This year alone, 10,203 graves have been dug for victims of gun violence. 10,203 people will never laugh again, will never fall in or out of love, will never sit at the dinner table with their families. 10,203 untimely funerals.
This is an obscene number, an unnecessary statistic. But, unless we know one of the victims, it makes no immediate difference to us. Nearly every day, there seems to be a story about a shooting. Some days are worse than others. Despite—or maybe because of—the pervasiveness of gun violence in the media, we generally fail to recognize the significance of these tragedies. In his statement following the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, President Obama addresses our indifference: “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this.”
And he has the numbers to prove it: “late last year for the first time in more than 20 years, Americans showed more support for gun rights than gun control.” This is after Virginia Tech and Newtown—the two most deadly shootings in American history, both of which have occurred in the last ten years. This is despite the fact that more guns mean more murder, according to a study conducted by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. One would think that witnessing these tragedies unfold, knowing the correlation between gun ownership and violence, that more people would support gun control.
Mr. Obama is right; this is routine and we are numb.
What can we do to affect change? Our president stresses our political responsibility; he asks “the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws.” Sure, it makes sense to turn to politics as a solution; it is a political issue. Gun rights activists cite the Second Amendment as our Constitutional right to own assault rifles, the NRA holds major political sway over the GOP, etc. etc. And it also makes sense that President Obama would appeal to those in favor of gun control, given that “gun supporters are more politically engaged than gun opponents.” He needs some more people on his team.
But before we can get to that point, maybe we need something to shock us out of our numbness. At this point in time, we have to concede the point that the omnipresence of mass media is simply another facet of our current reality. However, maybe we’re not desensitized because we hear the stories so often; maybe it’s the way these stories are being told. Or, rather, not told.
Think about the coverage of a school shooting. For a while, there is chaos, and reporters attempt to get the facts straight. The focus is on the event. But, inevitably, that focus will shift. Enter, HERO. Every one of these stories has a hero: teacher, classmate, janitor. It’s whoever stands up to the shooter, who tries to protect the children. But once this figure is introduced, it is no longer a story about a tragedy, but a story about American heroism. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t hear about these people; they are great and important and absolutely deserve to be recognized, but in their own time. We’re force-fed a silver lining. We are distracted from the horror of the shooting, and thus detached and desensitized. We have to face the facts. For example, twenty-six people were shot to death in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. Twenty of them were children.
There isn’t always a silver lining.
So maybe the first step is acknowledging that. Maybe sometimes we just have to sit with pain and tragedy of shootings, feel the weight of lives lost unnecessarily. Maybe we have to notice the distractions, whether they be hero stories or villain stories or political stories. Our motivation to make change doesn’t come purely from our political beliefs, and it doesn’t come from a president telling us that we’re numb. It comes from vulnerability, from facing a horrid reality. It comes from recognizing that a shooting didn’t need to happen. It comes from being appalled. It comes down to being honest about what’s happening in this country.
None of those things are easy to do, but you have to put pressure on the wound to stop it from bleeding—even if it hurts.