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home : commentary : columns January 18, 2018

Gun violence: Have we forgotten?

By Effie Caldarola | Catholic News Service

My friend Shevaun was nearly seven months pregnant when shots rang out all around her in Las Vegas Oct. 1. She was forced to "army crawl in my flip-flops with my pregnant belly" to seek safety.

A shooter, ensconced in a room at the Mandalay Bay hotel, killed 58 people and wounded more than 500 at an outdoor concert that night.

This was -- so far -- the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. But, inured to gun violence, the nation moved on.

Not so quickly, however, for those like Shevaun or the thousands of Americans caught in the crossfire yearly.

Las Vegas is a popular destination for Alaskans like Shevaun and her husband Thane, who were attending their third annual Route 91 Harvest Festival. 

"But since I was pregnant this time, we weren't on the ground. We purchased VIP seating above the House of Blues so I could have a chair," Shevaun said. Thane moved between his VIP spot and friends in the crowd, but luckily he had rejoined Shevaun minutes before the shooting started.

Thane is the consummate Alaskan outdoorsman. A responsible gun owner, hunter and fisherman, he can casually relate encounters with grizzly bears. But when shots first rang out, Thane thought of fireworks.

"Then, we looked down and tons of people were running," Shevaun recalls. "Thane was very calm, but said, 'We've got to get out of here. We're sitting ducks up here.'"

Maneuvering their way behind a makeshift bar, then pressed behind metal stairs, they even hid briefly behind a rock and a palm tree.

"Some shots sounded super close," recalled Shevaun, who saw people covered with blood. Despite subsequent counseling, Shevaun, an elementary school teacher, still isn't sure "how much I saw that I've blocked out."

Eventually, they ran to the MGM Grand, where they'd once stayed. Incredibly, they discovered their friends there, who found another Alaskan staying at the hotel. This woman opened her room to them, and Shevaun was able to lie down as they watched the unfolding news on television.

I've known Shevaun since she and my daughter met in kindergarten. Shevaun was in Elizabeth's wedding party, and Elizabeth is godmother to one of Shevaun's daughters. She's a lovely woman and a wonderful teacher.

And like many Americans, she's ambivalent about what to do about guns. 

"Something has to happen," she said, recounting a conversation with an acquaintance who had just bought an assault rifle. 

"Why?" Shevaun asks. "Why would anyone need that?"

Meanwhile, she's back in the classroom, "and every day I try to teach kids to be kinder."

In recent years, the Second Amendment has been reinterpreted to encourage unregulated private arsenals. The "well-regulated militia" part of that amendment is ignored. Even sensible proposals like banning assault rifles or bump stocks fail as the National Rifle Association pumps huge sums into campaign coffers.

(Bump stocks are devices that enable semiautomatic rifles to fire more rapidly, similar to automatic weapons. Twelve of them were found on firearms recovered from the gunman's Las Vegas hotel room.)

After every massacre, debate erupts and then quickly subsides. Conversation devolves into inane arguments about whether the "thoughts and prayers" response is adequate.

Yes, let's pray.

Pray for victims, perpetrators, the thousands who grieve loved ones. Pray -- and take action -- for a civil discussion about guns.

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