Towards the end of the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Judi Dench’s character, Evelyn, utters a line that made me run for my notebook and pen: “The only real failure is the failure to try.” I had been wrestling with how to write a column on the escalating gun violence in this country — a topic that, as a mother, deeply concerns me — and this bit of dialogue resonated with me. While a film about a group of senior citizens who move to India does not have much to do with mass gun shootings in the U.S., I felt Evelyn’s quote hit the nail on the head. Why aren’t we, as a nation, trying harder to stop gun violence, which has occurred on school campuses alone more than 70 times since the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary at the end of 2012 that left 20 children and six adults dead?

I know the standard answers. They involve words like “the Second Amendment,” “the National Rifle Association,” “partisan politics,” and “Congressional gridlock.” But what if we looked at mass shootings through a different lens? What if we labeled mass shootings as terrorism?

Personally, I see no difference between U.S. shooting rampages and terrorism other than two things — the killer’s nationality and motive. For the most part, while terrorists use violence in the pursuit of political aims, the homegrown perpetrators of mass shootings tend to have mental issues and, in the case of school shootings, usually were unpopular and were searching for recognition. But to me, the end result is the same: fear and terror.


I felt this after the Sandy Hook shootings. The next day, I dropped my children off at school and almost broke into tears. Could this be the last time I kiss them goodbye? A few days after the May shooting in a Kansas City suburb that left three dead, I was in the San Diego airport and found myself suspiciously eyeing other passengers. Could that man sitting over there listening to his iPod be about to pull out an AK-47 at any minute to spray the terminal with bullets, like the incident at LAX in November? Every time I see a movie in Reno, especially at night, I think of the 2012 mass shooting in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater that killed 12 people and injured 70. Could something like that happen while I am sitting with my 9-year-old son, munching on popcorn and watching Spider-Man 3?

These are all morbid thoughts, and they are all induced by fear. We can all think back to how we felt after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — shaken, afraid, our world shattered, our faith in humankind broken, our trust in others frayed. That is the same way I feel after each mass shooting, from the Columbine massacre back in 1999 (when I was naïve enough to think that our government would ensure that this was the last) to the Oregon school shooting that occurred last month. In between, there are so many other mass shootings in this country, that, to our nation’s embarrassment, they are too numerous to name for this column.

In fact, according to Time Magazine, 15 of the 25 mass shootings in the world have occurred in the U.S. That’s 60 percent. And that statistic was gathered in 2012 after the Sandy Hook shooting. It doesn’t even include the 74 school shootings that have taken place since that monumental day, a day most of us thought would be the tragedy to end all tragedies.

I know gun violence is a controversial subject that heightens emotions on both sides of the issue, and I know that equating mass shootings with terrorism might be even more contentious, or sound just plain ridiculous to some. I also know that the gunmen behind U.S. shooting rampages most often lack the political motive that is associated with the word “terrorism.” But if we take out the “ism,” we are left with a common theme — the word “terror,” defined as “a very strong feeling of fear.”

Sadly, mass shootings are so common now that Americans are becoming apathetic to them. As President Obama said after the Oregon shooting, “This is becoming the norm, and we take it for granted, in ways that, as a parent, are terrifying to me.” Surely, if we, as a nation, were willing to label each act of mass gun violence as terrorism, there would be more impetus to reach across the political aisle to prevent it? Take this recent headline from the Washington Post: “Shooter Kills At Least Six People In Rampage Near UC Santa Barbara.” Would it grab your attention more and propel you to call for change if instead it read: “Terrorist Kills Six People at UCSB”?

Evelyn in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel said another wise line: “A measure of success is how we cope with disappointment, as we always must.” Instead of accepting gun deaths as a normal part of life, I hope we can deal with the letdown of these continued mass shootings as something we must do everything to fight, just as we do with terrorism.

~ Comment on this column below.


  • Melissa Siig

    Melissa Siig ditched international politics in Washington, D.C. in 2001 to move to Tahoe, where she quickly found her true calling — journalism. She has written for regional and national publications, and enjoys writing about community issues and quirky human interest stories. When not at her keyboard, she is busy wrangling her three children, co-running Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema, or playing outside.

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