Well, here we are again: living in the wake of another deadly mass shooting in America. This time, it took place at a community college most people probably had never heard of but whose name will be forever linked to the senseless tragedy that took place there. The name Umpqua Community College has joined Columbine High School; University of Texas Tower; Fort Hood; Century Aurora 16 Theater in Colorado; Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina; Virginia Tech; Washington Navy Yard and Sandy Hook Elementary School as places nationally known for their mass shootings.
So, now it’s time to go through the steps in what has now become a routine after a shooting takes place:
Step 1: Shock and horror. Except, let’s face it – a little less than we felt the last time an event like this occurred. Americans are becoming desensitized to the idea of scores of innocent people being murdered in a matter of hours. It’s become just another very sad event in the news.
Step 2: Addiction to media coverage of the event. We want to learn all of the facts. We want to know the name of the shooter, where he was from, what kind of person he was, what his neighbors thought of him, if he issued some sort of warning, how he did it, why he did it, his relationship with his parents, whether or not he had mental health issues – everything about him. The shooter’s face is plastered on every news channel, website and newspaper covering the story. For a brief period of time, this individual becomes a national celebrity.
Step 3: Thoughts and prayers. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – every social media website becomes saturated with the same message: “My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families.” Everyone is willing to dish out a handful of thoughts and a couple of prayers to the people affected by the tragedy. And for a few hours, it makes everyone not affected by the tragedy feel a little better.
Step 4: Calls for gun control. By far the briefest step in the aftermath routine, but one that always occurs. People all over the country make desperate pleas with the government to enact some sort of gun control policy that will prevent shootings like this from happening again. These requests for some sort of restriction on the purchase of firearms are always short-lived, and are never answered.
Step 5: Diverting the conversation from gun control. Before any real discussion about possible gun control strategies can happen, people begin throwing out any other reason imaginable that could have a role in causing a mass shooting. These topics include everything from mental health to violent video games – anything that seems like it may possibly have a tie to an individual’s decision to purchase a gun and use it to kill as many people as possible before using that gun to kill himself. Sometimes, the new issues brought up don’t even have to have anything to do with the shooting! You will hear on the news, “Why is the President talking about gun control when there are even more killings still happening in the Middle East?” These tactics are extremely effective in steering the conversation away from gun control because they are legitimate issues we should be talking about, but not necessarily hours after another mass shooting has taken place.
Step 6: Bizarre suggestions on how to solve the problem. This is where the conversation gets out of hand. Some of the ideas people have are based on such backwards logic that it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not they are a twisted form of satire. Basically, the overall theme of these suggestions is, “The solution to stopping gun violence is allowing more people to have guns.” This comes in a variety of forms. After the Sandy Hook shooting, a popular suggestion was to provide handguns to schoolteachers so that they could stop a potential shooter before the shooter could inflict damage. This policy would involve funneling possibly hundreds of guns into schools all over the country, where young students could potentially get their hands on them. After all, the gun would be sitting in their classroom all day every day, and would be relatively accessible if we expect the teacher to be able to get it out in time to stop the shooter. Another suggestion is to get rid of gun-free zones. The logic behind this is that to prevent mass shootings, we should allow more people to carry guns in more places. In this case, we are putting our faith in the idea that after a shooter has killed only a handful of people, one brave vigilante will be at the right place at the right time equipped with the awareness, bravery and skill necessary to put an end to the killing streak.
People tend to make the argument, “Why have gun control policy? Criminals will always find a way to get around them and get access to guns.” An argument based on similar logic could be: “Why have laws? Criminals will just break them anyway.” America has rules and regulations for countless health and safety issues, from seatbelts to soda. But for some reason these type of rules are never applied to firearms. Polls show that for decades, a majority of Americans have been in favor of increased gun control, but their wishes never come to fruition. Gun owners and National Rifle Association lobbyists have always been able to prevent any real gun control legislation from passing – legislation that would prevent shootings like the one in Oregon and save lives. Why is this the case? There has not been a serious-enough conversation about how we, as a country, can better regulate who possesses a deadly weapon.
Mental health and violence in the Middle East are important issues, but they should not be used as a diversion in the aftermath of a national tragedy. This belittles them and does nothing to solve the problem at hand. There are policies that could make gun ownership safer for all Americans without infringing on the rights of people who want to own guns for hunting or basic self-defense purposes. Background checks, regulations on automatic and semi-automatic weapons, control of the number of rounds of ammunition an individual is allowed to purchase: These are simple measures that would not cause significant change, but could save lives. And the first step in enacting these policies is to talk about how we can educate the public on their potential benefits, and the process of turning them into laws.
Please, let’s talk about gun control.
David Hourin ’17 is an English and political science double major from Austin, Texas. He lives in Williams Hall.