Eleven days ago, the country watched in horror as yet another school shooting took place, this time in Parkland, Florida. Yet again, young lives were cut short, with at least 17 dead and 15 injured as of this writing. Yet again, the country cried out for justice, for change, for a stop to these tragedies. Yet again, politicians around the country offered thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families while clearly showing they have no intention of actually doing anything. So the cycle goes.
That I can even write these words shows the depth of this problem. School shootings, along with other mass shootings, are becoming the norm. We know exactly how things will play out in the days and weeks following them because we repeat the exact same cycle over and over again.
Mass shootings are becoming so commonplace that we’re becoming desensitized to them. When Columbine happened, the country rightfully recoiled in horror. I was just 14 years old at the time, but I still remember exactly where I was when I heard the news because it was so shocking. Now, I can’t even remember all the shootings that have happened in just the last year. There have been 18 shooting incidents at schools just this year, and the long term statistics are even more disheartening; according to the New York Times, there have been 239 shooting incidents at schools since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 (read the full article, as well as the definition of what constitutes a school shooting incident, at: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/15/us/school-shootings-sandy-hook-parkland.html).
239 shooting incidents in less than six years. There aren’t words for how repugnant this is. But the most damning part is that we continue to allow them to happen. Nothing changes, no matter how many bullets are fired or lives are lost. The rightful anger at this is growing, but it is a double-edged sword; many people are lashing out in their anger, making questionable accusations or hurling derogatory remarks. Misinformation and propaganda spread like wildfire, especially in the aftermath of a tragedy like this. These things only serve to further reinforce the divide that is preventing us from finding a solution. More importantly, it is the misunderstood nature of this divide that keeps us apart.
So many think that the divide is purely political, that it is Republican versus Democrat, Conservative versus Liberal, Right versus Left, or Pro-gun versus Pro-gun control. But that is a purely superficial interpretation that ignores the true nature of the divide, which is that neither side actually knows what to do, but thinks that the other side is inherently wrong. They are blinded by their arrogance and are thusly unwilling to listen; instead, they hurl insults and cast aspersions. Both sides do have many good, valid points, but neither is willing to actually consider them because of all the animosity. They let their preconceptions and assumptions about each other color everything, which prevents discussion and precludes the real, meaningful change we so desperately need.
There is an even bigger problem with the divide, however, which is that there are people on both sides that actively undermine any attempt at progress. It isn’t that they don’t want to address the problem, but that they have become so blinded by propaganda, misinformation, and greed that they believe the other side to be the enemy. When one side makes any kind of suggestion or criticism, the other attacks it, regardless of its validity, and dismisses it without any consideration. For example, many have pointed out an ambiguity in the Second Amendment which is that “arms” isn’t clearly defined. The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers do shed some light on this, but it is still vague. Yet when someone suggests we update it to define what “arms” are, they are instantly attacked for wanting to take away the Second Amendment, which is preposterous. By that same token, there are many who feel legitimate concern about putting limitations on Constitutional rights. History shows us that our government has no qualms about trampling our rights, which is precisely the reason the Bill of Rights was written; our founders knew that if certain rights weren’t specifically enshrined in the Constitution, they could never be expected to be kept. But when people mention this as the reason they are wary of limiting access to firearms, they are attacked for caring more about guns than human life.
Put simply, there is no innocent side in this debate. Both sides have committed the exact same sins in refusing to discuss, debate, or act. Everyone agrees that the epidemic of gun violence cannot be allowed to continue; we just can’t agree on a solution. To be fair, I don’t think there will ever be unanimous concurrence on this subject. But because we refuse to actually discuss, the problem, we can’t act, and so long as we do this, people will die.
So what is the answer? To be blunt, I don’t have one. As I said, both sides have good points, and I agree with many of them. Our gun laws could certainly use strengthening in at least some areas, but I fear that doing too much would violate the Second Amendment. Some suggest we need to find a middle ground, but as that is a logical fallacy, I see little merit to it. Unfortunately, most of the suggestions people make suffer from the same fatal flaw: they dance around the problem by addressing the symptom instead of the cause (which isn’t truly known because Congress, under pressure from the NRA, forbade the CDC from researching gun violence in 1996 and cut their budget by precisely the amount they had been using on said research). I don’t pretend to know the answer to this, but you can know what the answer to something isn’t without knowing what it is; I don’t know what the square root of 5,984,364 is, but I know it’s not 9. The answer isn’t something anyone truly knows, and it isn’t just going to appear before our eyes. But we owe it do every single mass shooting victim to find the answer.
Fortunately, there is renewed hope. The survivors of the tragedy in Parkland have started a movement to prevent future shootings. They have galvanized support by appealing directly to the anger, frustration, and sadness so many have felt over these horrors. They have called out politicians who only offer “thoughts and prayers” instead of acting. They have called out the NRA for buying politicians and working to undermine every single attempt at addressing this problem. They have made it clear that the status quo cannot continue. Most of all, they have made it clear that they and the people of this country will not rest until this problem is properly addressed.
While the movement is obviously in its infancy, evidence of its early success is everywhere. The NRA is calling for an end to loopholes in the background check system (which they have historically fought tooth and nail). President Trump has suggest a ban on bump stocks (I don’t think this will have any measurable effect on gun violence, but the fact that he even suggested this shows that pressure to address the problem is having some effect). In just the last 24 hours, multiple advertisers have left the NRA, showing that people and entities will not continue to support them if they will not take a more progressive stance on gun violence. People are calling out their representatives in no uncertain terms (with some getting downright graphic due to their understandably high emotions) for not acting, and at least some of them are making concessions.
The progress made in the last week and a half is remarkable, and with marches and walk-outs planned in the coming weeks and months, much more will be accomplished. We have a responsibility to every child to keep them safe. We are obligated to fight for the victims, to give them a voice. We must keep the pressure on our leaders. They must always remember that they are there to serve us, not special interests. They need to know that our voices can no longer be ignored, that excuses about it “being too soon” or “not the time” to debate and discuss this will no longer fly.
It’s long past time for change. We must do all we can to make sure such tragedies never repeat themselves. The first step is to actually have the debate we’ve been avoiding for so long. People need to leave behind special interests, biases, preconceptions, and assumptions and look at the facts: too many people have died already because we refuse to act. That must end now. Even one more person wounded or life taken is too many. We have the power to change this, to fix the problem, to make our society a safer one.
We just need to use it.
Originally published at uncoveringthemanwithin.blogspot.com on February 25, 2018.