In the early days of 2021—a year of cautious hope for many Americans living in the confines of the COVID-19 pandemic—there were talks of returning to normalcy. Most of us envisioned parties, seeing loved ones, and getting on planes to finally break the barriers of quarantine and isolation. Somewhere along the line, we must have forgotten that “normal” in the United States includes mass shootings.
If that sounds harsh, good. As of early April, while I’m writing this, there is already a Wikipedia page for “List of Mass Shootings in the United States in 2021” that includes 129 entries. The shootings that were fatal add up to 151 deaths.
We haven’t heard of many of the shootings on this list either because they're much more routine—but that doesn't make them any less devastating instances of domestic or gang violence, even if they didn’t result in any deaths. Three, however, have stood out in our collective consciousness and battered us in quick succession, leaving already COVID-fatigued Americans to wonder if perhaps “going back to normal” is everything we hope it will be.
All three of these shootings, which left a total of 22 people dead, happened within 16 days of each other, leaving barely enough time for politicians to offer their half-hearted thoughts and prayers in between. The massacre in Atlanta in particular shook the nation and forced the beginnings of a reckoning with anti-Asian racism. This hate, of course, has always existed in the United States but has been spurred on by lies and arbitrary blame about the origins of COVID-19.
The motives behind these killings—especially the white supremacy and misogyny that fueled the Atlanta spa shootings—could each warrant their own Op-Ed, and many are well above my level of understanding. But what I do know is the method to this never-ending madness, and that is guns.
Why is it that as soon as people are allowed to gather again, they are also at risk for being shot in a grocery store? Guns are admittedly a simple answer; mental health, systemic racism, poorly structured education, and rabid misogyny are all huge factors in our country’s tragedies. The mental health argument is one of the favorites of pro-Second Amendment conservatives who like to blame survivors for alienating the shooter, instead of blaming the shooter himself.
But here’s the thing: we can pin the problem on any number of deeply ingrained, institutionalized diseases that the United States suffers from, but we don’t ever address any of those things. Until we, as a nation, address white supremacy in a real and meaningful way, our first move should be to try everything we can to keep white supremacists from stockpiling weapons. Until we start taking mental health seriously so that teenagers can be caught by the system and treated before they become school shooters, we should not be letting unwell and unstable people buy a way to channel their demons into the killing of other people.
I used to be more optimistic about this issue. Of course, I always agreed with the traditional pro-gun control arguments…you don’t need an AR-15 to kill deer. The founding fathers didn’t anticipate the types of weapons we have now when they wrote the Bill of Rights. Sure, these are all true, but I’ve always felt like underneath it all, we had to address the unique cocktail of hatred and violence that makes the U.S. so prone to this type of tragedy.
And no one listened. Not just to me, but to Black Lives Matter, to academics all over the country, to women who shared their stories, and to the school guidance counselors who begged for more resources to handle the mental health of their students. So here we are, barely four months into 2021, slowly crawling out of a pandemic and back into a world where my little brother and sister hide under their desks in school.
That won’t stop me from reiterating the need for us to tackle the mindsets that lead to mass shootings. It won’t stop me from supporting the many organizations that are already trying. But at this point, with 22 shot down in 16 days, we need to take the claws from the bear. If we can’t treat the disease yet, we need to treat the symptoms. We need to stop this.
I strongly feel that no one who isn’t going to war needs these kinds of weapons, just simply on principle. They aren’t made to hunt animals for sport; they’re made to kill people. I, however, am a white-collar 22-year-old who has never fired a gun in her life, and I hate hunting. Maybe my opinion on the principles of guns doesn’t matter, and maybe there will come a time when we can solve the roots of these issues as a nation and strict gun control won’t be as critical. Now is not that time.