By Mary Summerbell
Again. And again. And again. With ever-increasing frequency, comes news of yet another mass shooting. Parkland, Florida now the latest location added to the sickening, ever-lengthening list of places in the United States associated with gun violence. There, on Valentine’s Day, a 19 year old former student, with a legally purchased AR-15, killed seventeen students and teachers, injured fifteen, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School joined Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook in the especially abhorrent category of “Worst American School Shootings.”
Looking online, I am amazed and dismayed at the sheer bulk of information on gun violence in this country. Many sites filled with data – pages and pages and pages of history and statistics, charts and facts, on shootings – dating back to the late 1800’s. Overwhelming to process, mentally and emotionally. Incidents are classified by date, location, number of deaths and injuries, type of weapon(s), shooter profiles, police intervention…..Quite a detailed education. But short on explanations. Not too helpful if what we’re looking for are ways to stop it.
I wonder – How many people in this country have had direct experience of gun violence? What percent? How many individuals affected? How many families? Churches? Schools? Workplaces? Can we calculate, even estimate, the true cost of all these shootings on our communities? On our country? On our culture? How do we count, or weigh, or measure this? It’s difficult to imagine the impact of even one person’s life lost to any kind of violence, much less the ripple effects of so many. Especially the children. Especially the students. To me, right now, all the facts add up to just one world of grief and pain for so many, many people. And it’s fresh, again, and deep, the suffering, with this most recent incident.
After such a tragedy, in the grip of rampant, raw emotions, people react – looking for reasons, seeking meaning in an experience that is both inexplicable and inexpressible. In a world governed by cause and effect, we expect logic. We seek reasonable explanations for what is fundamentally unreasonable. We wrestle with unanswerable questions. As we look for who, for what is responsible for horrific events, it’s easy to blame – to say who failed, and how, and why. To look, with hindsight, at the other guy and say, “You should have known. You should have done this, or that.” In the aftermath, there are clues, there is clear is evidence that can lead to possibilities for better protection and prevention, if that is what we really want.
But do we? It’s happened so many times. What’s keeping us from changing? What are the obstacles?
It’s complicated. There are so many factors, and so many factions in America, that it’s difficult to even begin a national discussion on gun safety. People have gone to such extremes in their thinking, in their beliefs, in their feelings – ranging from no guns at all to unrestricted open carry. What middle ground is there on which to meet? I would think that no one wants students to be shot at school, but as they keep dying, some still fight for individual gun rights over community safety. What makes them cling to their guns so tightly, treasuring them more than the lives of our children? In some convoluted way do they see more guns making us safer?
This country is unique in its gun issues. With 5% of the world population, The United States has 31% of all mass shootings. Why? Is there something deep in our American psyche blocking our progress in the most basic human right to be safe? Maybe our ideal self-image of “rugged individualism.” Our cowboy mentality. Our resistance to government control. This country was born of rebellion in a violent fight for freedom from Great Britain. We paid a bloody price for our independence. And we continue to fight. The United States has been at war for 93% of its history. Yes, we are rebels. But is that our national identity? Do we need guns, need violence to be who we are? Do we see gun rights as the final bastion of independence?
About 30% of Americans own guns. Less than 20% of gun owners are members of the National Rifle Association. Over the past twenty years the NRA has claimed membership between three and five million, but no outside source is ever allowed to verify any of their information. According to various polls, 78 to 90% of NRA members are in favor of increased gun regulations. The NRA was our first civil rights organization – started after the Civil War to teach gun “marksmanship.” Since then it has morphed into a politically active branch of the firearms industry, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in U.S. history. Looking at all this, the math doesn’t seem to add up. It looks to me like a very aggressive minority is overriding the will of the majority in this country. I may be naive, but I don’t understand why the National Rifle Association reigns over us. We are allowing it to hijack our government. Why? What are we so afraid of?
There’s another way the math doesn’t add up for me. Violence is expensive. It takes a lot of money – much of it tax dollars – to respond to and process a mass shooting. First responders – police, F.B.I., medical personal must all be paid for thousands of hours of work. Counselors, psychiatrists and psychologists help with grief and post-traumatic stress. There is crime clean up and detective work. And the judicial system – jailers, lawyers, judges – years of investigation and litigation. It costs money to tear down buildings and make parks where they used to be. All this, not even considering the cost of human life and injuries. There are lifetimes of payment for such violent crimes.
So – have we finally, really, had enough? Is this the tipping point? Are we at a collective critical mass? There are signs that we might be. If the reactions of the students of Parkland, and other young people across the country, are any indication of things to come, we might be ready for safer ways to live our lives. I think it’s pathetic that children must become their own advocates because grown-ups don’t protect them. But I’ll take good sense from whoever has it. At first I thought their motto #Never Again was too idealistic – an unattainable goal. But, hey, it’s more realistic than kids repeatedly killed in school. And if it can rally rebellion against current stupidity, I’m all for it.
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
— Helen Keller