Jan. 8 shootings

Supporters gathered on the lawn outside University Medical Center where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others were treated after the shooting.

Eight years ago, a young man walked up to a small crowd of people gathered to talk with their congresswoman, pulled out a gun and fired 33 bullets in 15 seconds.

In those 15 seconds, he murdered six people and physically injured 13 more.

I make that distinction because the physical toll is knowable. The mental, emotional and spiritual wounds of a community are not so easily tallied.

I’ve written variations of these facts many times since the Jan. 8, 2011, mass murder: Then-Rep. Gabby Giffords, whom the murderer wanted to assassinate, was shot through her brain and survived.

Christina-Taylor Green, 9; Dorothy “Dot” Morris, 76; U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, 63; Phyllis Schneck, 79; Dorwan Stoddard, 76; and Gabriel “Gabe” Zimmerman, 30, were shot and killed.

And the 13 people shot and injured still live with the effects of the trauma.

The rest of us, touched directly or indirectly, have filed that awful morning and those days away.

Do you remember what you were doing and where you were when you heard the news? Can you recall what you felt, what you did?

We risk the details, the memories, the shock of that day becoming rote.

There’s a danger in that, in not quite forgetting, but not quite remembering.

I’m not sure how long it takes for a community’s tragedy to become part of its history instead of its present.

And I’m searching for a word that fits better than tragedy, because tragedy gives off a sense of inevitability of events, an out-of-our-hands and passivity we shouldn’t let set in. The Jan. 8 attack was a deliberate act enabled by the multiple failures of individuals, institutions and systems — failures that continue today.

These failures are perpetuated by politicians and powerful lobbyists who actively work against changes that would help public safety and reduce gun violence.

Opponents of such changes return to the “X policy wouldn’t haven’t prevented the fill-in-the-blank shooting” as if the inability to fix the past is a reason to forfeit the next victims’ future.

The Jan. 8 shooting was — is — tragic. It is a horror. That mass shootings have happened again and again and again and again in our nation is an outrage.

Recently, I’ve heard people talk about Jan. 8 as a time when Tucsonans came together, when we were unified, if only for a brief time. It’s offered as a contrast to the divisions of today — proof that we can come together if the impetus is terrible enough.

We shouldn’t need a mass murder before we seek common ground with one another.

We must be better than that — we have to be.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen is the Arizona Daily Star’s Opinion Page editor.

Email her at sgassen@tucson.com