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A Millennial Vision for Comprehensive Gun Control Reform

Friday, January 4, 2013

Horror. Outrage. Grief.

Rinse. Repeat.

With Friday came yet another shockingly fatal mass killing spree, in which the nation found themselves burying 27 innocent, brave individuals, the great majority of whom were children ages 6 to 7.  But I need not retell the tale for you, or dissect the details, for the 24-7 media certainly has already done the deed.

We ask ourselves why, and in our human, desperate need for answers, we blame the mentally ill, or even the mother of the gunman. We send news cameras to knock on the door of grieving parents, plaster photos of crying children on the front page, and parcel out tragedy for the plates of politician’s careers. We point at a ‘broken’ health care system, and toss the blame onto the NRA.

But rarely do we look in the mirror. Rarely do we turn to each other and say “Since when did we accept gun violence as status quo in this country?” We grieve the well-publicized mass killing sprees, but ignore the daily obituaries in the cities and town newspapers, be it a child at the wrong place at the wrong time, an accidental discharge, or escalated gang warfare. It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it, to challenge something systemic rather than to blame an individual. Wouldn’t it be easier to shake our heads, lock our doors, and say “Well at least it didn’t happen here”?

I would say that each is a tragedy—each killing spree, each stray bullet in Baltimore, and each homicidal corner-store robbery. But I can’t, because not too long ago, a teacher told me tragedies are something unpreventable, something terrible that happened despite all the good safety nets. Gun violence in America isn’t a tragedy, it’s a failure in which human fear and isolation eroded away at community and optimism. In a fundamental way, we must recognize more guns don’t lead to better self-protection—it leads to more gun violence. A senior editor at the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates, noted that in the current cultural dialogue regarding violence, “the freedom of gun-owners threatens the freedom and security of every American”.

Protecting communities from gun violence proliferation doesn’t make us less American—it makes us more American.

This isn’t about the government trying to take away our guns, nor is this about a conservative movement trying to exercise power. This is about whether or not we will collectively make the decision to protect our privilege to bear military-grade weaponry, or to protect the freedom of our children to laugh and play in schools. A myopic and misled reaction—such as arming volunteers to work in schools, around crowded masses of chaotic children, will only lead to more lives cut short by bullets, by accident or by intent.

Instead, let us address the fundamental underlying issues: there is no need for assault weapons, designed only to the murder of human beings, in our gun stores; there is a critical need to readdress the loopholes in current gun regulation laws; and there will need to be an uncomfortable, but honest, dialogue regarding the culture of gun violence underpinning every preventable death, from the streets of Philadelphia to the hallways of Sandy Hook. 

Journalists will report ceaselessly over the upcoming months on the congressional negotiations and the Obama administration’s task force, but I, instead, will turn to my neighbors and friends. Don’t give up on your own communities. Don’t stop listening to the needs of your neighbors. Don’t accept the daily obituaries. Don’t let Sandy Hook sow seeds of suspicion in your child’s mind. Don’t seek violence to protect against violence.

We have a choice—do we continue plodding onwards with the status quo, accepting that a few families must bury their children in order to protect our gun privileges? Or do we turn to our neighbors, stretch out a hand, and recognize that the strength of community trust is greater than the weakness of individual fear?