America’s Violence Problem

Once again, America is saddened by a tragic mass shooting, one that took the lives of nine innocent individuals at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, last week. In addition, hundreds of friends, family, fellow students, and others in the small Oregon community will be permanently scarred by this senseless and cowardly act of violence. Such mass shootings seem to be increasing in frequency, which has reinvigorated gun control advocates and Democrats in Washington to try and finally take action. But what can be done to once and for all address the issue of gun violence in America?

Before I get into the crux of my argument, let me say that I believe the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to possess a firearm, and I am a gun owner. That said, I do not support the actions of the National Rifle Association and Republican politicians who are against any form of gun control. Many even take the extreme position that we need fewer gun restrictions and think that would somehow make us safer.

The problem I have is that we only seem to be captivated and passionate about the issue of gun control when mass murder occurs, but we are seemingly silent about the thousands of homicide deaths that happen each year. This is not to say that there aren’t community leaders, civic organizations, and even national public figures who are passionately concerned about daily gun violence in this country, and yet real calls for action seem to happen only after acts of mass violence.

US political leaders rush to their podiums or social media accounts every time a mass shooting occurs. Democrats will blame the cause of these events on the lack of sensible gun legislation and Republicans will blame it on psychological defects that separate the overwhelming number of gun owners who don’t commit violent crimes from those who do.

Here is the irony in my opinion: the passion exhibited and the policies proposed by Democrats would have the most impact on daily acts of violence, but Democrats  are most vocal during mass shootings. Republicans, on the other hand, seem to be less vocal after mass shootings, but their position that the real issue is the failure to identify and monitor mental illnesses would probably have the greatest impact on preventing these individuals from committing these acts of mass terror.

There is hardly any evidence to suggest, outside of removing every single firearm from every citizen, that policies proposed by gun control advocates would have prevented these most recent acts of mass murder. There is also little to no evidence to suggest that being able to better identify metal illnesses would have a significant impact on decreasing the number of homicide deaths that happen every day in urban communities.

Do you see the problem yet? Both sides are proposing decent solutions that would address the general issue of gun violence in America. However, they are so worried about the next election that they fail in their ability to have a nuanced position and understand the clear distinction between the causes of mass shootings and the vastly more prevalent gun homicides that claim American lives every day.

As we learn about the victims and hear about how much they meant to their families and friends, we should all take time to reflect on how precious and short life can be.

But what about Orlando Calderon, Marcus Weathers, Dan Rance, Daniel Guerra, Jimmy Tripp, Ira Washington, Robert Anderson, Michael Gibbs, and Vuan Evans? You won’t see the pain that the families of these victims have suffered. We seem to be able to easily sympathize with those in Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston, and now Roseburg, but are silent and numb for communities that have to endure the reality of gun violence every day. The names above are just nine of the forty-eight victims who were fatally shot in Chicago last month. In just one city in America. One month out of the year. Would you not consider forty-eight homicides in thirty days an event of mass violence?

The bottom line is this: we absolutely have an issue of gun violence in this country, but it has become so politicized that it appears as if we have to take sides in a zero-sum game. As usual, the extremes on both ends make this debate one that will not be solved anytime soon.

The issue is much deeper than just a gun violence problem; we have a violence-in-general problem. We can try to remove all guns off the streets and push for constitutional amendments to prevent any form of private gun ownership. We can mandate that every American undergo a uniform mental evaluation process that would track and monitor our thoughts and behaviors over time. Those are radical proposals, and there’s no doubt in my mind that both of these positions would limit the number of deaths by guns. But is that going to change the lack of opportunity and the socioeconomic problems that lead to violence in urban areas? As the late Christopher Hitchens said, “Evolution has meant that our prefrontal lobes are too small, our adrenal glands are too big…. a recipe which, alone or in combination, is very certain to lead to some unhappiness and disorder.”

As Americans, and more importantly as humanists, aren’t we always supposed to strive for that more perfect Union? Don’t we want to live in a society where violent acts never happen? Mitigating the situation is not a good enough solution. All of the proposed polices will do nothing to stop the feeling of hopelessness and need of survival, and will do nothing to stop individuals from having mental health issues. They also won’t stop other senseless acts of violence that don’t involve guns. We all need to try harder to understand the underlying causes as to why people choose to cause harm rather than narrowly focusing on the deadly result that intent produces.