Of bullets, Bibles and bullies

Nothing I write can return Andrea Farrington to her family and friends. That truth rests like a chunk of lead in my stomach. It has been sitting there all week as details of the cowardly mall shooting and remembrances of the young, vibrant woman are heard and absorbed.

Sure, there are lessons to be learned from this tragedy, but they are the same lessons we’ve too often been offered. When does the learning begin?

Everything I’ve read and heard from Farrington’s friends in the wake of her murder indicates that the young woman followed “best practices” when dealing with an unstable person and unsolicited interactions. She avoided contact. Farrington reported uncomfortable and threatening instances — and she wasn’t the only one to do so. In short, she did what society says to do, things that are supposed to provide increased safety.

Unfortunately and heartbreakingly, safety wasn’t the outcome.

Were the women who had previously complained of unwanted attention from the mall security guard informed that his employment had ended? Were those women offered increased protection during those first hours when emotions could have been (and obviously were) running high?

The Domestic Violence Intervention Program suggests changes to the existing Coordinated Community Response. They favor bystander support networks, which can intervene to prevent violence and challenge attitudes that lead to stalking and violence.

The Survivors Program at Horizons in Cedar Rapids hosted a community meeting at the Coralville Fire Station last night, offering information to those wondering if they need counseling or others seeking immediate referrals for such services.

Obviously, the twin desires to care for those emotionally injured by this horrific scene and to seek buffers against future violence is urgent. The root of the problem, however, is much deeper.

The person who chose to shoot Farrington three times in the back and then run away was a coward who hid behind a gun fetish, patriotic rhetoric and religious symbolism. The title for this column was taken from the lead graphic on his Facebook page: “Of Bullets and Bibles,” written in script across a background of the American flag. He isn’t the only person to use the image as a mantra on social media.

While it would be unfair to say one graphic is some type of indicator of future violence, there is no denying the subculture of gun idolatry and hyper-patriotism it represents has taken a toll. We’ve seen it bully otherwise reasonable lawmakers into a statewide gun permitting system that favors weapons and state fees more than safety.

We’ve watched (sometimes laughed) as adults perverted their right to own weapons into a right to flaunt them — in streets, diners and stores. Those who dare question the wisdom of such actions are painted as ignorant or otherwise “unamerican.” We wouldn’t be so squeamish, they say, if we saw more firearms. The urban public, especially, needs desensitizing.

Yet, we’ve repeatedly seen this news reel — it always ends in bullets and blood.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on June 20, 2015.