Thoughts on the tragedy in Kalamazoo

Disclaimer: My opinions on gun control discussed in this post are just that – opinions. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, right? Right.

Another mass shooting occurred this weekend. It’s become such a common occurrence in the United States of America that I’m no longer shocked to hear the news of yet another person with a gun ruthlessly taking innocent people’s lives.

Except this time it happened in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It happened at home.

It’s different when it happens 15-20 minutes from your apartment in a town that you feel safe to walk around in at night in most neighborhoods. it’s terrifying, it’s surreal.

I’ve lived in Kalamazoo for almost a full two years now. I moved here after graduating from Ferris State University in May 2014. While searching for a university to attend graduate school to pursue a Masters of Social Work, my best friend helped convince me to move down here, continue my education and work at the campus newspaper, The Western Herald. I already worked for Ferris’ campus newspaper, The Ferris State Torch. My friend and I worked together there for two years, so she suggested I take a job as the news editor. I accepted and began a new phase in my life in the great town of Kalamazoo.

Kalamazoo is a wonderful, vibrant city full of kind people, great art, great food, craft beer and an awesome downtown scene.

This past early fall, my best friend and I walked from back to her place from district square, which was about a 20 minute walk. I felt perfectly safe, because Kalamazoo is not a dangerous, crime-ridden city that some people may believe it to be because of the news reporting bouts of violence here and there that occur in a few neighborhoods, which are a result of high levels of poverty and wealth inequality. This is a widespread problem in cities across the United States of America. This is a societal problem.

When I was in a car accident this past summer, I had three people I’d never before in my life stop and help me when I was in a state of panic and distress.

In Kalamazoo, people smile at you and say “hello” when you are walking down the street. I’ve met so many friendly and generous people in the time I’ve lived here.

I never imagined it happening here. I don’t think anyone imagines such a horrific tragedy and act of violence happening in their town/city.

On Saturday, February 20, a 45-year old Cooper Township man by the name of Jason Dalton went on a rampage, shooting and killing six innocent people and injuring two. The tragic events began at 5:45 pm at the Meadows in Richland Township when Dalton shot a female in the parking lot who was babysitting four children. She suffered serious, but non-life threatening injuries. Her name is Tiana Carruthers. She protected the children from being shot.

That evening, I was perusing social media per usual after working that day while lying in bed and watching TV.

While on Facebook, posts began appearing on my news feed about an active shooter on the loose in Kalamazoo. By this time, I learned six people were dead and two were injured. I checked to seek out real time information on the incident. I checked Twitter as well and saw tweets warning others.

I saw posts that read, “Stay inside, active shooter on the loose in Kalamazoo!” and “Stay off the streets, active shooter in Kalamazoo!”

As news of the events began to unfold, my heart sank. I went into panic mode. I took to social media to warn others as well. I knew this was bad. Very bad.

I took the most common sense safety precautions a person could take in this situation. I made sure my door was locked and chained. I shut off all of the lights. I called my parents, who live an hour and a half away to let them I know was safe. I called my boyfriend who was out of town this past weekend to let him know I was safe. I turned on the police scanner app on my phone for updates. (Most of the traffic was encrypted so media doesn’t report any inaccurate details, which did happen throughout the night. It takes time for accurate details to unfold in such a treacherous situation where an entire county is in alert and panic mode.)

At 10:08 p.m., Dalton fatally shot 17-year old Tyler Smith and his father Richard Smith at the Seelye Automotive Car Lot on Stadium Drive.

At 10:24 p.m., Dalton fatally shot Mary Jo Nye, 60, Dorothy Brown, 74, Barbara Hawthorne, 68, all of Battle Creek, and Mary Lou Nye, 62, of Baroda, Michigan in the Cracker Barrel Parking Lot on 9th Street near I-94.

He also shot a 14-year old girl named Abigail Kopf. Kopf was also at Cracker Barrel. She suffered critical injuries and is fighting for her life.

Dalton was arrested around 12:40 a.m. near Ransom and Porter. He is being charged with six counts of murder.

What’s also terrifying is that Dalton was an Uber driver. My boyfriend and I just took an Uber last Monday to pick up a loaner car after a winter fender bender occurred. Thankfully Dalton was not my driver, but I would be dishonest if I said I wanted to take an Uber again anytime soon. I understand this is not Uber’s fault, but it’s frightening to know that Dalton was driving around innocent people.

I am thankful for our brave officers who apprehended and arrested this monster early Sunday morning. Thank you for your courage and protection. Thank you for taking this terrorist off our streets. Sincerely.

Several vigils have taken place to honor the memory of the innocent lives lost. These six individuals had families who love them, they had hobbies, thoughts, ideas and a lot to offer to this world. Now, they are gone because of another senseless act of gun violence.

Their smiles, their laughter, their presence – gone. Gone because of another senseless mass shooting.

