I won’t start with aggregate statistics, names of shooters and victims or a shocking anecdote describing my near-death experience face to face with a gun barrel. (I’m lucky enough to not have such a story.)
America has a problem, but gun control is not the only answer.
It’s always intrigued me what the national media turns to after a devastating shooting incident. For Virginia Tech, Aurora and Newtown, it was all the same — we watch worthless political theater typically involving the president, National Rifle Association, congressional representatives and countless advocates bickering over restrictions on access to guns.
Then a kind of great awakening occurs, and a piece or two focusing on other problems that feed this type of incident will make a guest appearance. In Newtown’s case, an essay by a mother of four children with special needs, entitled “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” described the urgent need for greater awareness of mental illness and went viral for a day or two via social networking sites. Then it disappeared into oblivion. The rhetoric of our media turned back to calls for tighter gun control, and we’ve heard nothing else since.
I do not hazard to propose that the open availability of guns in America does not contribute to the occurrence of mass killings like the ones we’ve witnessed time and time again. Easy access can lead to a culture that trivializes the danger guns carry. I get that. However, this narrative only paints a fragmented picture for us.
Gun violence and shootings are not simply products of lenient accessibility to guns. As tragedy after tragedy has taught us, the perpetrators of mass shootings tend to be mentally unwell. Throughout the country, economically and socially disadvantaged towns and cities breed higher gun violence rates than elsewhere. Our mass media, from TV shows to movies to blockbuster video games, have desensitized a generation of young Americans to horrific potential of guns — causing them to forget the respect that guns once carried and still require. America has always had a gun culture, but merely targeting gun control is not the approach we should be taking in our pursuit to prevent similar tragedies from occurring.
After all, cultures have a way of sticking around after the laws that perpetuated them are long gone — clearly, neither racism nor discrimination were fully remedied by the abolishment of slavery. It’s not too hard to envision an enlargement of an already burgeoning black market for firearms that becomes a by-product of laws to restrict legal gun sales. If illegal drugs, which were never legal in the first place, can cultivate such a perverse culture, why would the same not hold true for guns after centuries of being freely available? Black markets have fueled wars and further violence, which would make the entire endeavor counterproductive and ironically tragic.
As our nation’s gun problems have spiraled into an uncontrollable vortex, it is you and I who have failed as we stood by and watched. We have neglected calls to reform the socio-economic problems that do much to spur gun violence on a day-to-day basis. We have turned a blind eye to mental health issues and failed to both identify and assist those who need guidance. We have focused all our energy on trying to reform laws that are so ingrained in our nation’s history and culture without considering the unintended consequences of doing so.
Perhaps what I’m suggesting here is too idealistic. Perhaps the reason why we only tend to call for gun control measures is because that’s the easiest solution, most likely to materialize above all else. Sure, interest groups and lobbying pose harsh obstacles to passing reform, but tackling more complicated social problems may be an even more daunting challenge. Some would say forcing cultural change is next to impossible, but when complacency becomes deadly, we must act.
Let’s stop focusing all our energy on clamoring for our lawmakers to do something. Laws and policy changes can only go so far; it’s we, the people, who have the power and responsibility to push for social reforms, in tandem with our gun control cries. This is a narrative the media has forgotten, but we cannot. It will certainly be harder than what we have been doing, but why not try?
Ike Lee is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .