Another day, another mass shooting, another cry for gun control, another example of Washington doing absolutely nothing but mouthing platitudes.
Sunday’s horrifying LGBTQIA hate crime at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and the utter inability (or disinclination) for our government to enact any kind of sensible, pervasive, and strict legislation in the face of the gun lobby that bribes, bullies, and subdues our Representatives, Senators, and President fills me with an inexpressible melancholy. People are dying. We do nothing.
Gun supporters will tell you that there are plenty of laws on the books that regulate guns. Gun supporters will tell you that it’s not the guns that kill people, it’s people who kill people. Gun supporters will tell you that there’s no way you can predict who will use a gun unlawfully, that the majority of gun owners are lawful citizens who would never think to kill anyone. Gun supporters will tell you that the Second Amendment provides for their lawful right to own, collect, brandish, and use weapons, and that anyone who wants additional gun laws are in fact impeding their Constitutional rights.
I’m not a Constitutional lawyer. I don’t know the ins-and-outs of law and the history behind it—and I recognize that it’s a complicated issue that harkens back to pre-Revolutionary times. So you might say, what right do I have to interpret the Constitution? I’ll tell you. The same right to interpret it as all the gun-addicted, death-and-violence-loving, NRA supporters have, who twist the Constitution to suit their purposes.
I can’t see how the Second Amendment (to wit: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”) which clearly refers to militia (which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as a “military force raised from the civilian population of a country or region, esp. to supplement a regular army in an emergency, freq. as distinguished from mercenaries or professional soldiers”) can possibly mean the average American citizen, sitting in his (or her) home, who is not a member of a military force (such as the police, the Army, or the National Guard) hired to defend the country.
I can understand about owning a gun for “personal protection” or owning a rifle for hunting, though I would not personally own a firearm for either purpose. I don’t understand why the average American citizen needs to buy a military-style AR-15 (or any other assault weapon that can shoot numerous, gratuitous rounds of ammunition in a matter of seconds), or why the average American citizen needs to build a personal arsenal. We are not expecting an imminent invasion from hostile forces. No country is declaring war on the United States; there is no expectation of conscription to fight invaders, and thus no need to hoard assault weapons. How can the average American citizen possibly justify owning one or more of these weapons for either personal protection or hunting purposes? What purpose can such a weapon serve, other than to kill mass quantities of human beings in as little time as possible? People are dying. We do nothing.
To me, the slavish, almost masturbatory desire for guns and violence, the veneration of violence as entertainment, the irrational fears propagated by right-wing radio and television personalities (and people who unquestioningly accept what these warmongers and fearmongers are peddling), the prison industrial complex mentality, and our culture’s toxic masculinity, are literally killing us.
We think the only way to protect ourselves is through deadly force; we don’t care about reason and diplomacy and compromise. We value property above human life, which is evident in so many states (23) adopting Stand Your Ground laws. We normalize active shooter training in daycares and college campuses (I attended one last week as part of a day of professional development in academic advising)—as if it’s ok that we have to teach children how to avoid getting shot right alongside teaching them reading, writing, and arithmetic. We listen to media organizations that constantly barrage us with a diet of threats and racist rhetoric, and so we begin to believe we really are under attack. We accept uncritically the language of these media and potential Presidents whose sole purpose is to make money and to accumulate power—they don’t care that they spew hate, misinformation, and racist ideologies. They don’t care that they whip people into a frenzy of fear, as long as they get a big fat check in the process. We don’t care that gun manufacturers come out every year with more powerful weapons that promise higher kill counts and sell them at gun shows…to the average American citizen. The deaths of human beings mean nothing to the gun industry and gun supporters. People are dying. We do nothing.
In the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting (where 20 children at an elementary school died, as well as six adults) which should have been, but wasn’t, a watershed moment to overcome our American anathema against enacting the fiercest gun restrictions yet, a 2013 article on CNN Money reported that a ban on assault weapons could impact Smith & Wesson stock shares by 40 cents a share. While Smith & Wesson expressed sadness at the deaths of these children, they nevertheless saw a spike in sales for assault weapons as gun enthusiasts purchased record numbers of these weapons merely on the threat of a ban; projected earnings for the company in 2013 was approximately $580M, by the way.
