Heartbreaking and Heartening


by Karen Topakian

I bolted out the door a few minutes before 10 this morning to cheer on the students at Mission High, whom I thought would be walking out to support gun control.

Before I could cross Dolores street, I found a lively group of about 30 8th graders from the Children’s Day School, occupying the median strip on Dolores Street.

They chanted and held up signs with vigor and seriousness. They asked me to sign their petition, which they will deliver to Rep. Nancy Pelosi on their class trip to Washington D.C.

I asked permission to stand with them and hold up my RESIST banner. They agreed. After a few moments, I decided the students needed to own this event, so I crossed to the corner to join other adults, mostly parents and teachers, standing in solidarity.

Horns tooted from passing trucks and cars. Pedestrians chanted along and dog walkers remained for a moment or two in support.

As I stood watching them capture our hearts and minds, I found myself feeling two disparate emotions: a heartening spirit and a heartbreaking reality.

These students were not protesting actions and activities in a foreign land or to support a big concept like science. They were protesting to protect their own lives.

Though gun violence in schools, accounts for a small proportion of gun deaths. One is too many. These people are the target audience.

I don’t go to work in fear that someone will burst into my home office with a gun and shoot me. However, students may and do. It’s real for them. Very real. This is the part I find most heartbreaking – this reality in which they live. In which, we have not protected them.

The heartening part lies in their actions. Their organizing. Their use of social media. Their passion and solidarity. Their commitment to solutions. Their hashtag #NeverAgain.

Why is it always a lone* gunman?

by Karen Topakian

In Arizona, Jared Loughner acted alone. So says the press.

Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth. Who acted alone.

Lee Harvey Oswald also allegedly acted alone.

When Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Robert Kennedy, guess what, he acted alone.

As did Jack Ruby, James Earl Ray and Mehmet Ali Agca, Timothy McVeigh and John Hinckley. They all developed, designed, paid for and implemented the act alone.

(Are there that many crazy people in the world who are capable enough to get hold of a weapon and fire it?)

Maybe these lone gunslingers tried to get help from others but no one would follow along. As a former organizer I know how much work it takes just to get people motivated to attend a rally, make a phone call, write a letter or send e-mail. Maybe they made a few calls but everyone they knew was too busy or too smart to get involved in such a high stakes game of murder.

Or maybe the lone gunman theory fits our American persona too well?

Is it because Americans like to believe that anyone can accomplish anything on their own with no help from anyone else?  By pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and making it? Against all odds. The Rocky theory.

Or are these killers living up to the High Noon apogee where the sheriff goes mano a mano with the outlaw? The Rambo theory? The every John Wayne movie theory?

Or do we quickly say that, “he acted alone.” Because that let’s the rest of us off the hook? Because it makes the killer appear to be crazy, off their meds, operating with once screw loose. Is it really true or does it just make us feel better?

Maybe there would be more killings but the would be perpetrator did tell someone else what they planned on doing. And I’d like to think that the someone else in the world stopped them.

* Theories abound on whether these assassins and would be ones really did act alone.