At 5:30 p.m. on Friday, May 23, 2014, I was on my way home after attending a lecture at UC Santa Barbara. I drove through peaceful streets filled with people on bicycles, and a steady stream of people walking along the sidewalk, running errands and meeting up with friends at outdoor cafes. The atmosphere was relaxed, carefree. It was one of those beautiful days in May that made you thankful to be alive. Ironically the lecture I had attended earlier, presented by Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, PhD, was on the topic of "healing historical trauma." And I was unaware the route I had chosen to drive to get home would four hours later become a national crime scene, and that shortly after 9 p.m. a heavily armed shooter would drive through these same streets and would open fire in nine locations, killing six people and wounding 13 others.
These killings bring mass shootings back into the national spotlight. This is disturbing not only because of the sadness and horror and the fact that it happened yet again, and this time in my hometown, but also because startling figures grossly underreport the number of shooting sprees in America.
Shootings involving low-income people don't often become national media stories, however the gunman who fired rounds in nine locations in the small-town Isla Vista community, which borders the University of California Campus in Santa Barbara, made headlines around the nation, namely because the shooter was a college student, from a privileged family, who posted videos that documented his rage and who also stabbed three men to death in his apartment prior to committing the mass shootings.
While the FBI does not specifically define mass shooting, it does define mass murder, and mass shooting has gained sanction as the preferred choice.
In order to better understand I turned to Mother Jones, which explains the definition in an expanded "Guide to Mass Shootings in America," and clarifies that mass shootings typically involve a single episode in a single location, usually a public place. The Mother Jones definition of mass shooting matches the FBI definition of mass murder in that it includes single incidents that kill at least four victims. However, the heavily-armed shooter that drove through my community on Friday, opened fire in numerous locations.
We've had so many mass shootings, which have resulted in mass murder in the U.S. to the extent that the term has needed to be extensively explained and redefined. Yet will language act as a vehicle for change? The fact is shooting has become a growing means for mass murder.
Before we personally experience a mass shooting within our own community it is easy to distance ourselves and think that mass shootings happen in other places, and to other people. But Friday night drove me to understand that at any moment it can happen, in any place and at any time, to anyone in America.