The recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton have opened the floodgate of commentary on virtually every news platform and social media site. I have watched the sobering coverage of the number of individuals killed and injured. I have heard solemn pronouncements about what we must do to change the situation and to make our lives safer. Then the wave of indignation, anger and fear subsides and we go back to our daily lives.
This situation reminds me of the Robert Frost poem, “Out, Out—.” In the poem, the narrator recounts the tragic accident and unexpected death of a young man after accident with a buzz saw. The poem ends with the aftermath of the incident. Frost writes, “And they, since they/Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.” I fear the passage of time will relegate these tragedies to the seemingly endless litany of mass shootings in the United States as we turn back to our affairs.
Last month I took my daughter to Universal Studios Orlando for summer vacation. Despite the huge numbers of tourists in the parks, I did not once fear for our safety or look around the corner for an angry-looking potential mass murderer. Some of the posts I read on Facebook or Instagram revealed the palpable fear of people worried about the possibility of being a victim in the next shooting. Others expressed a disturbing fatalism acknowledging powerlessness in the face of these horrific events.
Neither response is particularly helpful. I don’t mean to discount the need to document our fear and even our hopelessness. We all have these feelings and emotions and not only in regard to mass shootings. However, despite their emotional usefulness, that cannot be where we end the discussion. Instead we must look for solutions, rather than resign ourselves to being helpless lambs to the slaughter.
If you are not satisfied with the status quo, change it. We must diagnose the problem accurately and fairly. While it is easy to point to the rhetoric and attitudes engendered by President Trump, the reality is that mass shootings occurred long before President Trump. A January 2019 journal article which studied the 1994-2004 period of the assault weapon ban noted “Mass-shooting fatalities were 70% less likely to occur during the federal ban period.”
However, if you feel white nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia and other forms of hate are at the root, then what next? What work can we do to change the minds and hearts of individuals who feel the need to make a statement punctuated with carnage and death.
If you feel the issue is mental health, then how can we address this issue? And moreover, how can we keep these weapons out of the hands of those suffering from mental illness? Yes, we can demonize the NRA and gun rights activists, but the reality is that there is a Constitutional protection in the Second Amendment. Nevertheless, no Constitutional right is absolute and the Declaration of Independence promises all the rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
These rights are worth fighting for. Use the power of the ballot to demand change.
Solutions exist, but the fight will not be easy. Inaction will make us complicit in further death and tragedy.
Nicolas Shump is a longtime educator and writer in northeast Kansas. He can be reached at email@example.com.