Recently, America has struggled through too many instances of politically–motivated mass shootings, violence that would, if perpetrated by a Muslim person, be defined as terrorism.
This summer, Charleston, S.C. mourned the losses of nine people, killed in a historically black church by a young white supremacist who had access to a gun. More recently, in Roseburg, Ore., students at Umpqua Community College began to rebuild their community after having lost nine of their own to an on–campus shooter. And now, in Colorado Springs, three people have been killed and 11 injured in a horrific turn of events at a local Planned Parenthood clinic.
The suspect of the recent attack, Robert Lewis Dear, a 57–year–old local man, allegedly opened fire in the facility, injuring 11 people and killing two civilians as well as a University of Colorado-Colorado Springs police officer. The tragedy has sparked dialogue on the role that violence and extremism play in American culture.
There has been talk of gun control, mental health awareness and, at least in left-leaning circles, the importance of access to safe abortions free of fear. But we’ve heard all of this before, and little has been done from a structural standpoint to reduce the instances of gun violence in this country.
It is important to recognize the complex role that politics plays in tragedies like these. Some argue that we ought not to politicize tragedies. That out of respect for the dead and their loved ones, we ought to stay silent. But given the disproportionate amount of gun violence in the United States, particularly in comparison to other Western nations, it is clear that politics are at the root of the problem. Without discussions of the deeper causes of what are clearly not freak instances, but rather patterns of violence, these patterns are likely to prevent future acts of terror within this country.
After instances like Colorado Springs, discussion of heightened gun control legislation inevitably takes place. But time and time again, the federal government has failed to act in any meaningful way towards implementing these crucial changes. On Saturday, Nov. 28 following the Colorado Springs shooting, Obama spoke out in favor of fixing this system. He stated, “If we truly care about this, if we’re going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience, then we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them.”
He’s right—the ease with which dangerous weapons can be accessed in this country is unbelievable. But this conversation happened after Charleston. And after Roseburg. And after Sandy Hook. Only when this conversation brings substantive, legislative change will we see any reduction in the number of preventable instances of mass violence in this country.
Statistics have proven that gun control is effective. A study conducted by Adam Lankford, an associate professor at the University of Alabama Department of Criminal Justice, found that countries with higher levels of gun ownership also had more mass shootings per capita. Currently, according to the Small Arms Survey 2011, a Geneva–based research project that collects information on small arms, the U.S. ranks first internationally in gun ownership per capita.
Other countries, like Australia, have struggled with gun violence historically and have managed to substantially reduce the instances of gun violence by strengthening gun control legislation. In 1996, after a man named Martin Bryant killed 35 people in a café in Port Arthur, Tasmania, with two semi–automatic weapons, then–Prime Minister Howard wrote, “The fundamental problem was the ready availability of high–powered weapons, which enabled people to convert their murderous impulses into mass killing.” He enacted a set of reforms entitled the National Firearms Agreement, which required gun owners not only to register their guns, but also to demonstrate a genuine need beyond self defense for owning a weapon. As a result of the Agreement, gun violence plummeted. At this point, we recognize that there is a problem, and have seen that there is a solution that has decreased rates of gun violence in countries comparable to the U.S. Now is the time to fight for increased legislation.
The next thing that needs to be addressed is the toxic, divisive cultural and political framework that allows these events to take place and complicates the aftermath. Recent years have seen the rise of extreme right–leaning politics. Politics, like the recent attack on Planned Parenthood, legitimize actors who perpetrate acts of terror and further characterize these criminals as anomalies, as opposed to the direct result of a culture that promotes hate, ignorance and intolerance. The first step is to stop vilifying access to safe abortions in politics and government. It’s time that, as a culture, America begins prioritizing the lives of pregnant women.
There is a long way to go before the United States comes close to solving its problem with gun violence and gun culture, and change isn’t going to take place overnight. But that doesn’t mean that in the meantime we should stop talking.
In the wake of Colorado Springs, we should continue to say the same things we said after Charleston, and Roseburg, and Sandy Hook and the countless other instances in which human life was unnecessarily lost. Let’s fight for the restrictions on gun ownership that have been proven effective time and time again. One day, the discussion will prompt the change required to overcome this deeply entrenched culture of violence.
—Madeleine Cavanagh ’18 is a student at Vassar College