Surprise is a funny thing. Be it a monster or a party, surprise is a moment in which something that doesn’t normally happen, happens, and everything we’ve come to expect from an established set of normal dissipates for a moment to reveal something…different. Surprise isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s a reaction to what we know, what we’ve been taught to know, and anything that surprises us typically falls outside the set points we’ve been given.
A couple of days ago, a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida killed 17 people, and as horrible a sentence as that is type, it isn’t in the least surprising, the reason being, school shootings, church shootings, concert, nightclub, movie theater shootings are not outside of the set points we’ve been given any longer. They aren’t outliers. They aren’t uncommon.
Statistically, in the last 5 years, there has been a mass shooting nine out of every ten days. That number is frightening not because of how much of a percentage it makes up in the grand total of gun related violence in America (roughly 1.5%), but because of how ridiculous it is to even fathom that math, how afraid it makes us feel, and how wary it makes us of open spaces, crowded with too many people. Fear on that scale didn’t exist when I was younger. Gun related homicides for many years was going down, but the prevalence of these types of violence resulting in the injury and death of multiple individuals while celebrating, while praying, and while learning, has only gone up, as has the number of gun related deaths in general over the last couple of years. That fear is crippling and preventive. Even though, sure, statistically we won’t be killed if we go to school or the mall, that fear convinces us that maybe it isn’t even worth taking the risk.
But despite the fact that there have been 1600 (roughly) mass shootings since Sandy Hook, nothing’s really changed. We tweet our platitudes, send out “thoughts and prayers,” link images superimposed with empty words and statistics and a caption that says, “Just a thought…” until we forget—until a week, two weeks, a month later when it all starts over and, again, nothing is done.
For the longest time, I believed it was just our culture, that nothing truly could be done without broad, sweeping changes to our divisive outlooks and ill-informed opinions taking place. I believed that there genuinely was just something broken in us that wasn’t so in other countries, that no amount of loosening or tightening over the issue of gun control would ever solve our problems because we as a society were inherently in need of a change in us. But the longer and more often this sort of stuff happens, I can’t help but to change my opinion, or, at least, have an opinion on the issue in the first place, where I didn’t so much before.
I believe that we need tighter gun restrictions. I believe that we need gun reform, which is such a blasphemous, near treasonous thing to say given the country we live in—and that’s the problem.
For the entirety of our existence, we’ve fetishized guns. They went from what at one point was a tool to something bigger, something more, something we obsess over, something we collect, something we want more of, bigger ones, with larger ammo capacities and the ability to fire more rounds than makes sense. And we’ve always believed that to be the intent of our Founding Fathers when they penned the Constitution, to have this inherent right to gun ownership, regardless of position or status. But that wasn’t the case, in my opinion (cue the history lesson).
America was established by way of rebellion and the dreams and desires of plucky colonialists who wished to rid themselves of King George. Having just overthrown the oppressive rule of tyranny themselves, the men what began this country of ours believed it in our best interest to include in the Constitution language which not only allowed but inspired the American people to do the same: arm themselves against tyrannical entities should they ever come to being.
But there’re key points here that directly apply to that period in particular.
- The United States of America at this time did not have a standing military. The defense of the public came down entirely to the public themselves.
- Slavery was legal, and slave owners, following the success of their own revolt, feared a revolution by the slaves they owned. Were they unarmed, slave owners would have had virtually no way to defend themselves in the event of that happening. Gun ownership was a way by which they could tighten their grip over the slaves they owned.
- It was a different time. Cultural understandings, appreciations, and respect for weapons, for war, for violence when needed, was different during that time and owning a gun was not only encouraged, but required, as was registering the weapon, understanding the weapon, and enlisting in the militia.
I say all of that to highlight the fact that when the Constitution was written, things were different. People were different, society was different, and guns themselves were different. But we fight each other over those words still today: “The right to bear arms,” as if that were a catch all phrase by which every American should be allowed to own a gun, or two guns, or twenty guns if they want.
Why is it so necessary to have access to so many weapons? Why is it a right we have? Why when we discuss what to do in the wake of horrific tragedy, gun control of any sort, no matter how minor, is off the table, is deemed “too soon” or “a distraction from the bigger issue”?
Civilians in the U.S. make up 42% of the world’s civilian-owned gun supply, despite only accounting for 4 and a half percent of the world’s population.
Statistically, more guns = more gun violence, and when we compare ourselves to other developed countries, we eclipse their numbers many times over. Often the only countries with more gun related homicides than the numbers we put out are impoverished countries, crime-riddled countries, war-torn countries in the midst of conflicts we couldn’t even imagine and yet—we manage to rank among their rates, despite being “the best.”
“The best” what? The best country? Surely not, because so many of our greatest allies—the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan—all have stricter gun laws than we do and manage to have fewer gun deaths. Germany, who actually has more guns than most, still manages to keep their numbers incredibly low.
That raises the question then: are guns to blame? This country has fewer, this country has more, but their numbers are the same? Wouldn’t that be reason to doubt guns being related? Not really, because many of these countries still have guns available to civilians, but the process by which to attain them is so difficult, so intensive, that owning one isn’t a process most people would undertake. And included in most of their intensive screening procedures are psychiatric evaluations, interviews with friends and family, a thoroughness befitting the owning of an item capable of killing.
And still, their choice of weapon is extremely limited, and often in need of a cause (being a hunter, being a farmer, etc.).
I could continue to cite this statistic and that country, these statistics and this country, but at the end of the day the common thread in all of this is that they all did something.
A shooting happened and these countries did something.
They set aside politics, set aside the opinions, took the interest of their people to heart and did something.
But what will it take before we do the same? Will we ever do the same?
We argue that limitless gun ownership is Constitutional, but so was slavery, so was denial of voting rights, so was alcohol illegality—until they weren’t. Amendments are meant to be amended, laws are made to be changed as the world in which they exist changes around them, and we owe it to the victims of these horrific incidents of violence, to our children, to the children of people we don’t even know, to make an effort and do something, because so far, all we’ve done is nothing and this is where we are.