And it’s not just the gun manufacturers getting rich. According to a 2015 Fortune Magazine article tracking the political lobbying and campaign contributions spent by the National Rifle Association, the NRA spent over $30M in funding government officials and campaigns, and an additional nearly $20M to “candidates who tweeted ‘thoughts and prayers’ after the San Bernardino shooting.’ Our politicians welcome these contributions and consequently continue to stymie any efforts to make gun laws more restrictive. It’s quid pro quo. The Center for Responsible Politics reports that among federal candidates in 2014, the NRA directly pledged nearly $1M among the Republican and Democrat House and Senate members. Granted, the direct contributions are small, ranging from $250 to $9,900, but our government officials know what side their bread is buttered on. If the NRA is willing to support our lawmakers, lawmakers are unlikely to vote against NRA interests. It’s as simple as that.
Somewhere along the way, we decided that the lives of human beings were less important than our acquisition of money. Somewhere along the way we decided that the deaths of our fellow citizens was an acceptable tradeoff in order to “protect” our property. Somewhere along the way, we sacrificed the belief in a civil society to embrace the law of the jungle. Kill or be killed.
And as much as it seems like I am tossing the blame at our political leaders and the NRA, the fact is, there are still more of us who believe in restrictive gun control than who don’t—and if we collaborated en masse, through letter campaigns, through lobbying of our own, through marches, through activist means, through voting in third and fourth parties who are not beholden to Super PACs and gun lobbies, maybe we could put a stop to this gun addiction. People are dying.
But we do nothing. We are all complicit in the deaths at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at Sandy Hook, at San Bernardino, at Aurora, at Columbine—and all the other mass shootings. Good, law-abiding people are complicit. We have learned a kind of helplessness; we wring our hands and pray, but accept becoming inured to the horror of these daily mass shootings because it’s painful and wearying to think about them. We have adopted a worldview that says nothing we do can matter. That nothing we can do will change our cultural attitudes and beliefs. That nothing we can do can stop the killings. And so nothing changes.
But we have to combat that pessimism that keeps us immobilized. We have to believe that we can change things. We must. Americans are dying.
There have been five additional mass shootings since the massacre in Orlando—five. Five mass shootings since Sunday. Five. I can’t wrap my head around this. Can you? Five mass shootings in three days? This is not war-torn Fallujah. This is America. In toto (again, according to the Center for Responsible Politics), there have been 16 mass shootings, 69 deaths, and 100 injuries from guns in June 2016 alone—and the month is only half over! (Of course, this doesn’t even take into consideration any deaths by guns for “regular” property or drug-related crimes or things like domestic partner violence. I’m sure the June body count is much higher when you put all the gun deaths together.) In the face of these shootings, how do we sit back and do nothing? How do I?
My family’s safety and right to life is more important than anyone’s need to own a gun. Isn’t your family’s?
Write your Congressmen. Write the President. Tell them that the death of Americans by Americans with guns is not acceptable. Tell them the cost-benefit ratio is too high. Tell them the sacrifice is too much. Tell them to embrace stricter gun laws especially for assault weapons, and if they don’t, you’ll support candidates who do. This is not a Democrat/ Republican issue. This is an issue of basic human rights. Don’t we, as Americans, deserve to live, free from the persistent threat of imminent death when we go to nightclubs or daycares or movie theaters?
Writing letters not your thing? Then volunteer with or donate money to gun control advocacy groups (such as the member organizations of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence or groups like the Violence Policy Center and Everytown for Gun Safety). Don’t be complicit in the deaths of our fellow citizens any more. Don’t stand by any more.
Writing a letter to our government officials or volunteering a few hours with advocacy groups may not seem like much, but it’s a start, and I am doing it. We have to start somewhere. Americans are dying. We must, must, must do something.
Very well said, JC. Your reasoning, backed by a lot of evidence, should be enough to convince anyone. I’m dismayed by the number of people who are fanatically supporting their so-called right to bear arms. In colonial times, people owned a musket, but they certainly didn’t have access to cannon. We need to get rid of these semi-automatic guns. And in the meantime, as we insist in “active shooter” training, we need to teach empathy, compassion, mutual respect, and right ways to communicate.