Nothing can bring America together like a mass killing. Our latest murderous focal point is Umpqua Community College in Oregon. It’s sad that it takes tragedy to make us care about our neighbors but I wonder how much more bloodshed will it take or whose death will it take before these heinous acts which cost us 30,000 lives annually will reach a point of surfeit? Is not this localized terrorism a national atrocity? Clearly, we cannot rely upon politicians to resolve this because re-election is their primary objective, not saving lives.
Every one of these gut-wrenching incidents brings the usual cycle of mayhem, outrage, political blaming and then nothing – no change. Cities like Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Baltimore and Detroit are awash in the blood of innocent people and the trails of blood leads to every state and federal legislature where abeyance surpasses action. As long as legislators are willing to allow people to die unnecessarily, we will revisit these moments. What will it take?
Since politicians are unable to muster the courage to create change, individual citizens will have to accept that their own silence and acquiescence has brought us here. We have allowed the NRA and its ilk to redefine the 2nd Amendment and misstate its meaning. All of us know that no law can be produced that will end mass shootings. We have laws against murder with penalties of death and people still kill. We have laws against the use of guns in felonious acts. We have laws against rape and sexual assault occurs at every level of society, including in education, the military, college and church. So, laws will not change these outcomes.
Every mass murderer is someone’s child or relative. We have to be more vigilant in alerting ourselves to untoward behavior that portends potential violence. We have to learn to recognize mental instability and the police have to be given the power to disarm potential threats within communities. We have to change our attitude about guns and recognize that in the context of civil society, they are an invitation to misuse. Many shootings occur in domestic violence scenarios, meaning the victims know their shooters. Shootings in urban settings are connected to high incidences of crime and drug usage. We know the criminals and the drug abusers. My point is that gun violence must stop being the fault of government if we are not willing to pressure our legislators into passing laws that curb the violence. The fault is ours.
The Pope was here just a few weeks ago and hundreds of thousands lined up to see him. I saw our higher selves that week. He pleaded with us to be more humane toward one another. America can’t save the world if it can’t save itself. Why should we fight terrorists in Afghanistan when our fellow citizens are terrorists at home? Streets in our urban centers resemble Syria and Iraq. Families sleep on the floor to avoid stray bullets.
The answer is not arming the populous. Precious lives lost should never be acceptable and it should not take gun violence against one of your family members to develop the fortitude to fight gun violence on every front. I work on a university campus and fear that one day this plague will visit us by walking surreptitiously in and revealing itself through rapid gunfire. If I am silent now why should I mourn then? Lives in Oregon matter. The 300 million weapons loose in our communities are not all in the hands of honorable people. Say something and fight violence.
Jeffrey Dean Swain, Ph.D. is Dean of Campus Ministry at Florida Memorial University and an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice.