“This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.” –President Obama following October 1 shooting in Roseburg, Oregon that left nine dead
The violence in America kept up at its usual, breakneck pace this week. With everyone in the major cities on guard for a repeat of Paris-style massacres, we showed that terrorism can be homegrown, too, with the Planned Parenthood shooter early in the week. By the time we were at midweek, his headlines were stolen by the San Bernardino couple whose assault rifles destroyed even more lives, leaving the rest of us shaking our heads in sadness and disbelief. Meanwhile, the politicians split their efforts between pointing fingers at one another and offering tweets of prayers to the families of the deceased. Just another week in America.
It is difficult to avoid becoming numb to this seemingly daily violence in our country. In other weeks, I have completely kept my eyes off the news and kept my head buried in the sand. The continuous stream of stories about violence and negativity are very difficult for me to watch. They seem to hit me like punches to my heart, and after a few minutes of watching, I cannot bear it anymore. I am forced to bury my head in the sand again just so I can keep getting out of bed in the morning. I don’t let it in very often, but when I do, it pains me deeply.
At the start of this week’s action, I mostly kept my eyes turned away. I almost gave in to being absorbed by the Planned Parenthood shooting because I wanted to see how many people were willing to call it what it was: terrorism. I didn’t, though; I just wasn’t up for it. When the California massacre happened, though, I couldn’t resist. I knew it would break my heart, but I turned on CNN anyway. It was unbelievably sad. These things are always so very sad.
Of course, there was action on Facebook, too. One of my friends posted a photo of the front page of the Daily News, which read “God Isn’t Fixing This” and showing tweets from Republican leaders saying that they are praying for the victims and families. My friend wrote a passionate plea to go along with it, essentially calling out the politicians for not enacting any significant gun control laws that might help prevent or limit these mass killings. He exhorted them to stand up to the NRA, ban some things, close some loopholes, and just generally DO SOMETHING instead of sending out thoughts and prayers to victims.
In his post and in a couple of other articles that I read, a fascinating stat was cited. It was this: there have been 355 mass shootings—four or more victims—in America in the 336 days so far this year. Now, I cannot verify these numbers—one of my friends said that the FBI’s number is 21 mass shootings this year—but whatever the count is, I think we can all agree that it is way, way too many.
The other interesting Facebook post I saw—to provide an immediate counterpoint to the gun control posts—was a big picture of the actor Samuel L. Jackson with his quote: “I don’t think it’s about more gun control. I grew up in the South with guns everywhere, and we never shot anyone. This [shooting] is about people who aren’t taught the value of life.” I don’t think this was a quote from this week, but it applied just the same.
Although I am way, way over to the “control” side of the gun control debate, I must say that Mr. Jackson has a point. Somehow we have arrived at this point where the default reaction to being disgruntled or depressed is violence, usually of the gun variety. We have a problem in America that other countries don’t seem to share. Our level of peacetime violence relative to the rest of the world—even in our movies—is off the charts. We need a seismic shift culturally and psychologically to get out of this place. But in the meantime, we need to figure out what to do—an action—to minimize the frequency of these events. We need to stop the bleeding.
I admit that I am oversensitive when it comes to violence. I think boxing and MMA are barbaric and should not be sports, and I could just as well enjoy watching an NFL flag football game or an NHL hockey game with no fighting or checking allowed. So yes, I am heavily biased. But really, can’t most people see that we have gone off the deep end? I can’t imagine I am the only one wondering why ordinary Americans are able to buy assault rifles and why we use all guns with such regularity. Am I?
I want stricter gun laws. Correction: I would like guns to be virtually eliminated from our society. Of course I know that is not going to happen any time soon. I also know full well that I am not any sort of expert on each state’s current gun laws or the history of the issue. I am just telling you what I want and what feels right to me, a guy who is very disturbed by violence of all sorts.
It just strikes me as completely odd that we all have access to guns. I don’t get it. Well, I don’t get why so many people want guns, either, but that doesn’t disturb me as much as how many people are allowed to own guns, especially things like assault rifles. Does anyone outside of the police force or military really need an assault rifle? I don’t understand why they are available. I wish they weren’t. Heck, I wish guns of any sort were not available to anyone without very strict safety certification, background checks, and proof of insurance. Even then, I would only be in favor of the kind my Dad showed me how to use for hunting when I was a kid—you know, where you can’t take more than two shots in succession before you have to stop and reload. If I could figure out a way for folks to prove they were only going to hunt animals with the gun, I would be in favor of that, too (Hey, it’s my fantasy, so let me run with it!). Finally, to get my process started, I would like the government to confiscate all of the other millions of guns that are currently in people’s homes across the country that don’t meet my demands.
I know this is all a pipedream, of course, but why can’t we at least take some baby steps in my direction? I can hear the politicians now: “Ever heard of the 2nd Amendment? You can’t just change the Constitution!” I hate that argument. I find it weak, because it is a convenient way to avoid the issue and doesn’t address history and precedent. If we stuck with the Constitution the way it was originally written, my Black wife would count as 60% of a person when it comes to representation, and of course she couldn’t vote. Neither Black people nor women of any race were allowed to vote.
Sadly, the framers of that great document were neither all all-wise nor all-knowing. They lived in a different time with different realities. (They resented the British for trying to take their guns away at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and wanted it in writing that this wouldn’t happen again.) If they got slavery wrong and got women wrong, what makes us so sure they got guns right? Future generations wised up and amended those other failings, so what makes this one above question? I don’t get it.
I know we can’t fix the cultural norm of violence overnight. I know that there are going to be people who are depressed, disgruntled, or otherwise disturbed who will have violent urges. But I feel like the least we can do is to make it difficult for those people to act out those urges on other people, especially large groups of them. In the long run, sure, I hope we will make my fantasy laws into a reality. But for today, I just want us—the citizens and the politicians who represent us—to do something. I want baby steps rather than no steps at all. If we don’t, for each one of the mass killings that takes place on our watch, there is blood on all of our hands. I can’t take much more. I’ve grown weary from the washing.
How about you? Where do you fit into the culture of violence in America? Open up your journal and explore the way it affects you and what you think we ought to do about it. Do you follow the news closely? What effect do the seemingly endless stories of violence have on you? Do you watch more news or less when one of these mass shootings occurs? Do they sadden or anger you, or are you numbed by the regularity of them? How violent are you personally? Do you get into fights? Are you in favor of spanking kids? What do you think spanking teaches? Do you own a gun? If so, what do you use it for? Have you ever been in a situation—not in war or police action—where a gun has protected you? Should our gun laws be more strict? What kinds of weapons should normal citizens have access to? Are you in favor of government confiscation of guns if new laws are enacted limiting access? What does your fantasy look like on this issue? Do you agree with me that we are all guilty of these mass shootings if we don’t begin to make changes to reduce them? Are tighter gun laws just a Band-Aid solution to the bigger problem of apathy toward human life? If so, is there still some value in enacting stronger legislation around gun control? Why have we done so little on this issue despite the obscene number of gun deaths in our country? Do we just not care? Leave me a reply and let me know: What part do you play in this violent movie?
I wish you Peace,
P.S. If this letter helped you to think about this difficult issue more clearly, please share it with others who may need clarity as well. Thank you.