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Under a dark cloud

| Wednesday, October 14, 2015

After every mass shooting, our nation is covered in a shroud of darkness. President Obama and other government officials address the nation offering thoughts and prayers to the families affected. The media covers the stories of these mass killings in depth, providing anecdotes that form emotional connections between readers and survivors who will never meet. Fear grips the hearts of citizens across the country.

Politicians, researchers and other experts are quick to analyze the reasons why these tragedies occur. They often point fingers towards loopholes in gun control laws and mental illness. They conduct studies and talk endlessly about how our country has once again failed to keep its citizens safe.

It is time to change the conversation. We have spent far too long going around and around in circles, endlessly debating the ways in which American society has gone wrong when it comes to preventing senseless acts of violence. We need to start talking about what is working, whether in our own communities or abroad, and let that inform our discussion.

In their book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath discuss how important it is to look for the bright spots — those people and methods that are effective and successful amongst the larger population that seems to be struggling.

They discuss the example of an organization called Save the Children, which was tasked with finding ways to fight malnutrition in Vietnam. This is no small task. World hunger is not exactly a new problem, and people have worked towards trying to end it for years.

Instead of adding to the body of preexisting research on malnutrition, the leaders of the organization chose instead to focus on the children who weren’t malnourished and consider what their mothers were doing right. After finding that adding accessible items like sweet potato greens to children’s diets could vastly improve their health, they set about implementing those practices among the rest of the villagers.

Although my summary of that case study is oversimplified, we can glean some meaning from the way Save the Children was able to find a solution to a problem that initially seemed hopeless. We often spend so much of our time devoted to the details of issues but rarely focus instead on what is going right.

We need to start looking for the bright spots that shine through the gloomy cloud of gun violence. It is time to realize that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that we should be chasing it rather than running backwards into the darkness.

More of our time and resources should be spent searching for successful efforts worth emulating. The focus of the gun control debate occasionally shifts this way but does not always result in extensive research or solid proposals.

Perhaps we should start by seeking out communities in which there are lower rates of gun violence. The Onion’s recurring headline “‘No Way To Prevent This’ Says Only Nation Where This Happens Regularly” has ceased to be satirical, and has instead, become deserving of serious considering. Other nations have found ways to limit gun deaths. Let’s research what sets them apart and what makes them a worthy example of how to eradicate the widespread fear and pervasive violence due to guns.

Maybe we should take an evidence-based public health approach, as suggested by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. We have effectively prevented thousands of other deaths by applying the principles of public health to cigarettes and swimming pools. Who is to say that we cannot find a way to accomplish something similar with guns?

Any solution will require the work of experts across many different disciplines. It certainly will not materialize overnight. But we can start by changing the conversation surrounding gun violence. Let’s stop analyzing the minute details of every mass shooting and instead turn our attention to what other people and communities are doing right. It is time to admit that we have failed and look to others to guide us on the path forward.

There are times when the dark cloud is appropriate. Every year, we lose 33,000 lives to gun violence in our country. Not every day is full of sunshine. However, we must start to challenge our acceptance of the omnipresent cloud of gun violence. The bright spots truly are out there; we just need to start looking.

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

About Elizabeth Hascher

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