The plague of mass shootings that’s seemingly defined this country’s recent history continues to cycle through a miserable frenzy of reactions. Tragedies are politicized. Thoughts and prayers are offered by some and rejected by others. Snarky solutions based on misinformation are proposed on Twitter — melt down every gun; arm every citizen; do nothing.
Every angle of the debate has some factual knick-knack backing it up, every local news station its own spin on the attack. Actual proposed solutions are hard to come by, too often riddled with errors and inaccuracies.
So, with that in mind, let’s talk.
Mass shootings are not natural disasters. They are not inevitable, irreversible acts of nature we have to live with because it’s just a part of being human. More Americans have died from gun violence in the past four decades than in all of America’s wars. Possibly even more horrific, more preschoolers are killed by guns in an average year than police officers.
This is not right. This is not OK.
“The right to bear arms” is Constitutionally guaranteed. No reasonably-minded person is saying that right should be taken away. The majority of Americans already agree that background checks and other regulations should be put in place (if not already) and enforced.
Yet here we are, engaging in a seemingly endless national debate about where the line between our Constitutional rights and the value of American lives should be drawn.
At what point — When a pastor is asked to face the nation only hours after watching his daughter’s murder? When a music festival has more casualties than the most dangerous battle in Iraq? When a grandmother lies on the floor of her church, pretending to be dead, while she watches the life leave her son’s body? When a parent, their child’s room still decorated five years later, is forced to respond to conspiracy theorists who claim their child’s death was faked?
At what point has a nation lost its soul?
This is a uniquely American problem. And while horrific mass shootings are typically the catalyst to conversations about gun control, the true lethality of guns becomes more evident in other situations.
The majority of gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides (nearly 60 percent). One researcher who studied suicides over a four-decade period found that more than 85 percent of individuals who survived a suicide attempt did not die from suicide later in life. What if our friends and neighbors who are struggling with suicidal thoughts didn’t have such an effective tool? How many of them would still be with us today?
Rational individuals are not calling for the complete removal of guns. Frankly, in a country where there are nearly as many guns as people, that’s not possible. The best strategy to address the senseless violence is careful, data-backed policy.
Unfortunately, data is not readily available. The rest of the world offers plenty of case studies but decades-old policy decisions are still restricting research in the United States.
A 2015 executive order issued by former President Barack Obama lifted a restriction on gun-related research by the Center for Disease Control, but Congress has rejected subsequent budget proposals that would provide funding for such research.
Let us say that again: Our congressional representatives — men and women elected to consider our best interests — have voted multiple times against funding for research that could help find possible ways to minimize these tragedies.
There is no easy solution to this crisis — and that is exactly the problem. The answer here isn’t going to be black or white. It’s going to take work. It’s going to take research and compromise. And it’s not going to be perfect. If the resolution were easy and comfortable, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
These tragedies should not be the price for “freedom.” Mass shootings should not be a part of the regular news cycle. Yet that is today’s reality. That is what America has become.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Reasonable solutions can be found. We ask that our elected officials — and all of us — work together to find a solution that will work in the interest of all Americans.