Getting Used to Flags Low at FSW

usa flag waving on white metal pole
Photo by Element5 Digital on

By Bill Kelvin

For the last couple weeks, I feel like the flags at FSW have been at half-staff, a fancy way of saying only halfway up the flagpole. In my mind, this usually means someone famous has died. I remember it happening for Ronald Reagan, and, since I’ve been here at FSW, for Ruth Bader Ginsburg (AKA the Notorious RBG), former associate justice of the Supreme Court. When they were low for RBG it took me a few seconds to determine why. Well, the same thing happened to me today (March 26, 2021).

I thought, “why have the flags been low so much lately? Have we lost any famous people?”. Being an NBA fan, I thought it could have been for Elgin Baylor (March 22), but this seemed unlikely. Then it hit me—we had a mass shooting recently. Well, I think we had one in each of the last two weeks. To be honest, I have not been paying close attention, because I am practicing the necessary (if you are an American) skill of avoiding thinking about mass shootings. Yes, they happened recently. But in a very imprecise way, I typically think “they happen all the time.” What scares me is that one really does not know where they will happen next. It’s not like some places are “due” and some aren’t. They are like cancer—randomly metastasizing in communities across our nation.

Today I am not taking a strong stand about gun control. To be honest, it seems a politically risky move for a college professor. But I do want to bring to the front of our minds the idea that we are now desensitized to mass shootings. How many have to happen before you cease being surprised? Or have we long ago crossed that threshold? The outrage is still there, but it’s milder. It appears to just be a fact of life in our nation, often referred to as the greatest in the world, or in world history. But for me, this particular blemish is a serious shortcoming. There have been nations where the ruling cabal might kill citizens on a whim, and citizens have little recourse (these old-fashioned norms seem to still exist in some places today). Certainly, there have been blood feuds throughout history. But it is hard for me to imagine a region where the citizens killed each other randomly, in large amounts. If any historians out there want to point out analogues, please do (FSW’s Stuart Brown?). But even if analogues exist, that does not make it acceptable.

For me personally, the most memorable mass shootings are Columbine High School in Colorado, a “Batman” movie screening in Colorado, a gay night club in Orlando, and the Parkland, Fla. school shooting. I know there are others—I’m not trying to leave anyone out. But it is interesting that two of the most infamous are right here in my newly adopted state. I would hope that our elected and appointed leaders are working feverishly to stop this unsettling epidemic. Yet I am going to guess that they are not. I will pause a moment and run “DeSantis gun control” in a search engine. Bear with me…

Well, he is a “self-described ‘big Second Amendment guy’” who said that, had he been governor, he would have vetoed Florida’s gun control legislation passed in the wake of the 17 murders and 17 injuries at the aforementioned Parkland shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. DeSantis “expressed skepticism” about SB 7028, a bill that would have closed “the gun-show ‘loophole,’” among other things. The bill was introduced in January 2020 and died in judiciary a couple months later. So, based on my very rudimentary search, I do not get the impression he will be fighting for increased safeguards for the general public regarding firearm sales any time soon.

Next, I searched “mass shooting” and found this headline: “The Colorado attack is the 7th mass shooting in 7 days in the US.” I feel overwhelmed. I was touched when the head coach of the Denver Nuggets, Michael Malone, used his platform to say the names of the 10 people killed in a Boulder, Colo. supermarket. He broke down during the press conference. What impressed me most was not that he took the time to spread awareness to an important cause, but that he let himself feel some of the psychic pain felt by the people there that day and the people who lost those loved ones. I will rarely let myself feel the pain of such people, because it’s overwhelming. But I can say I lost my father in mid-October and it hurt a lot. So, in Colorado (and Atlanta, and Stockton, Calif., and Gresham, Ore., and Houston and Dallas and Philadelphia) I know there are many people feeling pain like I felt. My dad was 68 years old, and to a large extent his fate was related to decisions he made. Losing a loved one to the decision someone else made must be so much crueler. It was not fate, like a tsunami, earthquake, or even a worn-down elevator cable. It was a decision that some other individual made. But what we rarely acknowledge in our society is that the decisional environment that individuals face is shaped by collective decision-making processes.

The decisions that U.S. politicians have made shaped today’s regulatory environment that facilitates mass shootings. Those same leaders could make new decisions that would restrict the likelihood of such events occurring. We can cry about the loved ones lost—I am sure we will soon, about some other mass shooting—but we should remember that the blame does not lie on the shooters alone. Our elected officials have the socially constructed power to cut down on this kind of crime. It seems to me they have the responsibility to do so, as well. 

If I happen to have caught the eye of a reader who disagrees with the general tenor of this post, and for whatever reason (that makes me proud) read this far into the article, I ask you—how many more loved ones lost can you tolerate? Would it matter if they were your own? Is there a point at which you might consider accepting revising America’s firearm laws? And if not, would you have any fleeting regrets if you yourself were in the crosshairs? At a grocery store? A county fair? A classic car show? Some day where you assumed you would be able to safely pursue your own interests, in a country that is not at war with another nation, a country that is not having a civil war, and thus a country where you will be completely unconcerned with being targeted by violent, heavily armed killers? If you were out having a pleasant afternoon, and it was interrupted by the staccato cracking of a gun, would you think that this is simply the price we have to pay in order to maintain our freedoms? I just wonder…please, let us know why you want the status quo to continue, because it is difficult for many of us to understand.

Dr. Bill Kelvin

Co-Advisor of the Compass

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