Bells will ring out at 10:10 this morning to mark the moment three years ago when a young man with a well-known history of mental illness, who nonetheless was able to purchase a gun and accessories to make it more lethally efficient, opened fire. In a matter of seconds he murdered six people and physically wounded 13 others.
Life has changed in three years.
This anniversary will be commemorated with displays from the spontaneous memorials that popped up across our town in the hours and days of shock and sorrow. Handwritten notes, children’s drawings for peace and healing crayoned on paper plates, stuffed animals, candles left as proof that a grieving community came together in consolation and solidarity.
A forthcoming memorial will be built at the Pima County Old Courthouse.
People will gather Saturday to get outdoors, be active and have fun as part of the Beyond event organized by the family and friends of Gabe Zimmerman, who was killed that day at the “Congress on Your Corner” event he’d organized for his boss, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot through the brain.
Survivors have created foundations to help kids, to prevent bullying, to do good works in the name of loved ones lost.
Ceremonies to mark a tragedy compel us back in time, as if it’s possible to forget. We observe. We pay respect, and we move through it because there is no moving on or getting past. There’s only integrating new realities, acknowledging what — and who — we have lost.
Our moments of silence and reflection must turn into moments of action.
If we do not change the conditions that allowed the murders to be committed with such ease, then we, as a community, have failed not only the memory of the six people taken from us, but we will have failed one another.
Common-sense federal gun legislation to increase public safety, propelled by the murders here and so, so many elsewhere, fell at the hands of politicians who proved too cowardly to stand up to absolutist gun worshippers and the money and influence they wield. The work continues, led in large part by Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly. They need our help.
We cannot wait for Washington. Tucsonans are taking action for ourselves.
Several initiatives are underway. They are not grand, sweeping transformations, but are building blocks.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Department has created a Mental Health Investigative Support Team of detectives, deputies and others who specialize in cases where a mental-health situation could be involved. They work with the Crisis Response Network and other behavioral health agencies. The partnership helps people who need medical treatment find it and increases the number of investigators who are familiar with mental illness and how it often intersects with the criminal justice system.
The Tucson Police Department is joining the effort. This is good news.
The Ben’s Bells nonprofit organization and the National Alliance on Mental Illness are putting together short training sessions for downtown-area workers on recognizing possible symptoms of a mental illness, what to do — and not do — and how to respond in a helpful way.
City Councilman Steve Kozachik, who has been outspoken in advocating gun law reform, is asking gun shops, shooting ranges and others in weapon-related businesses to post signs about suicide prevention — a side of lethal gun violence that needs our attention. Signs with crisis line information and basic safety steps — such as removing guns from the home if you are concerned that someone is a danger to himself or others, — are common sense.
The murderer is in prison for life, finally receiving treatment for the severe mental illness that, as the investigative reports revealed, was evident for years before Jan. 8. He, as an individual, is no longer relevant.
But the necessity of strengthening gun public-safety laws, talking about the challenges we face and how we address mental health — that hard work must continue.