Trigger Warnings: Gun violence, Death.
In the United States, the mass shooting crisis continues to increase at an alarming rate. While many of us believed the pandemic had put a pause on shootings, The New York Times reports “the shootings never stopped”, “they just weren’t as public.” In 2020, there were 600 mass shootings, compared to 417 in 2019. And, only four months into 2021, 157 mass shootings have occurred. This averages out to be more than one mass shooting a day.
The Gun Violence Archive defines mass shootings as four or more people injured or killed, not including the perpetrator. The FBI defines mass murderers as people who have killed four or more people in a single incident at a single location. In 2017, the U.S comprised only 5% of the world’s population and yet experienced 31% of the world’s mass shootings. In addition, gun violence kills an estimated 30,000 people each year.
Mass shootings are not a new occurrence in the U.S. One of the first mass shootings was in 1949 when Howard Unruh murdered 13 people and wounded three more in what has become known as his 20-minute “Walk of Death.” In recent weeks, mass shootings have resulted in eight people (six Asian and Asian American women) killed in Atlanta, ten people killed in Boulder, and eight people (four Sikh people) killed in Indianapolis.
These hate crimes and targeted attacks against people of color aren’t a new occurrence either. In fact, how the U.S. continues to uphold white supremacy and bigotry has further fanned the flames of the mass shooting crisis. I would argue the roots of this crisis date back to the inception of the U.S. In 1524, a string of bloody clashes between the Pilgrims and the indigenous Wampanoag set the tone for how future Americans would handle “disputes.” To this day, we celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday that came about after early English settlers killed thousands of Native people during King Philip’s War (1675-76).
Fast forward to the 21st century, and the U.S. continues to use violence and war as a solution. This has led the U.S. to prioritize its military—the U.S. is the top military spender in the world—over its people, creating a legacy of unchecked violence that continues with mass shootings.
As a country, we should never become desensitized to the loss of human life. This is a simple concept for many who have taken it upon themselves to protest women’s rights and legal abortion—but the same presence cannot be seen lining up to advocate for the children who have been brutally murdered by mass shooters in schools like Columbine, Sandy Hook, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and so many more. What’s even more frustrating is that many of the perpetrators of mass shootings are arrested peacefully, while Black and brown people of all ages are murdered by law enforcement every day for reasons flimsy in rationale but solid in systematic racism.
It’s also hard to watch other countries quickly mobilize to protect their citizens. Immediately after the Christchurch mosque massacre that killed 50 people in 2019, New Zealand voted unanimously to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons. In the ’90s, Australia cut the total of its gun deaths in half after implementing a buyback program that purchased and destroyed 600,000+ automatic and semiautomatic weapons.
In Canada, a 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia, which killed 22 people, led Prime Minister Trudeau to ban 1,500+ makes and models of military-style assault weapons. In addition, the federal government introduced “red flag” laws, established new firearm offenses, and encouraged municipalities to ban handguns through local bylaws. A buyback program is also in the works. Japan has strict laws for obtaining firearms, which include mandatory classes, passing a written test, and achieving at least 95% accuracy on a shooting-range assessment. Citizens also have to pass a background check and mental-health evaluation at a hospital.
The United States should have rushed to implement similar legislation after the 2017 Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people, or the 2016 Pulse massacre that killed 49 people, or the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that killed 32 people. Instead, the U.S. has chosen to cross its arms over its chest like a petulant child and double down on the Second Amendment. Many pro-gun advocates cite the Second Amendment, which outlines the people’s right to keep and bear arms, as reason enough to block any gun reform. Varying interpretations of the Second Amendment have been one of the major obstacles in passing new gun regulations.
In 2021, President Biden began to take a firmer stance on gun control by directing the Justice Department to stop the spread of ghost guns. He also urged Congress to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, pass “red flag” legislation, and support violence-intervention programs. It will be interesting to see whether Congress passes this legislation. But I’m not holding my breath.
Guns have become nuclear to American identity, and I’m tired of it. History is supposed to educate us on how society should evolve. Just because something has been a certain way for so long, doesn’t mean it should remain that way, especially when there are so many flaws in the system. U.S. government leaders need to be writing, pushing, and passing gun reform and bans—especially if they believe in truly serving the people of the United States.
People are dying. Is the right to bear arms more important to you than human life? I can already hear the responsible gun owners starting to speak, but we’ve all heard you speak ad nauseam, and I’m done.
If you’re really a responsible gun owner then surely, you’ll have realized that something has got to give at this point. Surely the responsible thing to do is remove guns from the equation—because nothing else we’ve done thus far has protected people.
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