Commemoration Through Action: What to Learn From Another School Shooting
Like many Americans, I am terrified I’ll be the victim of a mass shooting. In movie theaters, I think of the 12 Batman fans who died in Aurora, Colorado. In classrooms, I think of the 20 first-graders who perished in Sandy Hook Elementary School. At concerts, I think of the 58 country music lovers who were killed at a festival in Las Vegas. These anxieties are experienced by countless Americans across the country who feel defenseless in their own cities and communities. America has become a warzone, and our enemy lurks behind every corner.
Gun violence has become so prevalent in America that the school shooting which claimed the lives of 17 teenagers and educators on Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Florida shocked no one. We’ve become so accustomed to the shootings that many of us feel numb to the pain. How many innocents can we mourn and how many children can we bury before we break? We dread the mass shootings, but we’ve come to expect them. We know it’s only a matter of time before another murderer lets loose on innocent civilians, but we can’t pinpoint exactly when it will transpire. We live in the land of the free, but how free are we really if we’re constantly frightened of being mowed down by an AR-15? Gun violence has become a plague of pandemic proportions, and 89% of Americans (both Republican and Democrat alike) believe in common sense gun laws. So, why is it that nothing is being done to address this growing problem?
The statistics for gun related deaths in the United States are mind-blowing. America, ranking 30th in math and 19th in science out of the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, can pride itself on being number one in something – gun-related homicides. The United States has more guns per capita than any other developed nation (approximately 300 million guns in total), and, even though we make up less than 5% of the world’s population, 31% of mass shooters globally, live here.
Since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 (which claimed 13 lives), there have been 25 fatal school shootings in the US, with dozens of others attempted since then. It seems like wherever you go in the United States, it is impossible to hide from gunmen with access to legally obtained assault rifles. Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old Parkland, Florida shooter, was fascinated by guns, and when he turned 18, he purchased an AR-15 at a local gun shop. Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter who viciously slayed 58 concert-goers, purchased 33 guns legally in the year before his shooting, many of which were semi-automatic assault rifles upgraded with bump stocks. Omar Mateen, who murdered 49 clubbers in Orlando, bought his handgun and semi-automatic assault rifle legally from a gun shop, even passing their version of a background check. All these weapons of combat were obtained through legal means, even though their sole purpose is to slaughter.
Unlike the bullets of regular handguns, the bullets of AR-15s tear through the human body, leaving the victim battered internally. Assault rifles are designed to inflict as much damage as possible, and are beneficial for warzones. Instead of on a battlefield, they are on our streets, easily accessible to terrorists, white supremacists, and the mentally ill. The US government has an obligation to protect its citizens, granting us the fundamental rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” But, are they granting us those rights when life is taken from hundreds by legal weapons? Is our liberty being upheld if we are restricted by fear and dread? Can we pursue happiness if those we love are being murdered in schools, concert halls, and theaters?
The most common argument utilized by conservatives is that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Obviously, the individual wields the gun and shoots the weapon – so yes, people do kill people. But dangerous people can carry out dangerous actions only if they have access to dangerous weapons. A man with a knife will not have as many victims as a man with a gun, especially when that gun can shoot 24 shots in 9 seconds (98 shots in 7 seconds with a bump stock). In the United States, empirical data gathered by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center have found that states with easier access to guns have more shootings, while states with stricter gun laws have fewer shootings. Fewer guns in a community will lead to fewer homicides and suicides, as suicides tend to account for most of the gun-related deaths in America. States with more guns tend to have more police officers being shot as well.
The NRA is the reason Republican politicians oppose combatting this problem. The National Rifle Association is one of the most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill, spending $3 million a year to ensure that Republican policymakers do not enact any laws which would restrict the selling of guns (all kinds of guns to all kinds of people). The NRA prides itself on being the protector of the Second Amendment – putting the freedom to own a lethal weapon over the lives of gun violence victims across the country. The NRA opposes blocking the mentally ill or those on the no-fly list from purchasing a weapon, and they advocate strongly for Americans’ rights to own semi-automatics. Eighty-nine percent of Americans agree that those with mental health issues should be blocked from purchasing a gun, while 83% believe those on the no-fly list should be barred from buying guns. Ninety percent of Democrats and 77% of Republicans believe there should be background checks for gun purchases, and 80% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans believe that assault style weapons should be banned. However, Republican policymakers are not acting in the interest of their gun-loving constituents. Instead, they’re acting in the interest of the NRA, whose only goal is to sell more guns to more people, regardless of the consequences.
Following each school shooting, Democrats rise and rally for gun control, while Republicans send their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims, accusing Democrats of politicizing tragedy. But if this tragedy is not politicized, it will only happen again. Republican lawmakers’ “thoughts and prayers” are accompanied by their claims that guns are not the problem – even though all empirical evidence refutes that. Republicans have been opposed to funding CDC research into gun violence, and even instituting common sense gun laws like banning bump stocks and certain at-risk individuals from purchasing weapons.
Marco Rubio has said that before we jump to conclusions about guns and their relation to school shootings, we should check the facts. Well, I have checked them, and the fact is that Rubio has been the beneficiary of $3,303,355 NRA campaign contributions.
President Trump made an emotional speech regarding mental illness and his efforts to help students suffering from mental illness after the February 14 Parkland shooting, but did not mention guns. Last February, Trump scrapped an Obama-era regulation which would ban those with mental health issues from purchasing guns. Maybe this is because the NRA spent more than $30 million to support Trump in the 2016 election. Some of the other top NRA beneficiaries are Senator John McCain - $7,740,521; Senator Richard Burr - $6,986,620; and Senator Roy Blunt - $4,551,140. After each mass shooting, these senators will send their condolences, but condolences are not enough. How many condolences can you send before saving lives becomes the priority?
If the NRA continues to control Republican lawmakers, no effective action will be possible. We will continue facing the repercussions of those with access to weapons of warfare. We will continue burying our dead and holding our vigils to commemorate them. But I am sick of crying, I am sick of fear, and most importantly, I am sick of my representatives doing nothing while innocent people die on our streets.