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Change hearts first, laws later

| Monday, October 12, 2015

Last week’s shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon that left ten dead, including the shooter, was yet another act of senseless violence that rocked our society. Conversations abound after tragedies such as these, often politicizing what occurred in order to call for change and reform.

Sadly, these opinions and idealistic wishes seem to get lost in the cacophony of our political discourse. When applying for this columnist position over the summer, I wrote about the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, that left nine innocent people dead June 17. Barely a month later, a gunman opened fire at two military centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing four. Many other acts of mindless violence also occurred before and after the aforementioned events. In fact, as a recent Washington Post headline informed, “So far in 2015, we’ve had 274 days and 294 mass shootings.”

The Charleston shooting commanded much media attention and occupied center stage in political debates. However, it only led to one tangible reform: the banning of the Confederate flag. Thought by some to be a symbol of past evil in the slave south, and a historical relic by others, the Confederate flag suddenly became the focus of the Charleston shooting and an emblem for the shooter’s motives.

Yet, the banning of the Confederate flag did nothing to stop the later shootings that occurred in Tennessee, Oregon and many other cities, nor did it pledge to do so. Its removal may have prompted temporary feelings of satisfaction for some, but in the long run it was an inconsequential response to the violence that so often plagues our society. An analogy can be drawn between the banning of the Confederate flag and the discourse that so often follows gun violence in the United States.

Some politicians, activists and media members call for a reduction of guns in general or a revision of the process by which they may be obtained. Others advocate for more guns, suggesting that more armed individuals will enable the takedown of shooters intending harm. Like the removal of the Confederate flag, these two opposing opinions inspire temporary feelings of gratification for individuals supporting each side. Then, like clockwork, the arguments fade away until the next tragedy occurs, after which they resurface with all their apparent potency.

I do not know whether more guns or fewer guns will lead to a reduction in the number of senseless acts of violence. There are powerful and passionate arguments that support both sides. Yet, it seems like both of these solutions fail to confront the issue that underlies all of the gun crimes of the last several decades.

Mass shootings, from Columbine in 1999 to last week’s, have all been motivated by hatred. Some have been directed toward particular groups of people, while others seek simply to cause harm and inspire fear.

Hatred, and the cultural crisis that breeds it, is a more intractable problem than the proliferation of guns. Targeting the root causes of enmity is something on which even the most opposing sides of the political spectrum can agree. Possible causes of hatred abound, but in nearly all recent instances of publicized violence, families and friends of the shooter have stated after the fact that he or she was “troubled” or “alone.”

What if we could begin to realize before tragedies occur that a person is so unhappy or isolated that they might harm dozens of people and themselves? Albeit difficult to accomplish, recognitions like these could be the first step in reducing violence. What if reducing acts of hatred lies first within the changing of hearts, not the changing of laws?

Governor of Ohio and presidential candidate John Kasich summed up this idea beautifully in the first GOP debate when he called on the American people to “reach out to people who live in the shadows.” Though Kasich was speaking about immigrants, his point is clear. Marginalized individuals need the support system that a caring community or devoted friend can provide.

Hatred in all forms is the true enemy, and those inspired by it will continue to cause harm with any means they choose. Addressing its root causes by reaching out to those whom we see are in pain or alone is a step that we can all take much sooner than consensus can be reached in Washington.

Society can, and should, look to itself first, and the law second in order to recognize hatred before it manifests into violence.

Kate is a junior majoring in the program of liberal studies and minoring in philosophy, political science and economics. She hails from Pittsburgh and is a proud member of Breen-Phillips Hall. Contact her at khardima@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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