The on-air shootings in Virginia that left television news reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward dead, and interview subject Vicki Gardner wounded, cannot be avoided.
Unwitting viewers of their station were suddenly eyewitnesses last week to an appalling, cold-blooded crime, when all they thought they were watching was an innocuous interview on tourism.
While major news outlets exercised some restraint, the spread of social media – and the consequent ease with which we can access images – has ensured that many of us were also eyewitnesses to murder, without much choice.
In many ways, the very availability of such sickening imagery is a reminder that we can’t turn a blind eye to a plague of violence that afflicts all of us, no matter where in the world we live. It is a fact of life, and we are not cushioned by distance or comforting notions that, terrible as it may be, it is someone else’s problem.
There is another fact of life – brought to us vividly by this tragedy – that cannot be avoided.
When gunman Vester Lee Flanagan took video of himself as he took aim at his victims Wednesday, he bore witness to a simple truth. He reaffirmed that guns are deadly weapons, capable of ending lives in a matter of seconds.
Believing himself to be a victim of systemic racism, he had legally purchased the pistol, and the hollow-point ammunition. It is easy to point fingers at our neighbours to the south and urge them to adopt more stringent gun controls. But at the same time, we cannot claim a holier-than-thou attitude.
We cannot claim that gun violence has never intruded here. And the Virginia tragedy poses questions that none of us can hide from.
Can we truly know what’s going on in other people’s heads? Can we recognize when anger has reached a flash-point? Would we trust our gun-carrying neighbour to protect us – or would we suspect that some day, that same weapon might be used to victimize us?