The closest thing I have to a flashbulb memory is for December 14, 2012. It’s not vivid in the way that my grandparents’ recollections of the JFK assassination are, but I remember receiving a text from my then-girlfriend telling me that something had happened in Connecticut. I was on a school bus, and I want to say I was leaving school (even though the incident took place at 8:00 in the morning and my high school ended at 3:30 in the afternoon). I remember walking in my front door and getting a rib-crushing hug from my mom while CNN (I think it was CNN) played in the background. The following Monday, I remember one of my teachers talking to our class about what happened, but I don’t remember which teacher and I don’t remember what was said.
That incident was of course the Sandy Hook Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which claimed the lives of 20 children and 6 adults. According to the Wikipedia entry on the tragedy, the shooting “prompted renewed debate about gun control in the United States.” But that’s a misleading phrase. Sure, the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Shooting saw several politicians come out in favor of stricter gun control, increased background checks, and an elimination of military-grade assault weapons from public circulation. But to say that there was “debate” would imply that there was actually a discussion. Instead, the NRA made a statement and suddenly any momentum that the pro-gun-control faction of the country thought they had was swept away.
According to several online shooting trackers, the United States has averaged more than one mass shooting (generally defined as four or more killed or wounded) per day since Sandy Hook. The 2015 calendar year alone has now seen more than 350 (between 351 and 356, depending on the source). Nine were killed at a South Carolina church in June. Nine were killed by a motorcycle gang in a Texas restaurant in May. Nine died at Umpqua Community College in Oregon in October. In July, three were killed at a shooting at a Louisiana movie theater. Not two days ago, fourteen or more were killed at a community center in San Bernardino.
Think about that list. Church. Restaurant. College. Movie theater. Community center. In the last two months, I’ve been to a church, restaurant, college, movie theater, and community center at least once each. These are public places, places that experience heavy daily traffic countrywide, places that shouldn’t need bulletproof windows and fingerprint-verification entry systems. There is no reason that someone should ever fear going out for dinner or going to see the newest James Bond film. These are supposed to be fundamentally safe places, but that is clearly no longer the case.
Every time one of these mass shootings occurs – so, two or three times every week – I have the exact same reaction: crippling fear that I might somehow know one of the victims followed by sadness that such a tragedy occurred, sympathy for the victims’ friends and family, a few hours of depressed emotions, half a second of bewilderment as to how this is possible, and then massive anger. Anger at the shooter(s) for committing such terrible acts. Anger at Wolf Blitzer for having his head so far stuck up his own butt on live television. Anger at our government as a whole for not having done anything to stop this. Anger at Republican lawmakers for being the driving force behind preventing sensible gun control legislation from taking hold. Anger at the NRA for being an organization essentially devoted to enabling domestic terrorism. And Anger at millions of Americans for caring more about an invented material “right” than others’ right to live.
If you believe that the Second Amendment gives you the right to possess any firearm you want, you’re part of the problem. If you think that background checks, magazine limits, a mandatory waiting period, mental health evaluations, and assault weapons bans are unconstitutional, you’re part of the problem. If you claim that restrictions on guns can lead to the end of sport hunting, gun collection, Civil War re-enactments, or “southern tradition,” then you are part of the problem. If that offends you, I do not apologize. That is the truth whether you like it or not. It is your reluctance to relinquish something that serves almost no practical purpose but to cause harm, your adherence with a religious fervor to outdated and ass-backwards beliefs, you moronic paranoia and massive egotism that is responsible for thousands upon thousands of deaths in the United States every year.
The point of the Second Amendment was to protect against military uprisings and to ensure the sanctity of the democratically-elected government that the Founding Fathers envisioned. How do I know this? Because the first words of the amendment directly reference it: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…” In the last fifty years, the Second Amendment has been horribly perverted to the point that people adamantly claim that the point of the amendment is to guarantee their right to an AK-47 machine gun. How an amendment written in the 18th century could have anything to do with a weapon manufactured in the 20th is beyond me. But that argument nonetheless has immense traction not only in much of America but in the part of America where it matters most: Washington.
After every mass shooting in the last eight years, Barack Obama has gone on the news and made comments that always fall along the same lines: we, as a country, are in desperate need of more gun control laws. And every time, nothing gets done. Republicans in the House and Senate cling to their incorrect beliefs about the Second Amendment and effectively kill any potential gun control legislation that could help to minimize the number of these incidents in the future. Instead, they support increased gun circulation, rationalizing that more good guys with guns would neutralize bad guys with guns. They support armed guards at schools and malls. They focus on secondary issues such as mental health. (Mental health is of course a significant issue, both in general and in terms of the gun debate. But the notion that all mass shootings are carried out by people with mental disorders is flawed, and the fact still remains that fewer guns would mean fewer mentally ill people with guns. Logic.) They support dozens of things, none of which will ever save a life in the future. They’re too afraid that the NRA will endorse a competitor or that their constituents will be unhappy if they come out publicly in favor of gun control. They care more about their own political life than those of the American people they were elected to represent.
And for that reason, countless Americans will continue to die every day in senseless shootouts. The United States will never pass any meaningful gun control legislation because to do so would require a complete overhaul of our values as a society, and that is just not forthcoming. Which is unfortunate, because gun control measures have been passed in the United Kingdom and Australia to amazing effects: mass shootings just don’t exist there anymore. In Australia, the measures took hold in three months. That’s about the same length as the 2015 NFL season through today. Some politicians lost their jobs in the aftermath, but their outlook is that passing gun control legislation and protecting the Australian people should take precedence over their political ambitions. All of this can be seen in a brilliant three-part report filed by John Oliver while he was still a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
But the fact of the matter is that we as a country just don’t care. The desensitization we experience is symptomatic of a society of people who have simply accepted daily shootings as a fact of life, like locking your keys in your car or getting bitten by a dog: it happens to some people every day, but we always hope that it won’t happen to us. In three or four days, most of us will have forgotten the deadliest shooting in the US since Sandy Hook. In two weeks, many of us will no longer be able to recall that San Bernardino is in California or what a “long gun” is. In two months, this entire incident will be wiped from our memories, most likely replaced by a dozen other incidents just like it. Families will grieve and communities will rebuild, but nothing will change. Individuals on the TSA’s no-fly list will still be able to legally purchase a firearm. There will continue to be almost no training required if you want to own a dangerous weapon. Guns designed for use in Middle Eastern war zones will continue to exist on city streets, wielded by people who endured minimal background checks before getting their hands on them.
My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims in San Bernardino, just as they have been with the families of the victims of every mass shooting I hear about. If only the thoughts of our politicians and those of the American gun nuts were with them too, maybe there’d be a light at the end of the tunnel instead of a bullet at the end of a barrel.
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