And reducing gun violence
The unrelenting scourge of gun violence leaves many forms of tragedy in its wake. First and foremost is the bloodshed — lives snubbed out, families shattered, communities bereft. But with each mounting tally in a seemingly unending playback loop of horror, another disaster ripples across the country: despair.
For the tens of millions of our fellow citizens who desperately want this kind of carnage not to be accepted as inevitable, the sheer volume of repetition leads understandably to a crippling conclusion: Nothing will ever change.
There are only so many times we can reflect on how pat exhortations of “thoughts and prayers” are woefully insufficient, we can conclude that “a well regulated Militia” certainly never meant lone gunmen could brandish modern weapons of war, and we can point to the wide majorities of Americans who support commonsense gun regulations.
The fringes on the debate may disagree, but the mainstream accepts the view that some concrete, specific steps forward on gun control are needed and possible — right now. That makes the lack of such movement all the more heartbreaking.
We list the questions we’ve asked too many times to count:
WHO can forge progress in the face of such sadness?
WHAT can we as average citizens do?
WHEN might we see a new reality?
WHERE will the next tragedy occur?
HOW can we get this to stop?
We have no trouble coming up with queries. It is the answers that are elusive to the point of non-existence.
How does one remain steady amidst such instability? How does one strategize for a better future when all paths seem to lead to nowhere?
It begins by having to contend with reality, even if that is not what one wishes it to be. We are a nation awash in guns. These will not disappear overnight. For the foreseeable future, there will always be the potential for mass casualties. But that doesn’t mean we can’t lessen the risk.
If you were designing a system from scratch, it would make perfect sense to regulate firearms the way we regulate automobiles, with strict laws around licensing, education, registration, and liability insurance. But at this point, such a comprehensive approach would be a nonstarter.
We are a nation with a long history of gun culture. We have many hunters and sports shooters and a general belief in the right to own guns for self-defense. That isn’t likely to change anytime soon. The Second Amendment is open to much interpretation, but it exists nonetheless, and with it fertile ground for honest disagreements around the constitutionality of gun ownership.
When you combine the history with the current political stasis, the despair is understandable. But that doesn’t mean it's productive, or necessarily predictive. We can look at many past social movements to see that change often seems unattainable until it comes all at once. That doesn’t mean it is spontaneous. Rather, it is the product of continued pressure.
With this in mind, what can be done is to keep up the pressure. Join and support the many groups who continue to be tireless advocates for gun control laws. Also, we can focus on certain targeted objectives that have the potential to break the logjam.
Through big-money lobbying, gun manufacturers and distributors have been granted immunity from civil liability. Repealing these kinds of laws would incentivize safety and responsibility and save lives.
There is also no reason we should allow fully automatic military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeding devices on the open market.
These are just a few examples of what a majority of Americans see as practical and doable. And some of these and other commonsense measures are gaining traction in certain states. This pattern leads to a more general observation. Action, organizing, keeping up the pressure are antidotes to despair. A feeling of powerlessness can be self-fulfilling, and it masks the truth that a majority of Americans across the political landscape desperately want change. They may not agree on all the changes or the methods for making progress, but consensus is possible.
The forces that want us to accept an undercurrent of unabated carnage know that stoking despair is their most potent tool. Even as we mourn, we can, with steadiness, reiterate the message that this is not okay. We can seek allies wherever they may be found. We can push for each small victory, taking comfort in a momentum that could lead us to a place we might not currently expect is possible.
Our history books are filled with the cautionary tales of those who underestimated the long-term efficacy of movements for positive change. Especially when those movements were widely popular and fueled literally by matters of life and death.
To say again for emphasis: We cannot expect to eliminate mass casualties from guns anytime soon. But we can drastically reduce them. If we, the people, get organized around a few first changes. There is no lack of ability to reduce gun violence — just a lack of will to value lives over partisan politics and industry profits.
May we always remember that even the longest of journeys begins with a few steps.
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Thank you for this eloquent essay. My question is how did we lose the house of representatives given the strength of the feeling about gun violence? Did we not try hard enough? Was the messaging wrong? Something went terribly wrong in the last election for those who want to prevent the worst of climate change and the worst of mass shootings. We have to figure out what it was. Not to mention women’s rights!
Here in NZ we had our experience of mass murder in Christchurch and changed our Gun Laws The sun still rises, the earth still rotates around the sun and people still live. I do no understand the USA. Isn't life worth more ?