The Vaccine and The Vessels

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Harrison Haines

While in class tonight, I am giving a presentation in my Zoom class when a classmate raises his hand. We are still living in a virtual world because of Coronavirus. We are in our second semester of staring at each other on the screen. Although the days are getting longer and the itch of outside calls, we are still in a global pandemic. A pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

He asks my professor, “Professor, are you on campus right now?”

She responds, puzzled, “I am not. Why?”

“There has been a shooting near campus on Lincoln.”

The tiny squares trap the tiny faces. There are an array of emotions –surprise, numbness, and horror. My initial thought is “how are we still in a pandemic and yet there is a shooting? How can we get a slight restriction lifted and immediately people are being shot?” America is the leading in gun violence. In 2020 alone, we had over 600 mass shootings. Mass shootings become as normal as after dinner conversations.  According to Forbes, “There have been 147 mass shootings this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as when four or more people have been shot or killed, not including the shooter.” This year alone, there is a prediction that at least 500 mass shootings will happen. The question becomes how and why? How can we access firearms so easily and why are we so torn about it? Pewresearch says, “Nearly two-thirds of Americans who report living in urban areas say that gun violence is a very big problem, compared with about half of suburbanites (47%) and only about a third of those who live in rural areas (35%). Majorities of all three groups say that gun violence is either a very big problem or a moderately big problem.” The issue is a matter or proximity and culture. The idea that the farther away a gun you are, the less gun violence affects you. Therefore, gun violence is not an issue. It’s the same issue with Coronavirus. The idea of “safety” and what we are saved from. Gun play in America is like going to the grocery store. We debate on the topic of saving lives.

Articles slowly coming as we sit in class discussing the correlation of 1920s literature and 1920s issues of race. We pause for a moment. We are frozen in time as the flashes of previous school shootings and mass shootings run rapidly through our minds. Our professor is speechless. She stops mid sentence,  but she gathers  her thoughts and class resumes. 

Just like that, we experience the shooting and then we move on so abruptly.It is the perfect metaphor for mass shootings in America. My presentation had to be finished. The class had to finish. At that moment, I didn’t want to finish my presentation. But I also didn’t know what I wanted my professor to do. A dilemma I have often. A dilemma we face in America. What to do next after a mass shooting? We post on social media. We send thoughts and prayers to families. We do everything but create actual gun reform.

Maybe there was a quick thought or prayer to the victims because a classmate mentioned that the shooter had been apprehended. My professor offers a sigh of release. Class can officially, uneasily go on. It’s not surprising that as the country begins to open, so do the rounds. America holds the stats for the highest percentage of mass shootings. Not only that, we have sold over 20 million firearms.  

We have now implemented active shooter drills in schools and workplaces. We live in a place where we debate about the regulation of purchasing firearms. It becomes an issue of the liberals vs. the second amendment when really this is an issue about human rights and safety. There is no real reason a person like me or even an avid hunter needs an assault rifle in their dining room.

In the last five years there have been 29 mass shootings in America. Most recently, the gunman who killed ten people in a grocery store. Before that, an Asian hate crime in Atlanta. These events happening as we cheer for the return to “normalcy.” Eventually, we will abandon our masks but look over our shoulders and be on edge at public gatherings. This is American normal. Violence, rage, and hate are normal in America. Those concepts are deeply embedded into our society.

 I suppose being able to drink an overpriced beer at a dingy venue makes life seem less bleak. We lower White House flags. We say prayers. We give speeches. We cry. We mourn and we do it all again at the next shooting involving a “misunderstood lone wolf,” who deserves redemption. What good is a vaccine if we still have other viruses running rampant in our country? 

I don’t want to pretend that life is normal and everything is okay when everyday we are in danger. We cannot go to grocery stores, school, movie theaters, gas stations, spas, concerts, bars, clubs, airports, or even places of worship without the looming suspense of becoming the victim of a mass shooting. America, this is our normal and it’s terrifying. The unfortunate thing about mass shootings is that they can coincide with racism. That means no one is safe anywhere. The thought is tiring and it’s exhausting to think about such a thing. This is America, where it’s easier to access a firearm than it is to receive therapy. Where it’s easier to purchase a rifle than to receive basic healthcare. I currently live in the state of California. Although every state has different laws about purchasing firearms, in the state of California, I only need, “Purchasers of handguns must provide proof of California residency, such as a utility bill, residential lease, property deed, or government-issued identification (other than a driver license or other DMV-issued identification), and either (1) possess a Handgun Safety Certificate (HSC) plus successfully complete a safety demonstration with their recently purchased handgun or (2) qualify for an HSC exemption,” according to Cal State Department of Justice website. The requirements are a lot easier than being qualified for health insurance provided by the state. Requirements for health insurance are an income at minimum, $17,609 annually. That means that you need to make less than $1400 a month. Why does this matter? The cost of living in California is astronomical. You need a job that pays at least $1400 or more to pay rent. With rent averaging to at least $1500 in the state, it is safe to say that many Calirfonians are not receiving health insurance. Somehow, it is easier to secure a gun than it is to get a PCP (primary care physician) or therapist. We have a serious issue in America with firearms being readily available to people who can provide necessary IDs or even pass background checks, in certain states. Everyday we step outside, our lives rest in the palm of someone else’s hand. There is someone waiting for the weather to get hotter, public gatherings to get larger, and more vaccines administered. There is someone waiting for the virus and its variants to be eradicated. Unfortunately, there are already shooters who seized their opportunity as some restrictions were lifted.

When we applaud the efforts of our government for rolling out coronavirus vaccines, let’s make sure we hold them accountable for gun reform in our country. 

I no longer want to see families crying. Friends lost. Children robbed of a future. Women who become statistics. A nation in fear and oblivion. Unfortunately, as more people get vaccinated and Coronavirus becomes more controlled, we still need to develop a remedy for our other, long lasting, ever-evolving viruses.