Just Another School Shooting
By now, America’s latest school shooting has already lost its presence in newsrooms across the globe. Ironically, it is an issue that will likely pop up again a few months from now, when another dozen or more people are shot and injured whilst peacefully living their every day lives. Here’s the catch — nothing will change.
It was half past ten in the morning on the 1st of October 2015 when Chris Harper-Mercer entered Umpqua Community College and began shooting. He was targeting anyone who identified themselves as Christian. In under ten minutes he had killed nine people and turned the gun on himself. It was the 295th mass shooting in America this year, according to a crowd-funded shooting tracker site. Since the tragedy in Roseburg, Oregon, another ten have already been added to that list. That’s ten mass shootings in less than three weeks.
With each shooting comes outrage, confusion, sorrow, and oddly enough, gun sales skyrocket. The nation grieves over the tragedy, but many still refuse to consider that the legality and accessibility of firearms in the U.S is contributing to the death toll.
Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this... And what’s become routine, of course, is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation. Right now, I can imagine the press releases being cranked out: We need more guns, they’ll argue. Fewer gun safety laws. Does anybody really believe that?
- President Barack Obama 2015
After 2,977 people were killed on 9/11, the nation took drastic action against the terrorist organisations that seemingly posed an imminent threat. The “war on terror” began, with intentions to identify, locate and destroy terrorists and their organisations. Undeserving death was met with united support for change to ensure that America never again felt the pang of such a devastating loss.
Between 2001 and 2013, 3380 Americans died at the hands of terrorism. By contrast, over 400,000 were killed through gun violence. So why are Americans so hasty to act on one and not the other?
Gun regulation seems to evoke fear in the U.S. How will people defend their properties and protect their families without guns? To those of us living in countries with tighter restrictions — such as Australia — the answer seems pretty clear. Unfortunately, what seems to make perfect sense to some does not always translate well with others, especially when Americans have been living with the right to bear arms since the Second Amendmant was adopted in 1791. Fear is lurking behind every argument against gun control — whether it’s fear of violence, fear of change or fear of tyranny. Perhaps even a fear of admitting that the most death and destruction is not at the hands of foreign enemies, but of fellow citizens. Moreover, a sense of guilt for allowing it to keep happening, followed by denial.
In 1996 the Port Arthur Massacre rocked Australia. Thirty-five innocent people were killed and another twenty-three were injured. The massacre prompted the Australian federal and state governments to implement stricter laws regarding the regulation of guns in the country. The country banned all semi-automatic rifles and semi-automic and pump-action shotguns, and enforced a very restrictive licensing and ownership system. Though at the time there was some opposition to the changes, the country is now united in believing that the decision to regulate guns was for the best. Australia is regarded as a prime example of effective gun laws and is often referenced by those supporting a change in the U.S.
In a press conference addressing the Roseburg shooting, President Barack Obama stated:
“We are not the only country on earth that has people with mental illness or want to do harm to other people…[but] we are the only advanced country on earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months”.
It is near impossible to pinpoint exactly who will commit such horrific crimes. Mental illness and/or malicious intent is present within all societies, but not all societies make weapons so readily accessible to those who wish to hurt others. Those who are not in favour of changing American gun laws suggest that addressing mental health issues is the key to reducing gun violence. They are right in identifying mental health as a contributor — many assailants suffer in silence before reaching their breaking point. While it is important to improve mental health services and reduce stigma, not everyone who commits violence gun crimes is unwell.
The reasons for mass shootings vary between incidents. When you can’t eliminate the emotion behind the action, or predict who will commit a crime, what do you do?
The logical step is to make it harder to act on violent thoughts. The Australian government did exactly that in 1996, and the country hasn’t seen a severe mass shooting since. The very fact that Americans resort to asking “how will I defend myself and my family” indicates the cycle they are stuck in. Violent crime creates in fear, which causes people to want guns for self-defence, which enables criminals having access to firearms. It needs to stop, but will it?
Fortunately, some Americans are beginnining to understand how gun culture contributes to mass violence — like this hobbyist who chose to hand his firearms over to police. Countless celebrities are voicing their opinions, joining the movement and supporting a change. Momentum is building, slowly. Too slowly. It will undoubtedly take many more mass shootings (likely occuring at colleges, schools, movie theatres, shopping centres) before all American citizens unite and demand a plan. When the president and powerful public figures are asking, practically begging, for something to happen — they are showing how important it is for the public to become involved.
The lack of urgency behind changing gun laws has been contrasted with the tight restrictions and complications placed around accessing abortion in the U.S, as highlighted by a post that was shared by Australian actress Caitlin Stasey on her Twitter page. Stasey is an active supporter of equal rights, and her post successfully begged the question: why is it so easy to buy weapons that kill, and so hard for a woman to abort a fetus that she doesn’t want or can’t carry to term? Abortion will always be a controversial topic, with many people believing that to have an abortion is to end an innocent life. If that really is the case, why aren’t people who buy guns treated like people who have abortions? As Stasey’s repost from Instagram user @luckyhell suggests;
“How about we treat every young man who wants to buy a gun like every woman who wants to get an abortion — mandatory 48-hr waiting period, parental permission, a note from his doctor proving he understands what he’s about to do, a video he has to watch about the effects of gun violence, an ultrasound wand up the ass (just because). Let’s close down all but one gun shop in every state and make him travel hundreds of miles, take time off work, and stay overnight in a strange town to get a gun. Make him walk through a gauntlet of people holding photos of loved ones who were shot to death, people who call him a murderer and beg him not to buy a gun”
According to statistics shared by Everytown for Gun Safety, Americans are 20 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries. Despite the bloodshed, supporters of gun rights are not backing down. If law-makers aren’t going to make a change and citizens continue to argue over being pro or anti-gun, the key to solving the problem is education. Just as younger generations have grown to be more accepting and supportive of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights, they will begin to see truth behind gun ownership if they are exposed to facts about gun violence and gun control. Mass shooting after mass shooting. Death after death after death. People need to be educated about the solution before they become too set in their ways. Value needs to be placed on human life, not on metal objects shooting metal bullets that may, or may not, protect you from other people who also have access to metal objects that shoot metal bullets and can kill you.
Though the law-makers and gun-owners of 2015 may be stubborn, the momentum that is building suggests that the leaders of tomorrow may be more open to change. Is firearm restriction in the U.S on the horizon?
I certainly hope so.