Peterson: Save your thoughts and prayers
As usual, Teri Leiker showed up to work on Monday at the Table Mesa King Soopers in South Boulder to bag groceries, just like she’d been doing for the past 30 years.
To every single person who grew up in that neighborhood, my neighborhood, Teri was always a friendly face in the most familiar place. I lived four blocks from that King Soopers for most of my life. It’s where I got free cookies as a kid, opened my first bank account and where I stopped to buy a candy bar, a sandwich or a cold drink nearly every day from when I moved to South Boulder in the third grade all the way through high school. It’s where I shopped when I came home from college.
It’s where Teri bagged my groceries, and especially my mom’s groceries, too many times to count. And now she’s gone. Now she’s a small photo and a short blurb in every single write-up about the victims of America’s latest mass shooting, just another defenseless, innocent person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the bullets started flying.
And now every single person I grew up with, every single one of us who literally grew up in that store, can’t fathom how we let this happen. How did we fail Teri? How did we not protect her and the other nine victims of Monday’s rampage? Why did Eric Talley, a father to seven children who quit his computing job at 40 to join the Boulder Police, have to show up to a war zone on Monday at the local grocery store to face down a killer with superior firepower? Why did 10 people who went to work, or to get a COVID shot or a prescription filled, never make it home?
Why are we so resigned to this terrifying reality every day in America?
When I say we, I mean you and me. Every single one of us. We’re all to blame for not stopping this, for letting it happen again and again.
In a week where I’ve been searching for answers, and where I tried to find comfort in conversations with family members and dear friends, the only thing I’m certain of is this: This will happen again somewhere else, and it will happen again soon, because we’ve all been too spineless to stop it.
Schools. Movie theaters. Nightclubs. Outdoor concerts. Bars. Churches. Spas. And now grocery stores.
Is there anywhere you feel safe in America right now? Not me. Certainly not in my home state, where I’ve watched every one of these horrific shootings unfold. Since 1993, 47 Coloradans have died in eight different mass shootings. That list includes three schools, a pizza parlor, a movie theater, a church, a Planned Parenthood and now a grocery store.
When is enough ever going to be enough? Finally, I thought, we would come to our senses as a country after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012. How could we possibly not after learning of the senseless murder of 20 first graders? I felt the exact same way after the rampage in Parkland, Fla., in 2017, just up the road from where I worked for eight years.
I really thought those badass, outspoken kids from Stoneman Douglas High School who’d watched their classmates and teachers get gunned down and who’d had enough of the political BS would turn the tide with the March For Our Lives.
But here we are again, another body count, another troubled young man who easily acquired a small arsenal, and another news cycle full of politicians and talking heads giving lip service to gun control and offering up “thoughts and prayers.”
You can keep your thoughts and prayers. Or as the great Patterson Hood calls out in the Drive-By Truckers’ scathing rebuke to gutless politicians, the gun lobby and America’s perverted gun culture, “Stick it up your ass with your useless thoughts and prayers.”
I say that, respectfully, as the son of a Lutheran pastor whose South Boulder church was just across the road and up the hill from that King Soopers.
When he retired a few years ago, my dad estimated he’d probably done some 400 funerals in his 40 years of ministry. I’d say that number is way low.
My dad has a gift for finding the right thing to say in difficult times, to put things in perspective. But just like me, he was at a loss for words when we talked on the phone this week.
“I’m just glad I don’t have to preach,” he said.
When I called my friend Andy, who I’ve known since the sixth grade, he told me his mom was about to head out to buy groceries Monday when he called to tell her to turn on the TV. Other friends posted receipts on social media with time stamps of when loved ones had been in the store that day.
Andy is half-Japanese and has traveled all over the world. In Japan, like the United States, he said, there’s no shortage of aimless young men, some of them dealing with mental health issues. But in a country with extremely tight gun laws, those lost souls are left to play video games in their room, not load up on weapons for a killing spree.
In America, well, we know what happens.
I’m tired of the sentiment in this country that we can’t fix a problem that we’re entirely capable of solving. I’m tired of responsible, reasonable gun owners, including veterans of combat, hunters and those who feel compelled to keep a gun in their homes, being drowned out in this national conversation by the lunatics who think four words in the Constitution guarantee every American the right to own an AR-15.
I’m tired of hearing that it’s not the guns that are the problem. And I’m sick of having to try to explain to my two young kids, only 9 and 5, why daddy is at a loss for words or why they have to turn the lights out at school and go into the bathroom or the storage closet for lockdown drills.
This is on us. Every last one of us. If we’re going to fix this, we’ve got to start with the realization that we have a national gun problem. We can talk about the other symptoms, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think we own the franchise on mental health problems, extremists and bigots. What makes us tragically unique as a country is our weak gun laws — and the politicians who are bought and paid for by the gun lobby to ensure those laws don’t change.
That includes my very own congressional representative, Lauren Boebert, who launched her political career by yelling at then-presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke that, “hell no” he wouldn’t take away her AR-15, and whose glamorization of guns and selfies with heavily-armed militia members absolutely terrifies me.
I refuse to give up, however. I refuse to wilt in the face of the gun nuts who will fill up my inbox and my voicemail and my Twitter feed as soon as this column drops. I refuse to stop fighting, to be resigned to the idea that it’s open season in every public space in America. Or that the only solution to our problem is more guns.
And I challenge every single person who feels the same way as me — I promise you, we’re in the majority here — to do something about this, whether it’s calling and emailing your state and congressional leaders or making your voice heard at the ballot box.
It’s on us. Enough is enough. If we don’t fix this, then shame on every last one us for failing to protect our kids and ourselves and people like Teri, a sweet, joyful woman who didn’t deserve to die for simply showing up to work.
Nate Peterson is the editor of the Vail Daily. Email him at email@example.com.