The independent news organization of Duke University

An Americana death

Last weekend it took a single gunman the span of only nine to eleven minutes to carry out one of the nation’s deadliest mass shooting to date. In the wake of that horrifying tragedy, the country is mourning the 59 lives who were senselessly lost. Politicians and community leaders have called, like always, for comforting one another in the midst of collective grief and to stand unified against terror and carnage. However, in the days coming, it is crucial to reflect critically on the circumstances that allowed Stephen Paddock to massacre dozens of people so quickly from a hotel room. This incident is yet another tragedy that emphasizes the urgency to evaluate America’s history of bloodshed and gun violence. In addition to the immediate actions of donating blood and sending prayers to the families of victims, there needs to be a longer term plan for the future centered on policy, action and prevention. The American people can’t afford to continue accepting the narrative that these acts are unpreventable consequences of one troubled individual and that gun control is not a factor in the solution.

A routine has been established for how the aftermath of something like this plays out in the media. News reports in the days following the shooting attempt to examine the character of the gunman. According to the Washington Post and ABC News, Stephen Paddock was a gambler who lived a quiet life and had a “deteriorating mental state.”  These descriptions echo the “lone wolf” persona that is immediately ascribed to many other white, male shooters. Moreover, just as the headlines on terror feel exhaustingly repetitive, responses to these shootings appear to be stagnant as well. Each time, the shooter is closely analyzed and psychologically picked apart on television, as an astounded public inevitably asks themselves again why this is happening. The United States is long overdue for a crucial moment of recognition that these deadly trends are not only a home-grown problem, but also that they aren’t going away without legislative action. 

The more complex elements of America’s gun problem centers around violent white masculinity. Statistically, most of these shootings are committed by white men and this data mirrors greater issues that exist within a system that creates a political and social dynamic that incubates and fosters white violence. As much as conservative commentators want to deflect to crime in black or Latinx communities or perpetuate the disgustingly racist narrative of Muslim terrorists being at the heart of public violence, whiteness lies at the center of these tragedies almost every time. There are also more tangible and concrete issues, like the ease of access to the weapons that Stephen Paddock used, that play a large role in the frequency of these devastating attacks. There must be no further hesitation to call these atrocities acts of terror and to demand policy implementation.

There are a disturbing number of Americans who are so blinded by distorted illusions of nationalism and patriotism that they believe that being able to buy military grade weaponry with high capacity magazines is a core staple of their freedom. Many have stood by this belief even in the wake of children being massacred. Some, like television host Bill O’Reilly, have even been so bold as to call these senseless nightmares the price of our belief in freedom. However, with countless videos of innocent people scrambling and fleeing for their lives circulating, the public can’t help but ask if the price is too high. What the United States needs is gun reform that doesn’t target poor and minority communities or increase the already rampant militarization of the police; reform that addresses the immediate issue of access and opens the door for continued improvement in the future. And, it needs to happen now. The country can’t withstand sacrificing dozens more lives in the next massacre in hopes that it will finally be the tragedy to change the minds of politicians. 


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