On October 1, 2015, yet another terrible American tragedy occurred. This time, a community college in Oregon. 9 dead, 7 wounded. We’ve learned about the shooter in the days since the devastating incident but why does it matter who he is? We know this story, from start to finish. Someone was angry, someone was entitled. One man’s personal argument with life or society became a national tragedy and an earth-shattering event for more families, more communities. It’s a violent poison that taints the water and ripples out into hearts.
We know what’s happening but what we aren’t realizing is how much more it’s happening than ever before. We hear these stories over and over again, in different states and kinds of public spaces. It hasn’t always been like this, although the U.S. has a storied history of gun violence. For a long stretch, 1966-2012, there were only 90 mass shootings total. We led the world in mass shootings and have only increased the distance between ourselves and the rest. Harvard estimates that the number of public attacks has tripled between 2012 and now. Some estimates say there have been almost 300 mass shootings in 2015 alone. Public attacks happen frequently, all over the country. Churches, schools, shopping malls, movie theaters—all sites of mass violence. There was even a shootout at a Dallas police station earlier this year. Fortunately, no one was killed or wounded. But we’re left feeling that nowhere is safe.
These incidents may not be coordinated but there is an underlying thread in each of these terrible acts of violence—prejudice. We know that Dylann Roof was motivated by violent racism and sexism, a desire to keep the white race pure. Elliott Rodgers was a quiet misogynist who felt the women of the world owed him something. This is not a rash of mental illnesses but a social sickness, which we must fight to cure.
Until we can heal the underlying wound, we must limit the damage we’re able to do to each other. We don’t even have reliable data on how many of these mass episodes of gun violence occur. Our researchers are actively discouraged and prohibited from conducting studies about what kinds of laws make sense for our country or how big of a problem gun violence really is. Our legislature is so deeply divided and wound up in hyper partisan nonsense that we can’t even address a simple problem like this one. People needlessly complicate this issue by framing this violence as somehow outside our sphere of influence. James Alan Fox, an often-quoted researcher, has said that “We treasure our personal freedoms in America, and unfortunately, occasional mass shootings, as horrific as they are, is one of the prices that we pay for the freedoms that we enjoy.”
A gross oversimplification won’t serve as an answer in this case. We’re beyond occasional, well over the edge. We’re entering a period of gun violence that is higher than any we’ve experienced in close to 50 years. Every other developed country in the world has managed to put a much greater distance between these incidents, some avoiding them entirely. We need to regulate guns more strictly and pass common sense laws around the sale and transfer of guns, the way we do with motor vehicles. When asked generally if more gun control sounds like a good idea, Americans are fairly even split; however, in asking questions about simple solutions, most Americans have reached a consensus on what could make sense for us.
The resistance is coming from within our own government. The NRA seems to have significant control over what’s considered important in American politics, despite being only one of many groups who have interest in the matter. The bizarre desire to loosen restrictions has only come about in the last few years from a vocal minority of voters. The politicians who are pushing for tougher immigration laws, abortion restrictions, and institutionalized opposition to same sex marriage, want you to believe that new laws around guns would not make us any safer, that despite this violence there is no further need to regulate firearms. If you as a legislator and don’t think laws have the power to make people safer, you are doing the wrong job.
I live in Texas, known for its gun-friendliness. I have guns in my house. I understand why people want to have them. I understand why people get scared when a government talks about taking guns away. But are these the consequences we’re prepared to deal with? That every time you go out to the movies or the mall or university, someone with a gun could take your life? When did we accept mass violence as a fact of life? If it were anyone but a bunch of homegrown, American, white men taking these lives, we’d be treating each of these cases like the domestic terrorism they really are.
Instead, they’re framed by the media as inexplicable tragedies that we can’t prevent. We can’t let this be our normal world. More guns are not the answer. A state-by-state solution won’t solve this problem either. As long as we lack federal consistency in enforcement, it will remain relatively easy for individuals to obtain and maintain guns, legally or illegally. We need to bring law and order to guns and we need to do it quickly.
There are no easy answers to why people perpetrate violence and none of those answers matter to the families and loved ones of each massacre’s victims. No one is safer by thinking that James Holms or Dylann Roof or the shooter in Oregon this week is a mentally ill loner—that there was no way they could be stopped. No one is helped when we pray for families and then stand by and wait for the next one. We needed to act last year. We needed to act two years ago. We needed to act in December of 2012, when someone with a gun decided elementary school children needed to pay for the sins of humanity. If we don’t act, how can we feel safe in this world?
What Can You DO?:
- Learn about the gun control laws in your state and nearby.
- Contact your state legislators, federal and district representatives and and tell them you support more responsible gun control and want action on this issue.
- Stay aware of what’s happening in your community and find organizations you can support.
- Write a Letter to the Editor to your local paper about gun violence and its devastating effects, along with how we can stop it.
- Find people who agree with you. Create art. Organize action. Develop petitions. You are not alone.