When Jo Cox MP met her untimely death, holding a constituency surgery on 16 June, I mused over the reaction to this tragedy in comparison to the mass shooting in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub four days earlier. Why had this single event, on a small island, provoked such international reaction, in comparison to frequent firearms mass murders elsewhere and in the USA in particular? I believe that, unusually, our responses have not only been emotional, but cerebral and cultural, too.
Firstly, it felt personal and we could focus on the impact on one person’s world. Like many, she was a doting parent, a young mother enjoying those precious early years of her two children. Those two children have been robbed of this relationship and that is simply not fair.
Secondly, the targeting of an individual, elected by the people, whilst in the process of serving them has undermined values that we take for granted; democracy is precious and Jo’s single death helped remind us of its importance.
Finally – and this is the main point – her murder provoked astonishment because gun crime in the UK is simply counter-cultural. We don’t carry guns, we don’t want to carry guns and we can’t understand why other nations want to. We say to ourselves ‘look what happens there, when this is part of a nation’s culture – 49 people dead in one fell swoop’. And we can imagine people around the world saying to themselves ‘how could it happen in the UK?’
In the space of four days, we were exposed to two contrasting horrors – 49 random shootings and one targeted murder. Since then I have been mulling over the contrast between the reactions, but I was only provoked to write this piece as I read about the sit-in, on 23 June, in the lower house of the US Congress, ‘no [gun control] bill, no break!’ I don’t believe that this unprecedented event was simply a reaction to the shootings in Orlando; I believe and hope it is Jo’s single death that is the straw to break the camel’s back. That it has become the catalyst for the democratic action necessary to recalibrate a nation’s cultural expectations and make, as in the UK, gun crime an exception, not the norm.