In W. Somerset Maugham’s 1933 retelling of the ancient parable, “Appointment in Samarra,” a servant who has been sent on an errand in Baghdad comes back trembling after seeing Death in the marketplace. “Lend me your horse,’’ he begs, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.” The merchant agrees, and off the servant rides. But when the merchant later sees Death, too, she says she wasn’t threatening the servant, but was only “astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
You can’t outrun death, as everyone knows. And especially if you live in the United States of America in 2017, you may not be able to outrun gun violence, either.
Twenty-two-year-old Leah Brown, who was home in Shawnee while on leave from Navy boot camp, tried to do that on Saturday night. She took her mother Gretchen Brown’s advice and went out on the town in Lawrence instead of Westport, so as to stay safe from “all the violence” there. But then, simply walking down the street early Sunday, Brown became one of three young people killed in gunfire in the safe-as-Samarra Kansas college town.
Her friend, Courtney Germany, posted on her Facebook page, “A stray bullet from another senseless act of gun violence murdered my best friend last night....This madness needs to end! WE DIDNT GO TO WESTPORT BECAUSE WE WERE TRYING TO AVOID THIS!!!!!! ....because what’s the worst that could happen in Lawrence.”
Same as the worst that could happen in Las Vegas, where dozens of people out for an evening of country music were murdered by a maniac with more than 10 rifles. And though the body count is a record, that in no way changed the conversation.
Everyone from President Donald Trump to Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill called the attack “evil,” and a White House spokeswoman choking back tears said the day to discuss how to prevent mass shootings wasn’t this one. Some Democrats, like Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, said that on the contrary, it was the perfect day for Congress to get off its collective duff.
Conservative commentators feared “we’re not that far from” confiscating all firearms. “They’re going to come after your guns because of this,’’ radio host John Gibson said on KKLO, and “ban everything.” (They? Hillary Clinton, he and his guests agreed, though by what authority she might do that wasn’t clear.) In fact, we are so far from banning everything that machine guns manufactured before they were outlawed in 1986 are still legal in Nevada. So are silencers, which a bill sponsored by Republican Reps. Jeff Duncan and John Carter would make easier to buy.
Clinton did argue against making silencers more readily available, tweeting that, “The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots. Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get.”
Can we really not agree that there is a world of difference between trying to “ban everything,” and taking even modest steps to make Americans safer? The attack in Las Vegas was the year’s 273rd mass shooting in our country, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot in a single event. And that no one measure would solve the entire gun problem is no reason to do nothing.
The case for silencers is that they save gun owners’ hearing. But given the lives lost to gun violence — 11,652 so far in 2017 — we wish NRA-funded lawmakers could hear the screams of shooting victims as something other than lamentable but not preventable. They are, though, and unlike that “Appointment in Samarra,” they are not inevitable.