I did not know the six individuals who were killed nor do I know the two who were injured, but I cried for them. I cried for their families who are currently in immense pain and grieving the loss of their loved ones.

My heart aches for them. My heart aches for this community. Not only does my heart ache for the families of the victims, but it aches for Dalton’s wife and children. None of this is their fault. They are hurting, too.

I was unable to attend to Monday night’s vigil due to work obligations, but I did watch the live stream. As soon as I started watching, I erupted into sobs.

I thought, “How the fuck could another human just take the lives of other innocent humans, erasing their futures and shattering many lives?” “Why? Why does this keep happening?”

“It’s not OK that these types of incidents keep happening in this country. It shouldn’t be so easy for someone who the mindset of Dalton to walk into a gun shop and purchase a gun.”

The 44th mass shooting took place in Kalamazoo this year. We’re not even out of the second month of 2016 and there’s already been 44, actually now 45 mass shootings in the United States.

Even though this event was tragic, horrific and absolutely disgusting, it will not break Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo is strong. The people of Kalamazoo are strong and will rise above this tragedy. The outpouring of love and support from the community to the victim’s families has been amazing. We stand together in this time of horror and heartbreak.

However, something has to be done. Something has to change or else these mass shootings won’t stop. This past January, President Obama took executive action to reduce gun violence.

The President also offered his condolences to Kalamazoo after the shooting.

It’s about time. Sadly, change won’t happen over night, as we’ve learned yet again. The NRA (National Rifle Association) and gun manufacturers profit too much from, well, memberships and the sales of guns. The NRA also spent $3,360,000 on lobbying in 2014.

I don’t have a problem with smart, responsible and safe gun owners who use them for sport, hunting and home protection. I don’t have a problem as long as they are educated on gun safety and aware of the harm they can inflict if handled improperly.

What I do have a problem with is the lax gun laws that exist because of lobbying from the NRA and irrational fears that the government is out to take all of the guns away. That’s not true.

I’m sure this opinion piece royally pissed off overzealous gun enthusiasts, but I can’t say I don’t disagree with it.

Bryn Mickle of the Flint Journal has a point. Where was the “good guy with a gun?” Spoiler: He wasn’t there.

If you’d like to learn more on how the likelihood of a good guy with a gun a stopping a bad gun with a gun is extremely low, I recommend you watch this Daily Show segment titled, “Jordan Klepper: Good Guy with a Gun”

Another unsettling fact about this incident is Dalton did not have a concealed carry license. He also purchased the gun at a gun shop in Plainwell hours before the shootings took place.

Evidently Dalton did not have a criminal history or a history of mental illness prior to the shootings.

So far, Dalton hasn’t presented a motive as to why he did it, but he admitted to it.

I know some people are going to come out and say our mental health system is to blame, like they have in every other mass shooting. While our mental health system does need improvement, it’s not fully responsible for these mass shootings. We do need tougher gun control laws.

This is my opinion, yes. It is also the opinion of many people affected by the Umpqua Community College Shootings in October 2015, the people affected by Sandy Hook Shootings in December 2012, the people affected by the San Bernadino Shootings in December 2015 and many more.

How many more lives are going to be cut short by gun violence before something constructive is done to enforce tougher laws, expand background checks and improve our mental health system?

Guns should be regulated in the same manner that cars are. We just don’t let anyone (i.e. people who consistently drive dangerously and recklessly and/or intoxicated) possess a license and drive a car. Guns kill people and cars can too.

Except a car’s purpose is transportation, not to kill. Guns were designed to kill.It should take the same amount of time to obtain a gun as it does to obtain a driver’s license. It takes more than six months to obtain a driver’s license, but it takes less time to purchase and own a gun. I see a problem with this.This opinion piece from 2012, Regulate Guns Like Cars by C. Robert Gibson makes a solid point:

“Like any driver, before even getting my driver’s license, I had to take a written test to get a learner’s permit. This meant I could drive a car, but only with a licensed driver in the car with me. Then after 6 months of waiting, I could take an actual driver’s test with a police officer in my passenger seat, and only become a licensed driver if I drove, parallel parked, and did a turnabout absolutely flawlessly. And if I ever moved to a new state, I would have to get a new driver’s license within 30 days of relocating, keep my license and registration up to date, get yearly inspections, and have liability insurance for my car. The same should be done with guns.”

Yes, it should be. In my view, Gibson was absolutely correct in 2012 and he is even more correct in 2016.

It makes me ill that some people believe it’s more important for people to have too easy of access to guns over protecting human lives.

How is it logical that a weapon designed to kill is more important than a human life? It isn’t. At least not to me. I’m referring to people who believe that having loose gun laws are more important than protecting more innocent people dying from gun violence.

Kalamazoo has been rattled by this tragedy, but it has not been broken. We are not broken. We are Kalamazoo Strong. We love you, Kalamazoo. I love you, Kalamazoo.






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