Our hearts bend, but are they broken? We are saddened, but are we now also hopeless? On Friday, another American community, this time an Oregon community college, was terrorized by senseless violence as a man shot and killed nine people. This terror of guns and cultural violence now seems normalized. As the Washington Post notes, not a single calendar week has gone by in President Obama’s second term without a mass shooting in which four or more people are shot. We need to pick up the pieces and start a conversation that compels us to do better even as we feel resigned to the political status quo.
Last week, we wrote about the difficulty of intra-community conversations about the hardest socio-political ills on campus. After another mass shooting, we are reminded that this is not just a campus failure, but a societal one. In our stubbornness, pro-gun control and pro-gun freedom groups are prone to talking past each other, to selecting statistics that match their beliefs and to hijacking, or worse, giving up on dialogue.
This is a process failure of society and politics which is fixable in part by recognizing the psychological failure that occurs after gun tragedy. Obama, compelled to frankness by Friday’s tragedy, pointed to it when he called on news organizations to “tally up the number of Americans who have been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who have been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports.” He is asking why the not-to-be diminished pain of terrorism has translated into such an expenditure of our country’s resources and willpower when the terror of guns, which impacts many thousands more American citizens according to Vox, has not. In fact, gun violence seems to actually perpetuate polarization along a plainly false liberal-conservative dichotomy of the sanctity of individual rights versus prevention of tragedy.
Yesterday, we could only grieve. Today, we can only ask questions. But tomorrow, we must try to find answers. Forgetting this seems to be our most prescient failure: Gun control is, as the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik reminds us, “not a panacea, any more than penicillin was,” but it “will eliminate gun massacres in America as surely as antibiotics eliminate bacterial infections.” How can we ever settle for these tragedies with gun control left as an untouchable third rail? Understanding the different legal precedents in other countries and the absurd power of the gun lobby in America, we look to what other countries have done as reported by the New York Times on Friday. In Australia, national outcry and a difficult legislative process resulted in a successful country-wide gun-buyback program and a one-time tax on citizens.
The continued blocking of solutions in the United States has become rationalization for giving up on conversations that could help chip away at the problem. We are a generation of college students, who have come of age witnessing college shooting after college shooting. This normalization seems to be our most dangerous and yet probable disposition. Just because the process seems intractable and just because there exists no singular or politically easy solution does not mean we should not keep pushing closer to one. Today we have talked about gun control and the intense frustration therein. In tomorrow’s editorial, we will address the national media’s coverage of shootings and how society processes the narratives of these tragedies.