The insidious illness of mass shootings
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, April 1, 2021
“10 killed in supermarket shooting in Boulder, Colorado”
I read those words and thought, heart sinking, about the terror, about people trying to get messages to their loved ones as the shots went off. Or maybe they were just trying to get somewhere safe, hoping that if they could put enough distance between themselves and the chaos they would live to see another day. I thought about all of this … and kept scrolling. Instantly, I was disgusted with myself, and so frustrated. Every time I refer to one of these tragedies as “another mass shooting,” every time I feel numb instead of angry or scared, I am complicit. I am complicit in the societal attitudes that allow things to remain as they are despite indications that something is seriously wrong.
We have been preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, understandably so, but we have forgotten that there are other epidemics in this country that isolate us, that are dangerous. Gun violence, and specifically mass shootings, are an insidious illness that has invaded our society, and uniquely affected our generation. No other generation has needed active shooter drills with teachers trying to explain to students the importance of staying behind sightlines so they do not get shot.
According to Gun Violence Archive, an independent, not-for-profit organization that compiles homicide and suicide statistics across the United States, 10,222 people have died from gun violence SO FAR THIS YEAR. A group of people the size of the undergraduate student population of our tri-campus community have bled out from gunshot wounds since New Year’s Day.
What can we do? Did I say a prayer for the people who died and for their families? Of course. But my prayers will not take their pain away. Nothing I can do, nothing anyone can do, will change the fact that these human beings were ripped from their families. They did not die after a long and fulfilling life. They died screaming. We failed them. We failed the eight people who were massacred in Atlanta on March 16. We failed those who were murdered at Columbine High School; at Sandy Hook Elementary School; at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; at the Route 91 music festival in Las Vegas and at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. We, as a society, failed to act. If we fail to have hard conversations, to demand different legislation, to demand different societal messages, to demand more mental health resources and continue to scroll instead of dealing with this, more will die.
I know that people have different views on the Second Amendment, but that’s not relevant here. We all have the right to free speech, but none of us have the right to yell “fire” in a crowded place if there isn’t a fire. Our right to free speech does not supersede anyone else’s right to safety. Similarly, gun safety is not about anyone’s right to own a gun; it is about everyone’s right to be safe. I have yet to meet someone who does not support common-sense gun laws. Everyone I have spoken with feels that stronger background checks, including checks through a national domestic abuse database, should be necessary in every state. Gun owners and non-gun owners alike support requiring background checks for every purchase, including private sales.
Every time there is a shooting, people go over and over the situation trying to determine what preventive measures could have been taken. Every time, they ask if mental health resources and red flag laws, which allow courts to temporarily remove guns from people who pose a risk to themselves and others, could have prevented the injuries and deaths. If we feel that these straightforward preventive measures could save lives, why aren’t they in place?
The epidemic of gun violence has been approached from different angles, which is a good thing. We have to keep the conversations going. If you are concerned about mental health resources in schools, ask people about their experiences. If you are concerned about how disconnected we are becoming from each other, reach out to someone who might need to talk. Those of you who are horrified by this violence in our society, use that horror to connect, on some level, to those who died. Refuse to be numbed by the sheer amount of senseless massacres, hold on to your fear, sadness and anger. Let these emotions remind you that members of our communities were taken from us, that we as a society are being affected.
My sister texted me this morning. One of her classmates was shot and killed over the weekend. Another day has gone by without anything changing and the bodies are continuing to pile up. Another family is making plans to use their child’s college fund for his funeral. We can’t fail to act any longer.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.