saying that Cruz owned guns, wanted to kill people, was behaving erratically and had made disturbing social media posts.
Somehow, this information never reached FBI agents. The agency is currently investigating why.
Since government agencies, even at their best, will never be perfect, it’s up to the community — parents, students, teachers, local law enforcement — to keep an eye out for the danger signs. As county schools Superintendent George Arlotto says elsewhere on this page, in a column reviewing his system’s security measures, “If you see or hear something, say something.”
Mental health is a factor in this problem, but hardly the most obvious factor. Actually, very few of the mentally ill are violent or a danger to anyone, except perhaps themselves.
For whatever reason, many Americans — or at least their lawmakers — won’t come to grips with the idea that something is out of kilter when a young man like Cruz can easily and legally purchase a modified version of a military weapon designed to kill as many of the enemy as quickly as possible.