Fear came to our house.
It came seven weeks after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and 10 days after high school students led the nation on a march to end gun violence.
Nearly 50 years to the day, our nation’s greatest proponent of peaceful change, Martin Luther King Jr., was gunned down — an unfathomable act that left me devastated as I began to emerge from the safe, suburban upbringing of my youth in San Bruno.
San Bruno has always been an insular little town – quiet (except for the ever-present jet noise from neighboring SFO), self-contained and preoccupied. Its politics don’t tend to extend beyond its own borders and the people who live there love their town in a way that is unique among Peninsula cities.
It’s a modest town and many of the people who live there like its small-town identity.
And it is home to YouTube, in a small industrial park tucked into what was once a canyon in a northwestern corner of the town. YouTube’s presence is something of which the city is immensely proud, a company that put little San Bruno in the mainstream of the modern world of technological interconnection.
Now, San Bruno is added to the rollcall of places where someone with a gun just started shooting.
It’s a handgun this time and the number of those wounded or dead is mercifully brief, which is no consolation, of course, to those whose lives are forever changed by these immutable circumstances.
And, again, we are left with the same reality: It is just too easy to buy a gun and to use it in the most dangerous and harmful way.
As we once again are forced to confront the gun-based facts of modern America from which even high-tech companies with security checkpoints are not immune, the rally that overflowed Redwood City’s Courthouse Square a scant 10 days ago still lingers in the consciousness, even though 10 days ago now seems like a far distance.
In reaction to the San Bruno shooting and in honor of Dr. King’s memory, it is worth revisiting the numerous speeches by eloquent and passionate young people, all of them memorable, none more so, perhaps, than Francesca Battista, a sophomore at Menlo-Atherton High School whose remarks were equal parts speech and prose poem.
Her focus was on the names of the victims, noting that the names of the shooters often seem to be more often and more widely remembered.
“Names are powerful,” she said. “Names are mirrors – they reflect our experiences as human beings. … people make use of the enactor’s given names, when instead their names are murderer, terrorist, coward, evil and … shooter. … When we repeat the given names of those who inflict damage at this magnitude, we inadvertently dignify them.”
Later in her remarks, Francesca said: “We need gun reform. We need politicians who do what they are elected to do and advocate for the protection of the people, instead of slimily slithering away from that which diminishes their status as a lobbyist’s pawn – those whose campaigns are funded by the NRA’s blood money. We need insurance, through multiple strategies of fixing this problem, that these tragedies will happen never again. Otherwise, we tell those who have died that their name is now obsolete.”
It is a long battle, Francesca acknowledged, and she said she is prepared for such a fight and for what she might tell her own grandchildren when they ask “what it was like to live through the political tumult of the 2010s, I will proudly share that, together with my peers, I exercised my American rights to ripple the waters of public attentions, by marching, by standing, by sharing and by speaking. … And when they ask whether we were afraid, I will look them directly into their eyes and say, yes, we were afraid and that’s exactly why we did it.”
As the name of the San Bruno shooter is added to the roster, Francesca’s speech brings to mind a frequent refrain of Dr. King’s: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
WHAT WE WANT: It seems simple, admitting that simple is not always easy: We want to be safe.
We do not wish to infringe on the rights of those who want to own guns because they are hunters or enjoy target shooting.
But those Second Amendment rights should not infringe on our unalienable right to be safe at home, at school, at work, on the street. None of our rights in the Constitution are absolute. They all have been modified and reinterpreted as the nature and state of our times have changed. There is no reason the Second Amendment should be immune to the changing times.
ON THE FRONT LINES: If U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein is associated with any single issue, it is the effort to restrict the free availability of the deadliest automatic weapons. She was widely excoriated some months ago for saying that she wished President Trump would do a good job, an innocuous comment that elicited the kind of partisan hostility that seems all too characteristic of these times.
In an interview published in the San Francisco Chronicle, she admitted she is growing increasingly discouraged by the unreliability of President Trump, particularly his willingness to change his positions on issues on a moment-to-moment basis.
Still, she concluded, her job is to get things done, an expectation we should all have for our elected officials.
“I’m not a name-caller. I don’t call people names. All people want to hear, it appears, are epithets about him,” Feinstein told The Chronicle. “My job is to get legislation passed or get problems solved or find money to help solve those problems.”
Contact Mark Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org.