The current gun control discussion is like a whirlpool made of quicksand — we are trapped, immobilized and being drawn closer and closer to a darkened vortex of an uncertain swirling center that threatens to swallow us whole. I feel this each time I read or see reports of some type of mass casualty shooting or an act of violence that takes place at a school or “safe zone”.
A week following the shooting at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon an altercation at another college in Arizona resulted in a gun being drawn and individuals being shot. I work at a community college and both incidents left many faculty and staff I spoke with concerned for their safety. Some joked, some grew pensive when thinking about disgruntled students they’d recently encountered, and just about all had security questions wondering why it was we voted last year not to arm our campus police.
When events such as these occur we often default to the same stale arguments either for or against. We should be mindful when discussing guns, gun violence and the recent spate of mass shootings. This is a complex topic with multiple moving parts. To fully and coherently examine the inter-relationship between all of the factors that intersect with respect to these numerous incidents — guns, violence, media, mental health — we need to foster productive dialogues rather than propping up stale rhetoric.
The solution may not be more restrictions and fewer guns, or more guns and fewer restrictions, or addressing the role of mental illness, or discouraging media coverage that sensationalizes these violent tragedies.
I don’t know what the solution might be. What I do know is that since the Columbine shooting we have done little as a society aside from sit horrified and dumbstruck each time these things occur. In fact, we consistently return to the Columbine shooting as a point of reference whenever we have a mass casualty shooting in a “safe zone” and the discussion revolves without evolving.
Unless our public discourse makes a sharper turn towards civility and away from venom laced posturing we will never begin to come minutely close to any recognizable apprehension of the issue. And without apprehending the complexity of the circumstances which breed these incidents of gun violence we can never fully address their actual causes. It’s like prescribing an inappropriate treatment for an illness — sure the anti-biotic will lessen our symptoms, but without appropriately treating the underlying disease we will never be “cured”.
America must grapple with our legacy of violence, a violence we’ve embraced since the beginning of our establishment. We must also acknowledge that our tendency to fetishize the gun reveals our insecurities revolving around power, authority and property — someone might take our stuff, threaten our lives, or curtail our liberty. This insecurity, in my opinion, is the psychological result of a nation built through the mechanisms of genocide, enslavement and pillaging — we took the lives, liberty and property of others as we built this place and that has left a deep and searing mark. As a people, we are loath to acknowledge these darker historical aspects and as such we default instead to a unrealistic and patriotically fueled identity rooted in American mythology. Myths, at their heart, are nothing more than self-indulgent reflections of cultural vanity.
I believe that these insecurities have rendered us culturally incapable of addressing the complex web of issues which lead to some of these mass shooting incidents. For us to continually bluster and posture can’t possibly work out for us in the long run.
We must collectively decide that too many children, young adults and adults have lost their lives needlessly.
We must decide that this is unacceptable in any form.
We must take a roll call of the dead as a result of gun violence — all of them, everywhere — and honor them.
Otherwise we are expressing nothing more than our own cultural vanity. By doing nothing we are demonstrating what matters most to us– some blurred, nostalgic cultural self-image.
How we see ourselves may not truly express who we are as a people. It’s time for us to re-consider that because I for one am tired of this pattern. We are beginning to sound like a scratched and broken record skipping during the chorus of our favorite song. And that gets real old, real fast.