Do Something.

I usually write about music, movies, and horror fiction for this blog, but today I want to do something different. Here's an observation following yet another mass shooting, this one yesterday at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.

In the wake of the space shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, one issue that got too little attention was prevention. The shuttle’s reinforced-carbon-carbon (RCC) tiles, which provided excellent heat protection but little structural stability, had been breached by a piece of spray-on foam insulation (SOFI – the orange stuff on the outside of the massive external fuel tank). Some engineers and analysts suspected this breach because they had grainy video footage of an object striking an RCC-clad area during the launch, but they had no proof that any breach existed.

Why didn’t they have any proof? First, the aforementioned video's angle did not allow for a view of the RCC tiles. Second, Columbia was one of the few shuttles in the fleet at that time with no robotic camera arm, meaning the crew and mission control had no autonomous way to view the shuttle’s wing and inspect it for damage. (Post-Columbia, of course, such arms became mandatory.) Third, the engineers and analysts involved had run a staggering amount of analysis on strike probability and, as a result, were concerned enough that they made two requests in an attempt to ascertain any wing or belly damage:

1. They asked the Department of Defense for satellite imagery of Columbia in orbit. This request, however, did not follow the proper NASA chain of command and was canceled (without follow-up) by a manager.

2. They emailed a specific NASA person requesting that one of the Columbia crew perform a spacewalk so they could inspect for damage up close. Unfortunately, that person was on vacation and did not see the request until s/he returned from vacation a few days after Columbia’s disastrous attempted reentry.

One logical question, then, that arose during the post-disaster investigation was, “If we had known the extent of the damage before reentry, could we have done anything to save the crew?” Experts’ responses then and now differ on this point. While bailing out or ejecting was impossible – crews could only bail out below 30,000 feet and 220 mph; Columbia, by comparison, broke up at 200,000 feet and 12,738 mph – some say there were at least two potential options:

1. Space shuttle Atlantis was already preparing for the next mission, and NASA could have rushed this preparation and essentially sent Atlantis on a rescue operation.

2. NASA could have had some of the Columbia crew do a spacewalk to “patch” the hole in the wing using quite literally anything at their disposal (tools, bags of ice, pieces of interior components, etc.) to put some mass in the hole and deflect the superheated plasma produced during the thermal violence of reentry.

Even proponents of these options conceded their odds of success were low to middling. No one, for instance, would have been able to guarantee that Atlantis would be ready in time, but, even if they could, because foam strikes had been a documented problem since the dawn of the shuttle program, using another shuttle for rescue meant the chance, however remote, of grievously damaging a second shuttle and imperiling the lives of 14 astronauts instead of 7. Opponents, meanwhile, had a predictably simpler response: “There are no viable options. It can’t be saved.” Some of those opponents are people I respect professionally, and I’m inclined to believe their prognosis, dire as it was.

But that dissenting stance, no matter how rooted in scientific limitations, is not only pessimistic but also wholly divorced from reality. Does anyone with a developed brain stem truly believe that NASA and the entire United States, had they possessed photographic evidence of a hole in Columbia’s wing that would have led to the shuttle’s disintegration and 7 human deaths on atmospheric reentry, would have sat on their hands and said, “Well, it’s a tragedy, but we have no good options. We’ll just have to let them die”? Of course not. As the chair of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), Retired Navy Admiral Hal Gehman, said simply when discussing this very issue, “No. We would have done SOMETHING.”

If we knew a disaster was imminent, even with no good options, we would have done SOMETHING.

The epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings in this country is a similar situation. It doesn’t matter that people, not guns, are said to kill people (mental illness IS an enormous driver in this issue, but we don't do anything about that either). It doesn’t matter that the 2nd Amendment’s wording is unclear enough to allow for distortion and the loophole of individual-gun ownership. It doesn’t matter that "guns are just a part of American culture." It doesn’t matter that gun manufacturing and ownership are a Pandora’s Box that would be hell to try and close. It doesn’t matter that the gun lobby is massively wealthy and massively influential and, therefore, massively corrupting to a representative democracy. It doesn’t matter that owning a Glock or an AR-15 makes you sleep better at night because you’re worried about (nonwhite) criminals and/or the prospect of a tyrannical government. It doesn’t matter that your daddy/momma/pop-pop/meemaw/crazy uncle/3rd-cousin-twice-removed always loved guns and passed that love on to you. It doesn’t matter that you’re embarrassingly awful at logic and cannot/refuse to see that guns and automobiles (or other objects) do not in any way make a valid comparison. It doesn’t matter that you say you’ll hand over your guns when they’re pried from your cold, dead hands. None of that matters.

The only thing that matters is people are dying, whole lives and families ruined forever, because unstable people obtain and use guns very, very easily while we, en masse, invariably say, “Well, it’s a tragedy, but we have no good options. We’ll just have to let them die.”

It doesn't matter if we seem to have few good options. We have to do something. Nothing else matters but actually fucking doing something.


  1. Excellent and very valid. I even like guns and own a couple, and always mean to buy a few more... but, I'm all for controlling them and making sure the people who have them are responsible and sane. And, I'm not for carrying them around everywhere, either -- I don't trust some concealed-carry guy to use good judgment, because I've already seen how badly people panic in situations, and if you're carrying a gun to go get groceries or whatever, you're ALREADY paranoid. More citizens with guns in those situations would only complicate things -- they'd either shoot someone they THOUGHT was a bad guy (in a recent "active shooter" situation we're both familiar with, there WAS no "bad guy" and people still panicked), or they'd make it harder for the police to sort out who the perpetrator is. And there are way too many fucks like George Zimmerman out there who just WANT to kill someone. Everyone THINKS they're reasonable, but obviously, a lot of people are wrong about that, so, restraints are called for.

    So, yep, I'm a gun owner for gun control and restrictions. Just like I'm a driver who's glad people have to pass a test to get a license. It's entirely reasonable. And the body count that gets racked up every year by lunatics firing on crowds... that's anything but.

    Around 2,400 people died in the Pearl Harbor attack, and we went to war immediately. When terrorists killed 3,000 of our people on 9/11, we went to war against them. Guns kill ten times that many every single year, and people shrug and say "Eh, whatcha gonna do?" It makes no sense.